Claiming Universal Credit? Why it could make it harder to cope


Financial Guidance

If you’re planning to claim Universal Credit because you’re out of work, be warned: the way it works could mean that you’ll end up struggling more.

This is because the design of the benefit means you can wait at least six weeks to get your first payment. And if anything goes wrong with your claim, you might have to wait even longer. Let’s take a look at why this is and how you could make sure you stay afloat if you’re making a claim for Universal Credit.

What are the rules?

Universal Credit is set to replace Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit. It’s supposed to streamline the six benefits so you get all of these in one monthly payment rather than all separately.

The rollout of Universal Credit will now take until 2022, so it might not be in your area yet. The Government has a Universal Credit map so you can see where you can claim the benefit.

But the design of Universal Credit means you could wait at least six weeks before you get any money. This is because you have to wait seven days before you can apply and you’ll then have to have an assessment month. During this time, you won’t get any money.

And it’s possible you could wait even longer due to administrative delays. This could happen if you are late to submit any evidence needed for your claim, or if your council has a backlog of claims.

If money’s tight, you’d probably struggle to cover your important bills during this wait. The Government is currently consulting on the way that Universal Credit works, as some landlords and politicians are claiming that the six-week wait is pushing claimants into debt. They claim that some people have to turn to foodbanks or rely on credit to get by.

How you can cope

Claiming for Universal Credit usually means you’ve just stopped working, either because you’ve lost your job or you can’t work for any other reason. If this happens, make sure to save your last paycheque – this has to last you until you get your first Universal Credit payment.

It’s worth putting together a quick budget for this time – you can also use this when you’re covering your bills with Universal Credit. Make sure you write down how much your last wage is and all of the important bills you have to cover between now and your first Universal Credit payment date.

You might have to cut back on certain luxuries for the short-term so you can make ends meet – so if you can cancel your gym membership and you don’t go, this could be a way to save. But don’t feel like you have to deny yourself any treats – it’s just about making sure you can afford the important things.

And if you’re not sure how you’ll manage the bills on benefits, check out our guide to budgeting for monthly bills.

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