The universal credit gateway: early experiences
The ‘national expansion’ of universal credit (UC), which began this spring, is anticipated to bring the new benefit to every jobcentre in the UK by 2016.1 Evidence has emerged that misunderstanding of the rules governing who is eligible to claim UC – known as ‘gateway conditions’ – has meant the wrong people making claims for the new benefit. Dan Norris explains how advisers can help.2
Prior to the General Election, a series of commencement orders were published, which made provision for UC to become available in a steadily expanding number of jobcentres – albeit to a limited group of claimants. Commencement orders were also issued which provide for the acceptance of UC claims, in specific locations, from couples and families with children, and the expansion of the ‘digital service’ area. Regulations were issued in March 2015, which in effect exclude many European Economic Area jobseekers (where they were able to claim in the first place) from entitlement to UC.
Perhaps the most significant development in the UC ‘roll-out’ came in February this year when the government published The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.22 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions) Order 2015 SI No.101. This order lists the areas in which certain claimants, who would otherwise be eligible for income-based jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), must in effect claim UC instead.
Jobcentres affected by the expansion are divided into four tranches, with the first tranche accepting UC claims between 16 February and 27 April 2015. Jobcentres in tranche two ‘go live’ for UC purposes between 4 May and 20 July 2015.
A full list of the jobcentres in each tranche and the dates when UC claims will be accepted can be found here. Whether that individual is eligible to make a claim for UC once it becomes available in her/his area is determined by gateway conditions. These are characteristics and circumstances which must be met before a UC claim can be made.
The gateway conditions which apply in UC areas in the nationwide expansion (ie, those is tranches one to four) differ from the gateway conditions which apply in areas where UC was available before the nationwide expansion began or in areas where the digital service is established.
The national expansion gateway conditions are contained in the amended version of Schedule 5 to The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.9 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions and Commencement No.8 and Savings and Transitional Provisions (Amendment)) Order 2013 SI No.983 – referred to here as ‘the No.9 Order’.3
In order to claim UC in a national expansion area, a claimant must :
- be aged between 18 years and 60 years and six months;
- be single;
- be a British citizen who has resided in the UK for two years without leaving for a continuous period of four weeks or more;
- possess a national insurance number and bank account (including a credit union account);
- have no more than £6,000 capital;
- declare that s/he does not expect to earn more than £338 in the month after the claim is made.
Additionally, a claimant must not:
- be pregnant nor have been pregnant in the 15 weeks prior to making a UC claim;
- be in possession of (or be waiting for) a ‘statement of fitness for work’;
- have been found to have a limited capability for work, unless this decision has subsequently been overturned;
- be entitled to employment and support allowance (ESA), JSA, income support (IS), incapacity benefit, disability living allowance, severe disablement allowance or personal independence payment (PIP);
- be waiting for a decision concerning ESA, JSA, IS, housing benefit or tax credits;
- be appealing a decision concerning entitlement to ESA, JSA or IS;
- have children, be an adopter or a foster parent or be liable to pay child support maintenance;
- be a carer for a disabled person (other than as a voluntary or paid employee);
- be self-employed or intend to become selfemployed in the month after the UC claim is made;
- be a student or intend to become a student in the month after the UC claim is made;
- be a person with an appointee, deputy or receiver acting on her/his behalf;
- be a company director or member of a limited liability partnership;
- be homeless;
- own her/his home (or part of it);
- live in supported accommodation;
- live with a member of the armed forces (including the reserves and those away on military duty).
These conditions, which apply in areas served by jobcentres affected by the national expansion of UC, are different in several important respects from the gateway conditions which apply in digital service areas and those areas in which UC has been available before February 2015, when UC national expansion began.
Extension of the digital service area
Until March 2015, the digital service – which allows claimants to view details of their UC claim and report changes of circumstances online – was available to claimants living in a restricted area of Sutton covered by the postcode SM5 2. On 18 March 2015, the digital service area was expanded to cover postcodes SM6 7 and SM6 8. The extension of the digital service area affects further sub-postcodes in Sutton, Croydon and Southwark on 10 June and 4 November 2015.4
In areas covered by the digital service, the only gateway condition is that the claimant must meet the specified condition that s/he be a British Citizen and have lived in the UK continuously for two years without break of four weeks or more. This condition was withdrawn on 10 June 20155 (see ‘European Economic Area (EEA)’ nationals below). In the digital service areas, claims for UC can, therefore, be taken from parents, couples and other people who would not meet the gateway conditions set out above.
