Universal Credit during coronavirus

Last updated: 17/04/2020

This section has information on changes to Universal Credit because of coronavirus, making a claim for UC, New style Employment and Support Allowance.

If you don’t have enough to live on, you may be advised to claim universal credit (UC), to help with rent as well as income for you and your children. Claiming UC means that your tax credits will be automatically stopped, and you won’t be able to get them back. 

Get advice about whether you should claim UC to make sure claiming will not make you worse off if you are currently getting Tax Credits and especially if you are under 25 years old, have savings of over £16,000 or you are a student.  As a student, you may be entitled to UC if you have children or are disabled, but student income affects the amount of UC you get, while nearly all student income is ignored for Tax Credits. 

Call the Lone Parent Helpline on 0808 801 0323 or use the Turn2Us benefits calculator.

Changes to Universal credit because of coronavirus

The standard allowance, the maximum monthly amount, is now:

  • £342.72 for a single claimant younger than 25
  • £409.89 for a single claimant aged 25 or older
  • £488.59 for joint claimants who are both younger than 25
  • £594.04 for joint claimants who are both aged 25 or older

These increased amounts will apply to the first UC assessment period that ends on or after 6 April 2020. These rates apply for the 2020/21 year; we don’t know whether the rates will be reduced later.

If you are a tenant of a private landlord, Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates are used to work out your UC housing costs element. LHA rates have been made more generous. You can check local housing allowance here.

If you already have a Claimant Commitment where you have to look for or apply for jobs,  this now changes to a requirement to be able and willing to take up paid work, or to attend an interview, at the end of the three-month period, or possibly longer. 

Most sanctions have been suspended, but you might still be sanctioned if you left a job voluntarily. If you have left a job because you are shielding a member of your household, you should explain that you were following government advice. 

Self-employed people with low earnings who are claiming UC are often treated as earning more income than they actually earned. The DWP compare real earnings with how much they expect self-employed people to earn each month (your ‘minimum income floor’ MIF). The government has announced that the MIF will be temporarily relaxed and you will not be treated as earning more income than you actually have earned.

If you get payments from the Self-employment income support scheme (SEISS), these payments will be treated as income in the monthly assessment period in which you receive them.

This means they will reduce the amount of UC you get for that assessment period. If you get no UC for that assessment period because your earnings are too high, your UC should automatically go back into payment if your income drops again within the next five months. However, depending on how high your SEISS payment is, some of it may be carried over into future UC assessment periods as ‘surplus earnings’ and so affect how much you get for those assessment periods.

Get advice from the Lone Parent Helpline on 0808 801 0323.

Making a claim for Universal Credit

To make a new claim for Universal Credit, you need to apply for Universal Credit online.

You need to verify your identity on-line using GOV UK- Verify or through your Government Gateway account details, if you have this.  If you use the GOV UK- Verify process, you must phone the UC Service Centre on 0800 328 5644 to book appointment to verify ID and/or agree claimant commitment to complete the claim.  You will be given a time and date when your Work Coach will phone you to complete a telephone appointment, but the call backs may be in 2-3 weeks and it will be from a withheld number. Keep your bank details and ID details handy so you can answer the questions they ask in this call.

If you can’t verify your identity online, leave a note on your online account – ask to be called back and explain why. Before the DWP call you, they’ll send you a message on your online account. They might use a withheld, 0800 or private number.

The DWP will let you know it’s them by mentioning your postcode and part of your Universal Credit account number during the call. Ask for these things if they’re not mentioned and hang up if you don’t get them – it might be a scam call.

The Citizens Advice Bureau have a special Universal Credit Help to Claim service: The DWP UC helpline is 0800 328 5644.

Making a claim for New style Employment and Support Allowance

Check eligibility online.

To claim new style ESA (if you are not already claiming Universal Credit) phone the DWP (0800 328 5644 Option 2) and make a new claim. But note – this is the same DWP number as the Universal Credit helpline and it can take a long time to get through. And, when you do get through, be clear that you want to apply for New Style ESA NOT Universal Credit. 

You’ll get a text, phone call or letter within 10 days to arrange a telephone interview with a DWP Work Coach. During your telephone interview, you’ll be asked a few questions to prove your identity. 

You and your work coach will talk about how your illness or disability affects your ability to work and the support you need. In the interview, you’ll agree with the work coach what you need to do to get ESA. You might have to have a medical assessment, but you will not need to attend a face to face assessment and will be contacted to discuss next steps, which include telephone or paper-based assessments. 

If you are already claiming Universal Credit and want to claim New Style ESA as well, contact your work coach through your UC journal about applying. The DWP will contact you to let you know what you need to do instead.