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Universal Credit in east and west Suffolk for your organisation and clients

[posted on behalf of The Anglia Revenues Partnership]

Universal Credit is a new, single, benefit that incorporates Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit for working age customers. The single payment is paid monthly and is designed to mirror the way monthly wages are paid to better prepare customers for the world of work.

Nationally, Universal Credit was initially rolled out to contain several ‘gateway conditions’ and only applied to single people that were ‘non householders’ (did not own a home or have a mortgage) who would have been applying for Jobseekers Allowance.

In November 2014, Universal Credit Full Service began rolling out gradually via local Jobcentres, affecting only the postcode areas associated with the jobcentre. The rollout is scheduled to continue until September 2018 when all Jobcentres will be ‘Full Service’. Until such time, Local Authorities will have postcodes within their district or boroughs which are ‘Full Service’ and some which are ‘Live Service’ as the Jobcentre boundaries do not mirror that of Local Authorities.

We would like to raise awareness of Universal Credit in Suffolk to highlight what you should expect as voluntary and community organisations as it is rolled out and starts to affect your client groups.

A bit about us…

The Anglia Revenues Partnership (ARP) is a group of seven Local Authorities working together to provide a shared Revenues and Benefits service. Of these seven authorities, four are within Suffolk; these are Forest Heath District Council, St Edmundsbury Borough Council, Suffolk Coastal District Council and Waveney District Council.

Waveney District Council was one of the first Suffolk authorities within Suffolk to experience the rollout of Full Service of Universal Credit when it was introduced at Lowestoft Jobcentre on 25 May 2016. Only four postcode areas within the Waveney district are associated with Lowestoft Jobcentre, however they cover a large proportion of the Local Authority area; these postcode areas are NR32, NR33, NR34 4 and IP19 1. From 25 May 2016 to 18 October 2017, it was only claimants living within these postcode areas which needed to be signposted to Universal Credit Full Service for the whole of the Anglia Revenues Partnership.

At first, Universal Credit Full Service meant that all Housing Benefit gateway conditions were removed and any person making a new claim for one of the legacy benefits (listed at the start) had to make a claim for Universal Credit instead. However, the new and agile benefit has seen change. One of the biggest changes was from April 2017, which saw families with three or more children needing to claim legacy benefits instead of Universal Credit; therefore re-opening one gateway condition. More information on Universal Credit eligibility can be found at www.gov.uk/universal-credit.

So, what can you expect?

Well, Universal Credit Full Service is digital by default, meaning that those claiming it must do so online and their claim will need to be managed this way once their application has been made. In order to apply for Universal Credit, your client will need to have an email address and access to the internet. In addition to this, the single monthly payment of Universal Credit is paid in arrears and is designed to mirror the way in which wages are paid. This means that those in receipt of Universal Credit are responsible for managing this money and paying priority bills such as rent. The first payment is usually around six weeks from the date of Universal Credit claim; the claimant can however request an Advance Payment which would mean that they received up to 50% of their first months Universal Credit award after two weeks. These aspects alone has created challenges that has highlighted how crucial ‘Universal Support’ is for claimants through the transition to the Universal Credit.

Universal Support

‘Universal Support’ is the over-arching term for the support that Local Authorities offer with regards to making and managing online Universal Credit claims and also assistance for claimants to manage their single monthly payment.

The digital support offered by Forest Heath District Council, St Edmundsbury Borough Council, Suffolk Coastal District Council or Waveney District Council includes, but is not limited to, assistance to set up email accounts, help with making their claim for Universal Credit, making any necessary calls to the national Service Centre on behalf of the claimant to book their initial interview at their local Jobcentre and assisting with making claims for Local Council Tax Reduction and/or Discretionary Housing Payment. This support is offered from any of our Customer Contact locations, addresses of which can be found at www.angliarevenues.gov.uk.

With regard to helping Universal Credit claimants manage the change to a monthly payment, each Local Authority within Suffolk has asked Citizens Advice to provide “Personal Budgeting Support” on their behalf. Personal Budgeting Support should be offered to all Universal Credit claimant’s by their work coach at the Jobcentre. Alternatively claimants can visit the Citizens Advice directly to request an appointment. Personal Budgeting Support is available for all Universal Credit claimants, at any stage in their Universal Credit claim. St Edmundsbury Borough, Suffolk Coastal District and Waveney District Councils are keen to promote the take up of Personal Budgeting Support. Personal Budgeting Support is designed to help claimants manage the single monthly payment, but can also help claimants apply for Advance Payments, apply for Alternative Payment Arrangements and apply for Discretionary Housing Payments. Further information on Personal Budgeting Support and Alternative Payment arrangements is available online. Visit Gov.uk and look for “Personal Budgeting Support and Alternative Payment Arrangements”.

If you or your client are unsure of where they should go to receive help making or maintaining their Universal Credit claim, or to seek Personal Budgeting Support, please contact the claimant’s Local Authority. Contact details can be found at www.angliarevenues.gov.uk.

Future roll out plans

Between November 2014 and September 2017 one sixth of jobcentres up and down the country went live with Universal Credit Full Service, however from October 2017 the rate of expansion has accelerated to between 50 and 60 jobcentres per month. On 18 October 2017, Universal Credit Full Service was introduced to Beccles, Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill Jobcentres, affecting postcodes within the Waveney, St Edmundsbury and Suffolk Coastal authority areas. The currently scheduled future roll out plan which will affect the Suffolk Local Authorities which are part of the Anglia Revenues Partnership is as follows:

  • Diss Jobcentre on 7 February 2018
  • Ipswich Jobcentre in April 2018
  • Thetford Jobcentre in May 2018
  • Felixstowe, Leiston and Woodbridge Jobcentres in June 2018
  • Mildenhall and Newmarket Jobcentres September 2018

You can use the online GOV.uk Universal Credit postcode checker to check whether your client should claim Universal Credit or legacy benefits. This can be found at www.universal-credit.service.gov.uk/postcode-checker.

Contact

Sarah Hyman and Chloe Jacobs are the Benefits Liaison Officers for the East Suffolk authorities and can be contacted via email on BenefitsLiaison.EastSuffolk@angliarevenues.gov.uk or by telephone on 01394 444466.

Kim Cummings covers the Liaison Officer responsibilities for the West Suffolk authorities and can be contacted by email on Kim.Cummings@angliarevenues.gov.uk or 01842 756485.