Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a new payment for working age people who are on a low income or out of work. To get Universal Credit, you must be aged 18 or over and be under State Pension age. It will be introduced in Northern Ireland on a phased geographical basis from September 2017.

About Universal Credit

Universal Credit will help make sure you are better off in work than on benefits and give you the help you need to prepare for work, start work or earn more money.

It will include support for the cost of housing, children and childcare, as well as financial support for disabled people, carers and people who are too ill to work.

In return for this support, it is your responsibility to do everything you can to find work or increase your earnings.

Benefits being replaced by Universal Credit

The benefits that will be replaced are:

  • Jobseeker’s Allowance (income-based)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (income-related)
  • Income Support
  • Child Tax Credits
  • Working Tax Credits
  • Housing Benefit (rental)

Benefits not being replaced by Universal Credit

The benefits not being replaced and which will continue are:

  • Jobseeker’s Allowance (contribution-based)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (contribution-based)
  • Child Benefit
  • Pension Credit
  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit

Who can get Universal Credit

To get Universal Credit in Northern Ireland you must:

  • be living in Northern Ireland (for England, Scotland or Wales, visit GOV.UK)
  • be 18 years of age or over (16 or over in certain circumstances - see exemptions below)
  • be under State Pension age
  • not be in education (unless exemptions apply - please see below)
  • not have savings or capital over £16,000

Exemptions if you are 16 or 17

If you are 16 or 17, you can get Universal Credit if you:

  • have limited capability for work or you have medical evidence and are waiting for a work capability assessment
  • care for a severely disabled person
  • are responsible for a child
  • are in a couple with responsibility for at least one child and your partner is eligible for Universal Credit
  • are pregnant and it’s 11 weeks or less before your expected week of childbirth
  • have had a child in the last 15 weeks
  • don’t have parental support, for example, you don’t have parents and you’re not under local authority care

If you’re in training or studying full time, you can get Universal Credit if you:

  • are in a couple and your partner is eligible for Universal Credit
  • are responsible for a child, either as a single person or as a couple, if both of you are students
  • are disabled and entitled to Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment and have limited capability for work
  • are in ‘non-advanced education’ (for example, studying for A levels or a BTEC National Diploma), are 21 or under and don’t have parental support

Exemptions to being in education

If you are in education you will not normally be entitled to Universal Credit unless you:

  • are responsible for a child or qualifying young person
  • are ill or have a disability - you must have limited capability for work and receive Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance or Personal Independence Payment
  • are under 21 on a full-time non-advanced course (or are 21 but were under that age when you started the course) and are ‘without parental support’, for example, estranged from your parents or living away from them
  • are a single foster parent
  • are a couple, both of you are students, and one of you is a foster parent or responsible for a child or qualifying young person
  • you are over the qualifying age for State Pension credit and you partner has not yet reached that age

When Universal Credit will be introduced

New claims

Universal Credit will be introduced for new claims on a phased geographical basis from September 2017 to September 2018.  The planned approach is set out below.

Date Universal Credit will start Jobs & Benefits / Social Security office
27 September 2017 Limavady
15 November 2017 Ballymoney
13 December 2017 Magherafelt and Coleraine
17 January 2018 Strabane and Lisnagelvin
7 February 2018 Foyle and Armagh
21 February 2018 Omagh and Enniskillen
7 March 2018 Dungannon and Portadown
18 April 2018 Banbridge and Lurgan
2 May 2018 Kilkeel, Downpatrick and Newry
16 May 2018 Bangor, Newtownards and Holywood Road
30 May 2018 Knockbreda, Newtownabbey and Shankill
13 June 2018 Corporation Street, Falls and Andersonstown
27 June 2018 Shaftesbury Square, Lisburn and Larne
4 July 2018 Carrickfergus, Antrim and Ballymena
July to September 2018 Cookstown, Ballynahinch and Newcastle

People already receiving a benefit that is being replaced by Universal Credit

If you currently receive any of the six benefits being replaced, you will be transferred to Universal Credit between July 2019 and March 2022. 

However, if your circumstances change after Universal Credit has been introduced in your area, you may move to Universal Credit at that time. 

Getting ready for Universal Credit

If you currently receive benefits or credits that are being replaced by Universal Credit, the Department for Communities will contact you to guide you through the steps you need to take when your claim is ready to move to Universal Credit.

You will claim Universal Credit online.

Work Allowance

Unlike the current system, benefits will not suddenly be removed if you start work. A certain amount can be earned before a Universal Credit payment is reduced. This is known as your Work Allowance.

For any money you earn over your Work Allowance, your Universal Credit will be gradually reduced.

This allows you to take temporary or seasonal jobs without making a new claim or having gaps between paydays as you move in and out of work.

Universal Credit Payments

Universal Credit will be paid twice a month to a household, however you can request a monthly payment. A household could be a single person, a couple or a family. If you are part of a couple you may request a split payment into separate bank accounts.

If your Universal Credit claim is successful, you will get your first payment between five and six weeks after you make your claim.

How payments are worked out

Universal Credit payments are worked out in three stages.

Stage 1 – standard allowance

This is an amount for you or you and your partner. There are four Standard Allowance rates. The amount you get will depend on your age and if you are part of a couple.

Stage 2 - elements

You may be entitled to an additional amount, known as an element.

Element What the payment is for

Child element

Payment for each child you have plus an additional amount if any child has a disability (this is called the Disabled Child Element and is paid at one of two rates)

Childcare element

Payment to help cover relevant childcare costs
Limited capability for work element A payment when you cannot be expected to look for work because of a disability or health condition
Limited capability for work-related activity element A payment when you cannot be expected to look for work because of a disability or health condition

Carer element

A payment to support you if you are providing a significant amount of care to someone with a disability

Housing element

A payment to help cover relevant housing costs. If you are renting a property, the housing payment will be paid directly to your property landlord. You can request the payment is made to you.

Stage 3 – other income

Your Universal Credit payment will be dependent on your other income such as:

  • savings and/or capital above £6,000
  • other benefits you receive
  • any other income (for example, a pension) or take home pay
  • any advances, sanctions, overpayments or third party deductions you and/or your partner have

Sanctions and hardship

New sanctions and hardship payments will be introduced. If you do not follow the rules of the benefit you are getting, such as going to an interview or medical examination, you could lose your benefit. These are called sanctions.

If losing benefits means you are in severe need, hardship payments can be made which you will have to pay back.

Other help and support

There will be support available for people affected by the introduction of Universal Credit.

If you’re receiving a Welfare Supplementary Payment, because you’ve already been impacted by a previous welfare change and then move or make a claim to Universal Credit, you will still receive your Welfare Supplementary Payment, provided your circumstances and eligibility haven’t changed.  

Welfare Supplementary Payments will also be available for Universal Credit claimants who may at a later date be affected by the Benefit Cap, Social Sector Size Criteria, loss of carer payment or loss of contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance as a result of Welfare Changes.   If eligible, you will receive these payments automatically, without needing to make an application.                                                                                                       
Welfare Supplementary Payments are available until 31 March 2020.  Some Welfare Supplementary Payments are payable for up to one year until 31 March 2020.  If you’re awarded a payment, you will be advised how long you’ll receive it for.

A  Rate Rebate Scheme will provide rates support for tenants or home owners who are entitled to Universal Credit.

Welfare changes helpline

If you need help or advice on changes to the welfare system, call the independent welfare changes helpline.

More useful links

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