A UNIVERSAL Credit rule change will see half a million disabled Brits gradually moved onto the welfare system – but it could leave some worse off.
Claimants who are eligible for the severe disability premium (SDP) top-up when they claim certain benefits can now be moved onto Universal Credit.
Disabled claimants have been protected from moving onto the system since 2019 over fears they will see their welfare payments drop.
But as of January 27 this year, the "gateway" was removed, meaning anyone on the tax credit system will be rolled onto Universal Credit if they have a change in circumstances, such as moving house.
The SDP boost is to recognise that the cost of living is more for people with disabilities, and is only available to those on an income-related benefit.
These include Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Housing Benefit or Pension Credit.
What to do if you have problems claiming Universal Credit
IF you’re experiencing trouble applying for your Universal Credit, or the payments just don’t cover costs, here are your options:
- Apply for an advance – Claimants are able to get some cash within five days rather than waiting weeks for their first payment. But it's a loan which means the repayments will be automatically deducted from your future Universal Credit payout.
- Alternative Payment Arrangements – If you're falling behind on rent, you or your landlord may be able to apply for an APA which will get your payment sent directly to your landlord. You might also be able to change your payments to get them more frequently, or you can split the payments if you're part of a couple.
- Budgeting Advance – You may be able to get help from the Government for emergency household costs of up to £348 if you're single, £464 if you're part of a couple or £812 if you have children. These are only in cases like your cooker breaking down or for help getting a job. You'll have to repay the advance through your regular Universal Credit payments. You'll still have to repay the loan, even if you stop claiming for Universal Credit.
- Cut your Council Tax – You might be able to get a discount on your Council Tax by applying for a Council Tax Reduction. Alternatively, you might be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments to help cover your rent.
- Foodbanks – If you're really hard up and struggling to buy food and toiletries, you can find your local foodbank who will provide you with help for free. You can find your nearest one on the Trussell Trust website.
But it's not something that's recognised under Universal Credit.
Instead, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) introduced a transitional element worth up to £405 a month to make up for the lost income.
However, the payments are not like-for-like and charities are warning that the move could see thousands of people on benefits worse off, according to disability equality charity Scope.
Carlos Hagi, benefits expert at Citizens Advice, warns people who move on to Universal Credit won't be able to reverse their decision if they find they're worse off on it.
He said: "For that reason we’d urge people to think carefully about a move."
How much is SDP worth?
The SDP is worth £66.95 a week for a single person and £133.90 a week for couples.
The benefit is paid on top of the income-related benefits, such as ESA.
The premium is not acknowledged under Universal Credit, so the DWP introduced a "transitional element" to support disabled people on benefits when they are moved on to the new system.
How much you get depends on whether you're claiming as a single person or a couple, and whether you were expected to look for work.
The top-ups are worth £120, £285 or £405 a month, depending on your circumstances.
How do I apply for Universal Credit?
HERE’S all you need to know about applying for Universal Credit.
You'll need to apply to the new welfare system via the gov.uk website, starting by setting up an online account.
To make an account, you'll need an email address and a phone number.
After that, you'll need to answer a set of questions about your current circumstances, known as your "to do list".
These include things like when you last received payment for a job, what your household income is and how many people depend on you financially.
If you've lost your job, Citizens Advice recommends that you don't apply until you've received your final wages or any final holiday pay.
This is because any money you receive after you've applied for Universal Credit will count as income and mean that you're entitled to less in your first payment.
You will then need to confirm your identity online.
In certain circumstances, you'll be able to apply over the phone, such as those who don't have regular access to the internet, are visually impaired, or have a physical condition that stops you from using a computer or smartphone.
To do this, you will need to contact the Universal Credit helpline to ask if you can apply by phone or arrange a home visit.
In this case, someone can call them on your behalf if you can't do it yourself.
In some cases, claimants may be better off but that's not the case for everyone.
For example, Citizens Advice warns those with disabled children may be worse off on the new system, as the disabled child elements in Universal Credit are not as generous for some claimants as those in tax credits.
How will moving onto Universal Credit affect you?
One of the biggest differences between the legacy system and Universal Credit is that claimants will move from weekly payments to monthly ones.
This means that the transitional payments and SDP are not equal, as we explained earlier.
Scope also warns the transitional payment isn't ringfenced like other elements, and can be eroded over time.
So if another element rises, such as housing to cover increasing rent, the amount is deducted from your transitional element.
This continues until the transitional element it worth £0.
Turn2Us warns this means disabled people on Universal Credit won't benefit from annual pay rises linked to inflation either, as the increase will be taken off their transitional element.
Scope argues that reducing the transitional element doesn't acknowledge the increased cost of living for those with disabilities.
Louise Rubin, head of policy and campaigns at Scope, said: "Disability premiums aren’t a luxury, they help cover the extra costs disabled people face.
"They should never have been cut out of the welfare system under Universal Credit."
Hard up Brits also face a five-week wait for their first Universal Credit payment, which could push them further into poverty.
The Sun has been calling for the wait time to be cut to two weeks under our Make Universal Credit Work campaign.
They will receive an extra two weeks worth of payments before rolling onto the system, but that still leaves them without cash for three weeks.
Why has the gateway been lifted?
Up until 2019, disabled benefit claimants were being moved onto Universal Credit if they had a change in circumstances that affected their payments, such as their rent going up.
But this saw their welfare payments drop but up to hundreds of pounds, so the DWP introduced a "gateway" that stopped them rolling onto the system.
What to do if you can’t pay your bills
FALLING behind on your energy bills can be extremely stressful.
If you’re struggling to pay what you owe, contact your supplier as soon as possible.
Your provider has to help you come up with a solution, and you should be able to negotiate a deal that works for you both.
One option is to agree a payment plan where you pay off your debts in affordable instalments.
You may be able to pay off your debts directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme.
A fixed amount will automatically be taken to cover what you owe plus your usage.
To be eligible, you must be getting one of the following benefits:
- Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
- Income support
- income-related employment and support allowance
- Pension credit
- Universal Credit (but only if you’re not working)
If you cannot come to an agreement with your supplier, they may try to force you to get a prepayment meter installed.
In very rare cases, where you refuse to negotiate, your supplier might threaten you with disconnection.
In May 2019, the High Court ruled that the benefit cuts for disabled claimants was unlawful for those who'd already moved onto Universal Credit before January 16 2019.
If you were entitled to SDP on other benefits and you claimed Universal Credit after 16 January 2019, you will have been considered for the boost.
But Scope argues the timing couldn't be worse for disabled people, who are already facing increased bills after spending most of the year shielding amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Rubin added: "With disabled people bearing the brunt of the pandemic, financial support is needed now more than ever.
"The Government must reintroduce disability premiums under Universal Credit and provide an emergency support package for disabled people hit hardest by the pandemic."
A spokesperson for the DWP said: "The money from the legacy disability premiums is now more effectively targeted at support for the most severely disabled and when fully rolled out, Universal Credit will be £2billion per year more generous than the support it replaces."
Brits on Universal Credit will be given 24 months to repay advance loans, up from just 12, from next month.
We explain 11 ways to get extra cash or help if you're on Universal Credit.
The £20 a week Universal Credit uplift in payments is being extended for another six months, Mr Sunak revealed in the Budget.
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