Welfare reform and
Universal Credit

The government has brought in new legislation that's changing benefits.

This means the benefit cap has been lowered, Universal Credit is rolling out across the country, and there’ll be new rules for the amount of help you can get.

How will benefit changes affect you?

If you receive benefits, you’ll see changes to the way you pay your rent as well as the amount of benefits you get. It’s really important that you pay your rent on time, so if you need any information please contact us.

What do you need to know about Universal Credit?

How will this affect you?

When you move onto Universal Credit, you’ll receive one monthly payment for your benefits. This means you’ll be responsible for paying us directly for your rent.

Universal Credit is paid in arrears – after it’s due. It’s only paid to one person in your household.

When will you be affected?

The government’s aiming to move everyone onto Universal Credit by 2022. It was available everywhere for unemployed single people who don’t have children, but this changed in December 2017 so they are now included in the general roll out for new claims which is due to be complete by December 2018.

You can find out when it’s coming to your area on the gov.uk website.

You might find the Universal Credit budgeting tool from the Money Advice Service useful.

What do you need to do about it?

  • You’ll need a bank account that your Universal Credit can be paid into.
  • Think about setting up a budget and make sure you can pay all your essential bills, like rent, Council Tax, gas and electricity.
  • The easiest way to pay your rent is to set up a Direct Debit.

How do I apply for Universal Credit?

You can apply for Universal Credit online.
Note: To claim Universal Credit you will need an email account.

What details do I need?

Getting all your details together in advance will save you time and make it easier to apply. You might also need to attend an interview at your local Jobcentre Plus. If you’re making a joint claim, your partner will need their details too.

You’ll need details of your:

  • National Insurance number
  • Housing – your tenancy agreement
  • Income and savings
  • Childcare situation
  • other benefits, if you get any

Your National Insurance number

You can find your National Insurance number on a payslip or letter from HM Revenue and Customs – call the National Insurance helpline if you can’t find it.

Tel: 0300 200 3500 (Monday to Friday from 8.00am to 5.00pm)
Textphone: 0300 200 3519

If you don’t have one, apply for a National Insurance number on GOV.UK.

Claiming for housing costs to pay your rent

You’ll need to know:

  • your postcode
  • how much rent you pay
  • any service charges you pay

All these details should be on your tenancy agreement. If you don’t have one, you can ask us for a copy or for a letter with details of your agreement.

When you provide the name of your housing provider/landlord, please put down The Guinness Partnership. Please do not put down Guinness Trust or Guinness Northern Counties, as this causes confusion at the Department of Work & Pensions.

What do I need to prepare for an interview?

You’ll have to take documents that prove you’ve given the correct details in your online application. You won’t get your first Universal Credit payment until you’ve brought all the documents with you.

If you don’t take all your documents, you’ll need to take them to your Jobcentre within 1 month of your interview.

If you live with your partner they’ll have their own interview. They’ll need to take documents proving their details too – even if you’ve already proved some details in your interview.

For more information on what you need to prepare, Citizens Advice have provided a helpful checklist.

What happens when you wait?

Once you have applied for Universal Credit you will have to wait 5 weeks for your first payment. You may have little or no money until your first payment. You can request an advance payment from your work coach or by calling the free Universal Credit helpline:

Free Telephone: 0800 328 5644
Textphone: 0800 328 1344

Visit the Government’s website for more information on how to apply for advanced payments and how to repay.

Where can you get help?

When the time comes for you to move to Universal Credit, the Department of Work and Pensions will offer you help with budgeting and setting up bill payments.

You might find the Universal Credit budgeting tool from the Money Advice Service useful.

How does working affect Universal Credit?

You can work as many hours as you like when you’re on Universal Credit. There are no limits like there are with existing benefits such as Income Support or Working Tax Credits.

If you’re in paid work you might be entitled to a work allowance.

What is the work allowance?

The work allowance is the amount of money you’re allowed to earn before your Universal Credit payment is affected.

You will be entitled to a work allowance if you’re:

  • responsible for dependent children, and/or
  • you can’t work as much because of illness or disability.

You can find more information on Universal Credit work allowance on the Government’s website.

What do you need to know about the benefit cap?

How will this affect you?

The cap limits the amount of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit you get if you’re of working age but not working.

If your total benefits exceed the cap amount, your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit will be capped. This means it won’t cover all your rent. It’s your responsibility to pay your rent. So it’s important that you find out if you’re affected, as you’ll need to make up the difference.

How much is the cap?

The benefits received by your household are added together. This means any benefits that you or your partner get, and any for dependent children who live with you.

The new rates are:

For parents and couples without children:

  • £442.31 a week in London
  • £384.62 a week outside London

For single people:

  • £296.35 a week in London
  • £257.69 a week outside London

To find out if the cap affects you, please use the government’s benefit cap calculator.

Is anyone exempt from the cap?

The government says the cap will encourage people into work. So if you’re working, or aren’t able to work, the cap won’t apply. If you’ve been in regular work but lost your job, there’ll be a period of time where the cap won’t apply. This should give you time to find other work.

If you or someone in your family gets a disability benefit, or if you’ve retired, the cap won’t affect you.

You can check the full exemption list on the Citizens Advice website.

What should you do about it?

  • Work out if you’re affected by the cap by checking whether you’re exempt, and, if you’re not, by adding up the benefits you receive. If the total is more than the amounts above, your benefits will be capped.
  • You’ll have to make up any shortfall in your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit.
  • Paying your rent is really important. Setting up a Direct Debit for your rent can help to make sure you don’t miss any payments.
  • You may be able to claim a Discretionary Housing Payment from your local authority if you’re struggling to pay your rent.

What do you need to know about Discretionary Housing Payments?

Discretionary Housing Payments

These government changes may leave you with less Housing Benefit than you need to pay your rent.

If you can’t make up the shortfall, your local authority might be able to top it up with a Discretionary Housing Payment.

Applying for a Discretionary Housing Payment

You’ll probably have to complete a form with details of your income and what you spend.

Help will vary depending on your local authority. You can find yours on the gov.uk website. Some might limit payments or ask you to do something else, like finding somewhere cheaper to live.