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Overview of universal credit

This content applies to England

An overview of universal credit including information about its administration and roll out.

Universal credit replaces six other benefits and is intended to cover both living expenses and accommodation costs for those who are entitled.

Administration of universal credit

Universal credit is administered by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). The DWP has published its Advice for Decision Making (ADM) to provide guidance on universal credit.

Benefits to be replaced

From April 2013, universal credit started to replace the following means-tested benefits for universal credit claimants:[1]

  • housing benefit (although in some circumstances a claimant can receive both universal credit and housing benefit, see 'Excluded payments' on Payment condition)
  • income-based jobseeker's allowance (JSA)
  • income-related employment and support allowance (ESA)
  • income support (including support for mortgage interest)
  • child tax credit
  • working tax credit.

Other benefits are unaffected, including:

  • disability living allowance (until replaced by personal independence payment)
  • contribution-based JSA
  • contribution-based ESA
  • carer's allowance
  • child benefit.

However, some of these benefits will count as 'unearned income' (for more on this, see 'Method for calculating universal credit').

Full service and live service areas

Universal credit is being phased in on an area by area basis. Initially claims were taken for the 'live' service and claimants had to fulfil certain 'gateway' conditions such as being single, aged between 18 and 60 and had it not been for the introduction of universal credit, eligible for income-based JSA. As the programme expanded, claims were accepted from wider groups in some areas.[2]

In the 'full service' (also known as 'digital service') areas the 'gateway' conditions do not apply and universal credit replaces all the former ('legacy') benefits for all new claimants. Claims are managed through an on-line account.

In the 'live service' ('gateway') areas, gateway conditions apply, and claims are managed by telephone. Live service claims will eventually move to the full service. No new claims have been taken in live service areas since 31 December 2017, although in response to certain changes of circumstances, DWP will institute a new claim without the client having made one. These relate to certain changes of circumstances such as a single claimant having taken on a partner and become a joint claimant and are intended to make sure that people already within the universal credit system stay within it.[3]

The full list of jobcentres currently accepting universal credit claims and a map of areas where claims can be made is available from Gov.uk.

The roll out of full service UC was completed by the end of December 2018. This means that no new claims can now be made for legacy benefits in any part of the country (apart from mixed age pension couples and those with more than two children). DWP guidance explains which were the last postcode areas to move to full service. A list of local authorities and jobcentre areas and the date on which they transitioned to the full universal credit service is available from the DWP.

Migration of claimants onto universal credit

Claimants of legacy benefits will be transferred ('migrated') to universal credit after the full service has been brought in to all areas. The migration will require legacy benefit claimants to make a claim for universal credit. For more information about the migration process, see Migration and transitional protection.

The DWP has published HB Circular A7/2018 providing guidance for local authorities in full service areas setting out the circumstances when a:

  • new universal credit claim is required
  • housing benefit claim can remain in payment following a change of address
  • new housing benefit claim may be accepted.

Moving out of a gateway area

A universal credit claimant in a gateway area (ie a 'live service' area where gateway conditions apply) remains on universal credit even if s/he moves out of a gateway area. HB circulars A13/2013, A14/2013 and A12/2014 provide guidance in relation to this and other changes of circumstance that may affect claimants in the gateway areas, such as if they gain a partner or child which may result in them no longer meeting the gateway conditions.

HB Circular A12/2014 advises local authorities to close down a housing benefit claim when a universal credit claimant moves in with an existing housing benefit claimant.

Universal credit for homeless people and people at risk of homelessness

The DWP has published a guide which gathers together advice on issues that may particularly affect homeless people such as how UC can be paid to people without bank accounts, how to claim without identification and 'easements' which allow the work related conditions on a UC claim to be lifted for a short time to enable a person to find accommodation. It is aimed at organisations who assist homeless people and those at risk of homelessness.

[1] s.33(1) Welfare Reform Act 2012; reg 4 Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2013, SI 2013/386.

[2] Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.9,11,13,14, and 16 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Amendment)) Order 2014 SI 2014/1452; Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.9,11,13,14,16 and 17 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Amendment)) Order 2014 SI 2014/1661; Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.9,11,13,14,16 and 17 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Amendment) (No.2)) Order 2014 SI 2014/1923. See also DWP Memos ADM 14/14 and 15/14.

[3] No legislative change is required as reg 4, Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2014 SI 2014/1230 gives the Secretary of State the power to make a determination that new claims for universal credit will not be taken in specified circumstances but see Memo ADM 1/18 for exceptions.

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