Changes to the welfare system have caused a storm in the media, after the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, admitted that some people might be ‘worse off’ with the arrangement.

Universal credit in HuntingdonUniversal credit in Huntingdon

Ms McVey told the BBC that the Government had made “tough decisions” but conceded that some would be “worse off” as a result of the changes.

But she also defended the changes saying that universal credit would help people into work and that a million disabled people would receive “significantly more”.

So what is universal credit?

Universal credit is a new welfare scheme designed to wrap up a number of benefits and provide them under one umbrella.

The new system will replace six benefits and instead provide them in one monthly payment, instead of separately.

Millions of people were expected to start being moved over to the new scheme from their existing benefits in late 2017 but it is believed that some people may not be put on it until November 2020.

The new welfare system will replace six benefits including; child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income based jobseekers allowance, income related employment and support allowance and working tax credit.

The Government has said that universal credit will benefit about three million households in the country when the new system is introduced.

The benefit will be paid once a month into bank accounts, where they will be expected to make payments towards their outgoings themselves.

For example, the payment can include an amount for housing. This will need to be pay directly to a landlord by the claimant.

Government website, www.gov.uk, states: “Universal credit is being introduced in stages across the UK. You do not need to do anything until you hear from the Department for Work and Pensions about moving to universal credit, unless you have a change in circumstances.”

The big differences:

- You can get universal credit if you’re unemployed, but also if you are working

- It is a single payment each month instead of weekly or fortnightly

- If you are claiming housing benefits, rent will be paid directly to you

Who can claim universal credit?

You can apply for universal credit if you are on a low income or unemployed.

You will usually only be able to claim universal credit if you are aged 18 or over, but some people aged 16 or 17 can get it, depending on their circumstances.

The benefit is available to people who are out of work, including people looking for work and people unable to work due to illness, disability or childcare commitments and to those caring for disabled people or those in work and on low incomes.

And you usually won’t be able to claim universal credit if you’re in full-time education or training, but people with certain circumstances can still apply.

It was also announced that the limit on child benefit will no longer apply to families who adopt children or look after relatives.

Currently, a family can only claim cash for their first two children but if a family with two children adopt another, they are entitled to an increase in benefits.

Ms McVey announced that from April this year, the same rule will apply to all families with adopted children.

The rule change also applies to people who look after their relatives’ children, but it will not apply to stepchildren as long as they are living with one of their biological parents.

How to claim universal credit:

There are three ways to claim the new welfare credit.

1. Through a new claim.

2. Through an existing claim, when circumstances change. This is called natural migration -

3. If you already claim tax credit. This comes through being transferred from an existing benefit or tax credit to Universal Credit via a process known as ‘managed migration’. The roll out of managed migration will take place between July 2019 and March 2023.

Depending on where you live in the country and on your family situation (single, couple no children, family with children), new claims and natural migration have been the way in. The managed migration process will take longer to kick into place and will be phased in gradually.

To find out more visit: www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk.

Let us know what you think. Will universal credit benefit you or will you be left short of money? E-mail Katie.ridley@archant.co.uk or call 01480 443472.