Ask CPAG Online - When Does Natural Migration onto Universal Credit Happen?

'Natural migration' from legacy benefits onto universal credit (UC) can happen at any time when a change of circumstances means that you want to make a new claim for a legacy benefit, but you then find that you cannot because you live in a UC 'full service area'. If you decide that you want to transfer to UC even though your circumstances have not changed, you can start the process simply by making a claim for UC. 

Natural migration also used to be possible if you lived in a UC ‘gateway area’ and satisfied the gateway conditions, but from 1 January 2018 new claims for UC in these areas are not being accepted (see Where Does Natural Migration onto UC Happen?). UC gateway areas will not exist after 12 December 2018.

In what circumstances does natural migration happen?

The following examples illustrate common situations in which natural migration may apply to you:

  • You are getting employment and support allowance (ESA) and fail the work capability assessment. If you live in a UC full service area, you cannot claim income-based jobseeker's allowance (IBJSA) while you are challenging the decision via a 'mandatory reconsideration'. If you want more benefit help whilst the ESA decision is being reconsidered by the DWP. Note that if you do not claim UC, if you remain unhappy after the DWP mandatory reconsideration and appeal, you may be then be able to get ESA whilst appealing without having to claim UC.
  • You are getting JSA and become sick. You may be able to stay on JSA for up to 13 weeks but if you live in a full service area, you cannot claim income-related ESA (IRESA) once you are no longer entitled to JSA. You will have to claim UC to get help with your living expenses and housing costs.
  • You are a lone parent and lose your entitlement to income support (IS) when your youngest child reaches 5. If you live in a full service area, you cannot claim IBJSA and will have to claim UC to get help with your living expenses and housing costs.
  • You are getting JSA and have your first child. If you live in a full service area, you cannot claim child tax credit (CTC) or IS and will have to claim UC instead.
  • You are getting JSA and become a full-time carer which means you can no longer satisfy the jobseeking conditions. If you live in a full service area, you cannot claim IS as a carer and will need to claim UC to get help with your living expenses (including a carer's element) and housing costs.
  • You are getting housing benefit (HB) but have to make a new claim, for example because you have moved to a different local authority in a full service area. You cannot make another claim for HB and will need to claim UC to get help with your housing costs.
  • You are getting a legacy benefit when you become or stop being a member of a couple, and you need to make a new claim for IS, JSA or other legacy benefit. If you live in a full service area, you cannot claim make a new claim as a single person or a member of a couple and will have to claim UC instead. If your partner is already on UC, you cannot claim a legacy benefit and will have to claim UC as a couple.

In what circumstances will natural migration not happen?

The following examples illustrate common situations in which natural migration should not happen when your circumstances change:

  • You are getting ESA and fail the work capability assessment. As long as you do not claim another legacy benefit or UC, you can get IRESA pending an appeal, even if you live in a full service area. This is because this does not involve making a new claim for IRESA (see regulation 3(j) of the Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations 1987) and only an actual claim for a legacy benefit is precluded (see What is Natural Migration onto Universal Credit?).  Note, however, that if your HB stopped when your ESA stopped, you cannot make a new claim for HB, so you should ensure that your HB claim continues (e.g. on the basis of you having a 'nil income').
  • You are already getting tax credits and you have a child or start working. Getting extra tax credits, including qualifying for CTC or working tax credits for the first time, does not involve making a new claim for tax credits, so that even if you live in a full service area, this should not result in you having to claim UC.
  • You are getting HB and move to new accommodation within the same local authority area. This should be treated as a change in circumstances affecting your existing claim (see regulation 79(2A) HB Regulations 2006) and not require you to make a new claim for HB, so that even if you live in a full service area, you should be able to stay on HB and not have to claim UC.
  • You have a change of circumstances which affects the amount of your current legacy benefit, but does not require you to claim another legacy benefit. Examples include where you are getting JSA and are subject to a sanction (you do not have to reclaim JSA to get it after your sanction, or to get a 'hardship payment' during the sanction), or you are getting IS and your youngest child has a birthday but is still under 5, or you qualify for an extra premium with your legacy benefit.

How can you check if you will be subject to natural migration?

The following questions should help you to check whether and when you may be affected by natural migration:

1. Do you live in a UC 'gateway area'? If yes, from 1 January 2018 new claims for UC are not accepted and you should be advised that you can make new claims for legacy benefits and tax credits. Note that UC gateway areas are being replaced by full service areas and will not exist after December 2018.  If no, - go to question 2.

