OPINION: The Kirklees Citizens Advice and Law Centre column with Nick Whittingham

BENEFITS CHANGE: Make sure you have all the details.
BENEFITS CHANGE: Make sure you have all the details.

Universal Credit is a new benefit for people who are out of work or on low incomes.

It is replacing six benefits: Income-based Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Income Support and Housing Benefit.

This week we are going to look at some of the issues we have found and give you some tips on what to look out for if it affects you or someone you know.

Universal Credit has been introduced gradually in Kirklees for most people from 1 November 2017. You only need to go onto Universal Credit if you are making a new claim.

We have found that some people have been told to claim Universal Credit when they don’t need to – if you are not sure, please get independent advice before you make a claim.

This is particularly important if you have a disability, because most people with a disability will be worse off on Universal Credit.

If you are already on ESA it is really important to get independent advice before you make a claim for Universal Credit.

If you stop work and are entitled to Contribution-based JSA or ESA you need to claim that separately. These benefits are now known as ‘new style’ JSA and ESA. You may be able to claim Universal Credit as well, but it will usually be better to claim a ‘new style’ benefit if you are entitled to it.

If you do need to claim Universal Credit, you have to make the claim online using a computer or smartphone.

If you don’t have access to a computer or smartphone you can go to the Jobcentre, a library or a Council Customer Service Centre to use a computer.

If you cannot leave your home because of a disability you can call the Universal Credit helpline and ask for someone to visit your home to help you claim.

After you apply, you need to contact the Jobcentre within seven days to make an appointment to see a work coach otherwise your payments may be delayed. Y

ou will be asked to sign a ‘claimant commitment’ which sets out what you have to do to keep getting benefit.

Make sure you understand this, and if there is anything you won’t be able to do, for example because you have a disability or you are caring for a relative, you must tell your work coach and get them to change it.

If you do not do anything agreed in the claimant commitment you could be sanctioned. If you can’t get changes or you are sanctioned unfairly get advice as soon as possible.

Once you claim it will be at least six weeks before you receive a payment. You can ask for an advance, and this is better than borrowing money.

When payments start, you will be paid monthly – make sure you budget so that the money you get lasts for the whole month. If you need help with budgeting tell your work coach.

The Universal Credit helpline number is 0345 600 0723 and is now free to call. The helpline staff are employed by DWP and may not be well trained, so be cautious about relying on any benefits advice they give – always check with an independent adviser.

Some of this is complicated. If you are not sure or need help, make sure you get advice before you do anything.

You can phone Advice Kirklees on 03448 487970.