Welfare reform and benefits
The government has announced a series of changes to the welfare and benefits system. You need to know how the changes could affect you if you receive benefits, or whether you may now be eligible for government support. The benefits system is designed to provide help and financial support for people who are:
- on a low household income
- bringing up children
- caring for someone
- Universal Credit
The Government is replacing a number of benefits for households of working age with a new system called Universal Credit. If you’re entitled to this benefit, you’ll receive it as a single monthly payment.
The benefits Universal Credit will replace include:
- income support
- income-based job seekers’ allowance
- employment and support allowance
- housing benefit
- child tax credit
- working tax credit.
If you need advice or support with Universal Credit please contact Advice Services by completing our online self referral form.
How do I prepare for Universal Credit?
- Child Tax Credit
From 6 April 2017 if you are responsible for a child born on or after this date, and already get Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit for two or more other children, you may not receive any additional payments for the third or subsequent child.
This doesn't affect you if you receive Child Benefit, payments made for disabled children where Disability Living Allowance (DLA) has been awarded or childcare, or if you are already receiving help for more than 2 children. This only affects you if you have a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017.
If you have two children, but are not claiming any benefits for an older child (as they may be over 16 and no longer in applicable full time education, or may have left home) then if you have another child on or after 6 April 2017 you can get the child element.
If you are not receiving either of these benefits currently and have to make a new claim, even if you have three or more children, if they were born before 6 April 2017 you will be able to get help for all your children. Your claim will be for tax credits, even if you live in an area where Universal Credit is in place for families.
The family element (or "first child premium" in Universal Credit) will also be abolished for families where the eldest child is born on or after 6 April 2017.
There are some exemptions for children born after 6 April 2017 such as multiple births, so for more information on exemptions please see https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/articles/tax-credits-and-universal-credit-if-you-have-more-than-two-children/ or contact the advice services team via our self referral form here.
- Personal Independence Payments
Previously, customers with a disability could claim Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to help them live a full and independent life.
From June 2013, this payment was replaced for 16-64 year olds with the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
Customers who began claiming DLA before the new system was introduced won’t be automatically transferred across. Even if you’ve been awarded DLA without any time limits, you’ll need to make a claim for the new payment. At some point you’ll be contacted by the Department for Work and Pensions, who will ask you to fill in a claim form. If you receive a letter 'inviting you to claim' this means your DLA will stop on the date given in the letter - unless you make a new claim for PIP.
The Department for Work and Pensions’ decision about any award will be based on evidence from doctors, consultants, nurses and other medically-qualified professionals. If an award is given, it will be made for a fixed period of time only.
If you’re already claiming DLA, you’ll be invited to claim:
- by October 2015: If you report a change in your condition or reach the end of a fixed-period DLA award
- by October 2015: If you’re a young person receiving DLA who turns 16 during this time
- from October 2015: If your circumstances don’t change and your fixed-period DLA award hasn’t run out between October 2013 and 2015.
The claims process for PIP can be confusing and complicated. If you would like support with your PIP application we can help. Please contact us by completing a referral form.
Visit the Government’s website for more information.
- Benefit Cap
The Welfare Reform and Work Act (2016) introduces some changes to the benefit cap. These changes, which will take effect in autumn 2016, include changes to the benefit cap levels to £23,000 a year for couples with or without children and lone parents and £15,410 for single people without children in Greater London, and £20,000 and £13,400 respectively for those groups elsewhere in Great Britain. They also include additional exemptions for recipients of Guardian’s Allowance, Carer’s Allowance and Universal Credit claimants who receive payments towards carer’s costs.
For more information about the benefit cap changes please visit Government’s website.
If the amount you receive is more than the Government’s limit, your benefit will be cut. The Department for Work and Pension’s benefit cap calculator will help you work out how you might be affected.
Should you need further advice, or support with budgeting in preparation for the changes please contact Advice Services using our online self referral form.
- Under Occupancy
Families of working age who have more bedroom space than they need in their home will have their Housing Benefit cut under the Government’s new rules. The amount it will be cut by is:
- 14% for one spare room
- 25% for two or more spare rooms.
This charge is also known as the “bedroom tax”. It only affects households whose members are below state retirement age.
Under occupation charges are enforced by your local Housing Benefit team who are also responsible for determining the deduction. You can challenge an under occupation charge through your local council and Advice Services have experienced people who can help you to do this; you can contact us by completing our online self referral form. We can also help by assisting you to complete an application for Discretionary Housing Payments (a fund held by most local councils) which can be awarded to make up reduced payments.
Our under occupancy guide explains the rules and the following video explains how under occupancy could affect you.
Benefits are tailored to your individual situation. They will change if your situation changes, or if the benefits system changes. Check you’re claiming accurately.
- Discretionary Housing Payment
Each council has a pot of money that is set aside to support residents on housing benefit or Universal Credit who struggle to pay their rent. This pot is called Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). Local councils may award a DHP payment if you are affected by the bedroom tax, have been impacted by the benefit cap, or have had a sudden loss in income, or in many other circumstances. The money is limited, and once it is spent there is no more available until the following financial year. If you are turned down, it is therefore well worth considering another application around April-time. Each council has their own application process to apply for a DHP and it can be paid as a one off payment to you, for example to help with arrears or to assist you in moving to a smaller property or as an ongoing weekly award to help you maintain your rent account. You will need to provide information about your circumstances and financial position, why you can not pay your rent yourself or what has happened to put you into difficulty. It’s best to contact your local council directly to see if you may be eligible. If you prefer you can use our template letter, but it is likely that the council will then ask you for more details. The Advice Services Team can help you apply if you need some help, or have applied in the past and have been turned down. Please contact the Advice Services Team by completing our self-referral form, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 0800 6781221.
- Housing Benefit
Everyone who is on a low income and in rented accommodation can speak to their council about the possibility of claiming housing benefit (HB). HB is a benefit that is in place to assist those on a low income (either working or on benefits) to pay their rent, it may be that you are eligible for HB to pay your full rent, or just a top up towards the payments you are making yourself. There are some specific criteria around whether they can assist you, so just check the governments website here to see if you could apply, and how. The Advice Services Team can help you apply if you need some help, or have applied in the past and have been turned down. Please contact the Advice Services Team by completing the self-referral form, email us at email@example.com or call us on 0800 678 1221.
- Council Tax Support
If you’re liable for council tax, you may be able to get help with your bill through your local council tax support scheme, or may qualify for an exemption or discount. Each Council runs their own scheme. To find out about the scheme for your area click here and enter your postcode.