Universal Credit — self-help tips

Universal Credit logo -- blue letters

Hi all, we’ve updated our Universal Credit self-help tips on here. The page includes info for ESA claimants on postponing ESA to UC, and our rights.

  • Response to Universal Credit (UC)
  • What is UC?
  • When will I be affected?
  • ESA claimants
  • ‘Transitional Protection’
  • Before starting your UC claim
  • Ways to start your UC claim
  • Getting paid immediately
  • Vulnerable claimants and first interview (claimant commitment)
  • Other reasons why you should be exempted from work conditions
  • Work Capability Assessment interview

RESPonse to Universal Credit (UC)

Compared to previous benefits and rules,  most people are worse off with Universal Credit.  For example, because of the waiting time, claimants are having to “borrow” an advance, and the DWP makes benefit deductions to get this back.  The lower benefit amounts particularly affect disabled children and disabled adults who are new claimants with no rights to carry over the level of benefit they were on before.  We also oppose the harsh work conditions for benefit and other rules of Universal Credit  which particularly affect unwaged and low-paid women, mothers and children.   Campaigning to “Stop and Scrap Universal Credit” with other grassroots and anti-poverty groups, and the legal challenges we supported, have won important changes and extra money for some groups of existing claimants.  For more info, search Universal Credit on our blog and contact us.

What is Universal Credit and which benefits does it replace?

“Universal Credit” (UC) involves people of working age, unwaged or in part-time or full-time waged work who need benefit for themselves and their children to live on, to pay their rent or to top up low wages.  UC merges several income-based benefits and tax credits into one: Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) — Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) — Income Support  — Child tax credit — Working tax credit — Housing Benefit.  Some of the elements of Universal Credit are less money than the previous Income Support premiums or other amounts.

Benefits which are not based on low income (means-tested), such as Child Benefit, National Insurance Contributions-based ESA or JSA, Carers Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or PIP, are not part of UC.  However you may need to claim UC to cover your rent or support your children, in which case your other benefit income is taken into account.

Under Universal Credit, an amount for rent is included in the monthly payment, unless you are in temporary accommodation (where you are expected to apply separately to the council for Housing Benefit).

Under Universal Credit, if you want the rent payment to go to your landlord directly, you can request an alternative payment:

  • make a request on your UC journal under “service issues”  OR
  • ask your council/Housing Association/landlord to request it on the basis that you the claimant are “vulnerable”.

Temporary accommodation.  If something has happened and you are in temporary accommodation, you will be expected to complete your own application for Housing Benefit separate from Universal Credit.  You need to ensure this is completed for each separate temporary accommodation, as it may be difficult to have these rents backdated if missed.   You need to write on your UC journal about your changes of address, and which Jobcentre you attend will also potentially change, depending on where you are living.  The housing officer from the council should be able to help with filling out and submitting your Housing Benefit claim on your behalf if you are disabled.  If possible, it helps to keep a record of this and any emails you have sent, with the housing officer agreeing to do so, ensuring they will definitely do this.

When will I be affected? 

New claimants who would have applied for ESA or JSA before, now apply for Universal Credit. If you are already on a previous benefit such as Working Tax Credit and then claim Child Tax Credits, that is not a change of circumstances as you are already on Tax Credits, so you don’t have to claim Universal Credit.  It’s best to get advice from a welfare rights service before changing your claim, to avoid losing out by mistake.

ESA claimants

There are two situations where ESA claimants may change to Universal Credit.

  1. Change of circumstances.  A person or family may need to move to a different borough or local authority area, or otherwise their situation has changed.  This is called “voluntary migration” from ESA to UC.  Former ESA claimants get “transitional protection” and two weeks of ESA payments to carry over which are not taken off Universal Credit.

2.  So-called “Managed migration”.  ESA claimants are worried about being forced onto Universal Credit by the phasing out of ESA.  In 2022, the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced that “managed migration”,  forcing ESA claimants to make a new claim for Universal Credit, would not start until April 2028.   Claimants and other organisations protested that many of us will be left destitute unable to cope and with no safety net — it’s not automatically carried over, you need to make a fresh claim for benefit.

‘Transitional Protection’

For people on ESA who then have to claim UC because of moving to another borough or local authority area, or other change of circumstances, a lot has been won from legal challenges over several years.

Now, if you are in the Support Group of ESA on the date you start your UC claim,  you get the UC equivalent Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity (LCWRA) disability element added to your UC personal allowance straight away.  The ‘relevant period’ of 3 months’ wait (what was the starting “assessment” rate of ESA) does not apply (Reg 19 (5) UC (TP) Regs 2014).

Regarding the severe disability premium added to ESA for people getting PIP who live alone, or are disabled single mothers (children under 18).  If you were getting sdps during the month before your UC claim, and you are still living alone or equivalent at your new address, then you will get “transitional protection” added to your UC, typically £120 per month.  The transitional protection amount is reduced when your UC amount increases.

