Universal Credit and welfare benefits FAQs

Do you have a question about Universal Credit, welfare benefit claims or what to do if you've lost your job due to Coronavirus? Our expert team has compiled a list of the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and the answers you need.

I am worried about getting into debt with my bills. Who should I pay first?

You should pay your rent first as rent is always a priority. You should continue to pay your rent as normal.  We understand some tenants may have their income reduced as a result of Coronavirus. If this is the case, please make sure you contact your Housing Officer as soon as possible, who can refer you to a benefit advisor.

I have lost my job with no income. What help can I get?

It may be worth contacting your employer to check if it is possible to be included within the ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’. This has been introduced to provide grants from HMRC to cover 80% of the salary of employees who have been asked to stop working during the Coronavirus pandemic but not made redundant, up to a total of £2500 per month.

If not eligible, you may have to make a claim for Universal Credit, especially if you need assistance with paying your rent.

Am I entitled to Statutory Sick Pay?

Statutory Sick Pay is available from day one if you are affected by Coronavirus.

Should I claim Universal Credit?

This will depend on your individual circumstances. Please speak to your Housing Officer for advice. Full government advice can be found on: https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/

If you do not qualify for Universal Credit, you may be able to claim New Style Jobseeker's Allowance by applying online at https://www.apply-for-new-style-jsa.service.gov.uk, by calling 0800 055 6688. You may also claim New Style Employment and Support Allowance (if you have a health problem) by calling 0800 328 5644 (choose option 2). These new style benefits are based on the National Insurance you have paid.

You may also be able to claim for a reduction in your Council Tax, please speak to your Housing Officer.

I need to claim Universal Credit – who can help me with this?

Universal Credit is claimed online. If you need additional help speak to your Housing Officer.

In some limited circumstances Universal Credit claims can be made by telephone, however due to the Coronavirus situation you may encounter significantly longer waiting times on Department of Work and Pension phonelines. Again, for information and support, please speak to your Housing Officer.

How will the DWP verify my identification? 

Where possible ID verification will be done online as part of the Universal Credit application process. If this cannot be completed online, the DWP will verify your ID over the phone, where possible, using biometric questions. Due to the volumes of claims being made you will encounter significant waiting times accessing the service.

I am not currently on Universal Credit but my wages have dropped due to being absent from work. What should I do?

It depends on your individual circumstances. Please speak to your Housing Officer if you need advice.

I’m on Working Tax Credit and have been temporarily laid off from work – what should I do?

If you are temporarily laid off from work, you can continue to get Working Tax Credit for four weeks, and then a four-week run on after that. Please speak to your Housing Officer for further advice.

Will my Working Tax Credit increase?

From 6 April 2020 the Working Tax Credit basic element will be increased by £20 per week for the next 12 months for existing Working Tax Credit claimants.

Will my benefit payments continue?

Benefit payments will continue to be paid as normal and the DWP is focusing on ensuring all customers are paid. If you are on Universal Credit, you will need to ensure you are completing any 'To-Do’s' and responding to Journal messages online. You must also ensure you action the 'update Housing Costs To-Do' that will appear on your online account in the first week of April.

How do I get in touch with the Universal Credit department?

Once you can sign in to your Universal Credit online account you can use your online account to get in touch with the Department for Work and Pensions. You can also contact them by phone on 0800 328 5644 Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.

How do I access an advance?

You can apply for an advance through your online Universal Credit account or through the UC helpline. Remember, this will include money to cover your housing costs, which you need to pay to us for your rent.

Do I need to attend Jobcentre appointments?

All requirements to attend the job centre in person are suspended for three months from 19 March 2020.

Are Jobcentres open?

Although Jobcentres have closed their doors, there is a sign on display at each directing customers to call a number in the office if you are vulnerable. Based on your circumstances, the manager of the Jobcentre will make a decision on whether you need to be seen face-to-face, and if so, you will be brought in for an immediate appointment.

Do I need a 'Fit Note' to claim Universal Credit when I have Coronavirus?

'Fit notes' will not be required to claim ESA or Universal Credit because of Coronavirus. If you require a 'Fit Note' for an employer, you can get a Coronavirus isolation note online at www.111.nhs.uk/isolation-note/.

Is my Universal Credit going to increase?

From 6 April 2020, the Universal Credit standard allowance will increase by £86.67 per month for one year. This measure will apply to all new and existing Universal Credit claimants and is in addition to the planned annual uprating in benefits.

I’m on Universal Credit and self-employed – what is the impact on me?

From 6 April 2020, the Minimum Income Floor for all self-employed claimants affected by the economic impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) will be temporarily relaxed. This is for all self-employed claimants – not just those if you are sick or self-isolating.

Do I need to keep looking for work?

If you are diagnosed, or staying at home on Government advice, with Coronavirus your work search and work availability requirements will be removed to account for a period of sickness and your conditionality requirements will be reviewed to ensure they are reasonable.

I’m entitled to Employment Support Allowance – are there any changes?

If you are making a new claim to Employment Support Allowance and are diagnosed with or are staying at home on Government advice due to Coronavirus, your first payment will include money for the first seven days of your claim. 'Fit notes' will not be required if you need to claim ESA because of Coronavirus.

Will I need to attend a face-to-face medical assessment?

Face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits will be temporarily suspended for three months from 17 March 2020..

Why is it so difficult to get through to DWP phonelines or to complete an online Universal Credit claim?

The DWP is seeing huge demand for its services as, due to Coronavirus, there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of people making new Universal Credit claims.

DWP has diverted resource and effort to ensuring it is getting claims made effectively and people paid their entitlement. At present the only advice available from DWP is for customers to follow the online process, but there will potentially be delays.

I am on partial Housing Benefit due to my earnings, but my income has reduced/stopped. How do I make up the difference to pay my rent?

Contact your local council’s Housing Benefit team and advise them of your change in circumstances. They should also have a change of circumstances online form for you to complete. Your entitlement to Housing Benefit will then be amended to reflect your change in income. If your income reduces, your entitlement to Housing Benefit will usually increase. Your Housing Officer can assist with this, please get in touch.