Couples and parents
The gateway conditions which exclude claims from couples do not apply in the areas where UC claimants could make UC claims prior to the inception of the national roll-out in February 2015.
On 24 November 2014, the DWP varied the gateway conditions to allow claims from claimants with children in six areas: Birkenhead, Bromborough, Hoylake, Upton, Wallasey and Warrington. The DWP announced in February 2015 that all 96 areas which began accepting UC claims prior before the end of 2014 would accept claims from claimants with children (other than those whose children are disabled, in local authority care or are themselves foster parents or adopters).6
European Economic Area nationals
Further complexity concerning gateway conditions is caused by the exclusion of EEA nationals whose sole right to reside is as a jobseeker.
The Universal Credit (EEA Jobseekers) Amendment Regulations 2015 SI No.546 amend the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 by adding the right to reside as a jobseeker or family member of a jobseeker to those rights to reside that are disregarded for the purposes of determining whether a person is to be treated as being in Great Britain and, therefore, entitled to UC.
These regulations came into force on 10 June 2015. They also stipulate that EEA nationals who are awarded UC are subject to the same work-related requirements on the same basis as UC claimants with British citizenship.7
However, currently, the British citizenship gateway condition remains applicable in the national expansion areas and those areas where UC claims could be made before 2014, with the effect that, in most UC areas, European nationals are excluded from the UC gateway. Currently, the condition is removed only in the UC digital service area, and even there only from 10 June 2015.
Practical problems and solutions
CPAG’s work in food banks in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where UC was introduced in February 2015, has confirmed advisers’ concerns that claimants who in fact do not meet the gateway conditions are nonetheless managing to make claims for UC and, in some cases, receiving payments. Such errors may be caused by:
- claimants’ circumstances changing between application and the decision on their entitlement – eg, they make a claim for PIP;
- claimants giving the wrong answers in online applications;
- DWP staff posing the wrong questions or missing out questions altogether during telephone applications.
When a claimant who does not meet the gateway conditions claims UC, what can happen next depends, firstly, on whether the claimant has given incorrect information about the gateway conditions and, secondly, on what stage the claim has reached.
- Claimant gives incorrect information but has not yet been paid – article 3A(4) and (5) of the No.9 Order8 provides that the claimant is to be notified that s/he is not entitled to UC (even if s/he has already been awarded it – provided s/he has not yet been paid). Provided the claimant makes a claim for an older benefit, housing benefit or tax credit within a month of that information being given to her/him, then this new claim for benefit is treated as if it had been made on the date on which the UC claim was made.
- Claimant gives incorrect information and has been paid – articles 3(3)(b) and 3A(6) of the No.9 Order together provide that the claimant is to be treated as having been entitled to claim UC all along. Such a claimant is not able to withdraw her/his award and reclaim older benefits because article 4(2) provides that those benefits have been abolished for the purposes of that claimant.
- Claimant gave correct information. If a claimant manages to be awarded UC despite the fact that s/he has given the correct information relevant to the gateway conditions, then that award is incorrect. The claimant could potentially challenge the decision to award UC and argue it should be removed. That opens up the prospect of her/his making a claim for an existing award. However, it is not yet clear what the DWP’s response would be, and s/he would not be able to rely on any special rules relating to the date of the new claim.
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. Lord Freud’s speech to the Local Government Association, 12 January 2015 available at www.gov.uk/government/speeches/universal-credit-and-universal-support
- 2. Thanks to Martin Williams for his assistance with this article.
- 3. The main amendments are in SI 2014/1452 and 2015/101
- 4. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.21 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions) Order 2015 No.33
- 5. he Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.23 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions) Order 2015 No.634
- 6. See Housing Benefit Direct, issue 156
- 7. www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/423684...
- 8. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.9 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions and Commencement No.8 and Savings and Transitional Provisions (Amendment)) Order 2013 No.983