Before starting your UC claim

If you were on a previous benefit and have had a break in your claim because something went wrong, get welfare rights advice first before you start a UC claim.  You may be eligible to continue your previous claim.  Some of the legal challenges were by people who lost out from being wrongly told to make a new claim for UC.

It’s also a good idea to get info from your local council or Citizens Advice branch about help if you are facing a gap in income because of your situation — such as the council hardship fund.

You may want to ask the charity which deals with your disability or condition, what practical benefits info and cash help they can provide, for example, Macmillan Cancer Support.

If you are starting a new UC claim, you will need a bank account, building society account or credit union account.

For sick and disabled claimants, it’s recommended that you should first get a sick note from your GP (“fit note” or statement of fitness for work) before starting your claim.  Tick yes to this question, on your application form.  There are a few days’ leeway to provide this proof, set out in DWP guidance to Work Coaches dealing with sick and disabled claimants.

Ways to start your claim

Online here

Via the DWP  Visiting Service to your home

Via the Citizens Advice Help to Claim service (your claim may have a later date as it may be registered after you contact them).  They can:

  • Guide you through your claim online, or if you are unable to claim online, they can support you to make a claim by phone
  • Explain what you need to do if you are a disabled claimant; and if you were on ESA and you want to keep your “Support Group” status and exemption from work conditions for benefit
  • Explain your choices with an advance payment to cover the waiting time for UC to start — you can opt to spread your repayments over 24 months so the deductions are not so big.  See other topics on our Benefits Help page, such as help with energy and water bills.
  • Refer you to a local branch to help you after your claim starts

The RNIB says: “The online system should meet guidelines for accessibility, so should work with magnification and screen reading technology on computers and other devices.  If you are unable to complete an online application, you can contact the Universal Credit Helpline to request support 0800 328 5644 or 0800 328 1344 (textphone).  A DWP adviser may be able to complete the online form for you as you talk through the application over the phone or you can arrange to visit a local DWP office and an adviser can complete the form for you face to face. You may also ask for a home visiting service where DWP staff or a local support service are able to visit you at home to complete the form.”

Getting paid immediately 

If you are going to a Jobcentre to verify your identity, you can ask for an advance at the same visit — this cuts out the waiting time for an advance.

See also how to apply online: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/universal-credit/apply/get-advance-payment/

Vulnerable claimants and the first interview

Try to get a fit note from your GP before you start your UC claim, to help confirm your sickness or disability and how it affects you.  If you don’t have one yet, DWP staff will book a date for your interview with a work coach.  For your UC claim to continue, either you need a fit note or they will list an interview date.  If you don’t have a fit note yet, but are getting it soon, you need to watch this interview date and put a note on your UC journal that you have a fit note, and upload it.   To be sure, you will also likely need to email this fit note to the Jobcentre or deliver it in person – you can arrange this via your journal to reduce delays. You can also ask the GP staff to email you the fit note to save on time and problems picking it up.  Then the DWP should cancel the interview date.  Otherwise, you can call the helpline and also tell the work coach at the phone interview, about your health and problems with work (more info below).

There are four levels of work-related requirements in Universal Credit:

  • No work-related requirements
  • Work-focussed interviews only
  • Preparation for work (equivalent to the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA)
  • All work-related activity/available for work

At the initial interview, you can ask to have no work-related requirements, or the minimum of work-focussed interviews only, because of your disability or ill-health.  You can ask straight away to fill in a UC50 form, which is about not being capable of waged work.

You should take your GP sick note and any other medical evidence with you and try to attend with someone who can support you at the interview.  See more about this on this CA page: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/universal-credit/claiming/getting-universal-credit-if-youre-sick-or-disabled/

If there are other issues about your interview at the Jobcentre, you could write to the Jobcentre manager about your situation, and enlist support from your MP, but you will need to watch that you don’t let the interview date go by and then get cut off. 

The DWP or work coach will expect you to prove your health situation.  We suggest to keep a record of NHS appointments and what you have done about this.  Keep notes in a notebook, or if it’s difficult to write, record voice notes sent to yourself on WhatsApp on your phone, and inform your work coach via your journal. If you can’t manage this regularly, try to enlist the support of friends/family to help you keep your work coach up to date on medical treatment, what diagnosis the doctor made, and so on, that you can use to evidence your health situation if you need to prove your case with the Jobcentre later on.   If you have a specialist nurse, it may be a good idea to have them write a supporting letter about how your illness/disability affects you to use as evidence which can be uploaded to your UC journal.

Mencap learning disability charity has information on how the Jobcentre should make reasonable adjustments to make such interviews accessible.  However more is needed to support vulnerable claimants from being pressured into agreements they don’t understand or can’t meet.  Requests or complaints can be made to the Jobcentre manager, and ask your MP to support your case.


Several groups of claimants are exempted from work-related requirements, including pregnant women, mothers of babies, full-time carers, severely disabled and sick people.  See here for more info.


The work capability assessment for UC is the same as for ESA.  See our other pages:

  • ESA main info here
  • Exemption from face-to-face and phone interview for Work Capability Assessment — leaflet here


For further general info, see Disability Rights UK: https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/resources/universal-credit

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