Universal credit changes now and then
The Autumn Budget and associated announcements herald a number of important changes in universal credit (UC), described here by Simon Osborne.
The changes involve the following:
- short-term advance payments – increased to 100 per cent of entitlement, repaid over 12 months;
- live service – new claims no longer accepted from 1 January 2018;
- full service roll-out – new timetable from February 2018, completion due December 2018;
- new claims from people with three or more children – now directed to legacy benefits until 1 February 2019;
- claims – seven-day waiting period abolished from February 2018;
- transfers from housing benefit (HB) – HB to continue in payment for first two weeks of UC claim from April 2018, and alternative payment arrangements to continue in UC;
- temporary accommodation – rent to be paid by HB from April 2018.
The Budget announced special arrangements for December 2017, in which new claimants were able to get up to two advances of 50 per cent of monthly entitlement. From 1 January, new claimants can get up to 100 per cent of their notional monthly entitlement as an advance, with the period of repayment over 12 months if that is what the claimant wants.1
Note that none of these arrangements are specified in legislation, and so there is no new legislation involved. The DWP says that ‘a self-service advance will be made available from spring 2018, where claimants can request an advance from their online account’.2
The DWP announced late in 2017 that the live service (which is being steadily replaced by the full service) ‘has a very limited shelf-life ending in December 2018’.3 From 1 January 2018, the live service does not take any ‘new’ claims for UC, and new claimants will instead be asked to claim legacy benefits (ie, from income-related employment and support allowance, income-based jobseeker's allowance, income support and HB) and tax credits. Existing live service claims are not affected.
There is no new legislation about this, but the relevant ministerial ‘determination’ has now been made available.4 Also, there is some official guidance.5 The arrangements rely on existing rules aboutwhen a new claim is notrequired and wider powers not to accept claims ‘to safe- guard the efficient administration’ of UC.6 It is only new ‘claims’ that are not being taken. Where a current UC claimant loses entitlement but can re-establish entitlement without the need for a new claim, s/he remains part of the existing UC caseload– ie, andsowill notbe permitted to return to legacy benefits or tax credits. Those remaining in the UC caseload include:
- current UC claimants where the live service becomes the full service (no new claim required);
- UC claimants whose award stopped due to earned income within the last six months (no new claim required);
- partner joining an existing UC claim (no new claim required);
- partnership separation in an existing UC claim (even where one of the former couple would have to make a new claim).
Official guidance to local authorities also says that, under these arrangements: ‘Where a claimant terminates their universal credit live service claim by choice they will be able to make a new claim to HB straight away. Claimants in full service areas will not be allowed to terminate their claim and make a claim for HB’.7
Note that these arrangements apply only in live service areas. They do not apply in the full service areas, and will cease to apply in any given live service area at the point it becomes a full service area.
Under a revised roll-out schedule,8 the full service is now rolling out to 10 job centres a month from February (instead of 60), then 41 a month from May and around 60 a month thereafter. The full service is now due to have achieved national coverage by the end of December 2018.
What the DWP calls the ‘gateway direct’ for new claims from people with three or more children to be to legacy benefits and tax credits and not UC is now extended to ‘January 2019’. That is understood to mean ‘31 January 2019’ – ie, so that this arrangement is now due to end from 1 February 2019.9
The seven-day waiting period is abolished from 14 February. Official guidance confirms that: ‘Subject to satisfying the conditions of entitlement, all new claimants will be eligible for universal creditfrom the first day they claim it.’10
Rule changes provide for a number of changes from 11 April, also described in official guidance.11 Under the changes, says the guidance, ‘claimants who were previously receiving housing benefit (HB) and are transitioning to universal credit will receive a transitional payment; an extra two weeks support. This will be unrecoverable, automatic and received early in the first assessment period.’
From 11 April (except for existing awards until there is a change), housing costs for claimants in ‘temporary accommodation’ (defined with reference to housing legislation) will be met through HB rather than UC.
Also, since December 2017, DWP should have had new guidance ensuring that claimants who had alternative payment arrangements to landlords in their HB but who then transfer to UC are offered the same option for UC, providing they continue to meet the relevant criteria.
Please be aware that welfare rights law and guidance change frequently. Older Bulletin articles may be out of date. Use keywords or the search function to find more recent material on this topic.
- 1. Autumn Budget 2017, HM Treasury HC 587, November 2017, para 6.14; UC Bulletin UC1/2017
- 2. DWP letter to Operational Stakeholders Forum, 27 November 2017
- 3. Letter from Neil Couling, DWP Director General, Universal Credit Programme, to Great Britain local authorities, 23 November 2017
- 4. CPAG has submitted a relevant Freedom of Information request and the DWP have now published the determination.
- 5. UC Bulletin UC1/2017; HB Urgent Bulletin HB U4/2017; Memo ADM 1/18
- 6. Regs 6 and 9 Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Jobseeker's Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (Claims and Payments) Regs 2013, SI No.380; reg 4 Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regs 2014, SI No.1230
- 7. Housing Benefit Urgent Bulletin HB U4/2017, para 5. It may be worth noting that legally speaking any claimant can terminate a current award if s/he wishes; but it is true that in the full service, new claims for legacy benefits including HB are generally not possible.
- 8. Available via www.gov.uk/government/publications/universal-credit-transition-to-full-s...
- 9. In parliament, then Secretary of State David Gauke said that the end point ‘will now shift to the end of January 2019’ (House of Commons, Hansard, 23 November 2017, Vol 631, col 1201).
- 10. Reg 3(3) Universal Credit (Miscellaneous Amendments, Saving and Transitional Provision) Regs 2018, SI No.65; UC Bulletin UC1/2017
- 11. Regs 3(12) and 6 Universal Credit (Miscellaneous Amendments, Saving and Transitional Provision) Regs 2018, SI No.65; UC Bulletin UC1/2017