How to understand the new system
Universal Credit has been gradually rolled out across the UK and will eventually replace many existing social security benefits. It is important to note that it is NOT available to over sixties who have reached pensionable age. Taking place of Housing Benefit, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Tax Credits and many other long-standing benefits, Universal Credit has been met with much criticism. The main reason seems due to the month-long wait for payments, and the initial processing time for new applicants, which can be in excess of six weeks.
Once it's been awarded, it is claimed that there are many advantages to it. It is a means-tested benefit primarily designed to provide financial assistance to the unemployed and people on a low income. One major advantage over the benefits it's replacing is that if you start employment, there's no minimum amount of hours you can work before you lose entitlement; and you don't lose entitlement to other benefits like Housing Benefits, either. It's worth noting that payments will gradually decrease (63p for every £1) as your income increases, but they won't just stop like they did under the old system.
In essence, one of the main driving forces behind its conception is the government's attempt to reduce the amount of time it takes people to find work. Some might say the lengthy application process and monthly payments (instead of fortnightly) have made it more difficult for people to take advantage of so-called handouts.
To be eligible for Universal Credit, you must be over 18, below State Pension age, not be in full-time education, or have savings or capital (that means assets such as shares, property, investment income etc) over £16,000. Any savings or capital over £6,000 will also affect how much you can get. Whilst single applicants can apply from anywhere in the UK except Northern Ireland, families and couples may be restricted by their postcode until it's fully rolled out in 2021.
How much might you get?
The Monthly standard allowance (there may be additional entitlements) is:
1) Single adults under the age of 25 can expect to get £251.77
2) For singles over 25, but under pensionable age, £317.82
3) Couples where both are under 25 can receive up to £395.20
4) Couples where both are under 25 can receive up to £395.20
5) For over 25s, but under pensionable age, £498.89.
Payments for Universal Credit are paid directly into your bank or building society account. How much you're entitled to depends on your individual circumstances, and factors include any income you receive from employment and the size of your family. Payments include the standard allowance, plus any other amounts that are relevant to your application.Extra money is often available for eligible applicants who need help towards things like childcare costs, and who care for either a child or adult with a disability. Figures range from £151.89 to £649.38 per month. Each family's circumstances will be different, and there are various exceptions to consider too. For more information, visit https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit/what-youll-get.
How to claim
To claim Universal Credit, you can sign-up and complete an online form via the government website at https://www.gov.uk/apply-universal-credit
or you can or call the helpline on 0345 600 0723. If you use a textphone, dial 0345 600 0743.
Once your application has been accepted, you'll be invited to an interview at your nearest Jobcentre Plus. Please note, if you fail to attend the interview, your application will be rejected. And just like the old system, to be awarded the benefit, you'll need to agree to meet certain criteria to prove you're actively seeking employment: this is called a Claimant Commitment.
When you claim Universal Credit, you may also be eligible for help towards housing costs, including service charges, interest payments on your mortgage, and interest on loans secured against your property. As the application process can be quite lengthy, the government is aware many people struggle to support themselves during this period and so offer an advance. To apply for an advance payment, call the helpline.
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