2. Do you live in a UC 'full service area'? If yes, there are no gateway conditions and you will be affected by the UC rules if you make a new claim for a legacy benefit or for UC - go to question 3. If no - go to question 1.

3. Have you had a change in your circumstances (e.g. you have become sick, or had a child)? If yes, go to question 4. If no, you will only be subject to natural migration if you decide nevertheless to submit a claim for UC – go to question 7.

4. Does the change in your circumstances mean that you need to make a new claim for a legacy benefit? For example, have you fallen long-term sick and need to stop claiming income-based JSA and claim income-related ESA instead? Or have you had a child and are not already getting CTC or WTC? Or have you moved to new rented accommodation and need to make a new claim for housing benefit? If yes - go to question 5. If no, because your change of circumstances just alters your current award of a legacy benefit but does not bring it to an end, or does not mean you need to make a new claim for a legacy benefit, you will only be subject to natural migration if you decide nevertheless to claim UC – go to question 7.

5. Does your change of circumstances mean that you need to make a new claim for ESA or JSA? If yes, IRESA and IBJSA are abolished for you if live in a full service area, and you will need to claim UC instead. Your entitlement to other legacy benefits is terminated when you claim UC - go to question 6. If no, go to question 6.

6. Does your change of circumstances mean that you need to make a new claim for another legacy benefit? If yes, generally you cannot do so if you live in a full service area, and you will need to claim UC instead. If no - go to question 7. For when you can still make a new claim for a legacy benefit, see Where Does Natural Migration to UC Happen?

7. Have you claimed UC? If yes, as long you satisfy the basic rules for UC your entitlement to legacy benefits will be terminated straight away. Once you are entitled to UC, you are not entitled to legacy benefits and cannot make a new claim for them. If no, natural migration will not happen unless and until you claim UC.

Can natural migration be reversed?

The official intention is that once you have become entitled to UC, you cannot choose to instead claim legacy benefits (the requirement to stay on UC once you have become entitled to it is sometimes referred to as the 'lobster pot' principle).

If you live in a UC full service area, you can never make a new claim for a legacy benefit, even if you do not claim or stop claiming UC.

If you still live in a UC gateway area, your entitlement to UC continues even if you no longer satisfy the gateway conditions, and despite the fact that new claims for UC are not accepted in gateway areas from 1 January 2018. If, however, your award of UC ends (including if you stop claiming UC), because new claims for UC are no longer accepted in these areas, you may be able to get legacy benefits again instead of UC, whilst your area is still a gateway area. Note, however, that if your UC award ends because your earnings are too high, you retain an underlying entitlement to UC for 6 months and cannot claim legacy benefits in that period. In this circumstance, in that 6 month period you could requalify for UC without having to make a new claim and so could be on UC again even after 1 January 2018. Similarly, the DWP have decided that if you were on UC as part of a couple but split up, you can get UC again even where you would not have to make a new claim.

Note that UC gateway areas are being replaced by full service areas, and no gateway areas will exist after 12 December 2018.

Example:

You still  live in a UC gateway area. In 2017, your IRESA (and HB) stopped when you failed the work capability assessment and you were migrated onto UC when you tried to claim IBJSA because you satisfied the gateway conditions. Your health has deteriorated and you have become unfit for work. Although this means you would no longer satisfy the gateway conditions, your UC award continues. You could, however, terminate your UC award by withdrawing your claim. If your area is still a gateway area (but not if is now a full service area) you should then be able to claim legacy benefits again, including IRESA (subject to the normal rules of having 'limited capability for work') and HB. This was possible even before 1 January 2018, because you would have been making a new claim for UC and no longer satisfied the gateway conditions. But from that date in any case new claims for UC are not accepted in gateway areas, so it would not matter even if you did satisfy the gateway conditions. You may be better off than you were on UC because, for example, you qualify for an enhanced and severe disability premium which are payable with IRESA but not with UC.

Note, however, that withdrawing your UC claim is a serious step to take, with no guarantee that the DWP and / or local authority will accept your claims for legacy benefits without delay or argument. You should only do so after seeking advice to ensure you will be better off on legacy benefits and that you terminate your claim at the beginning of your assessment period to avoid losing up to a month's benefit. You should also bear in mind that if your circumstances change again, you may be subject to natural migration back onto UC again if your area has become a full service area, and that from July 2019, the process of 'managed migration' onto UC DWP is scheduled to begin (see Universal Credit Natural Migration).