Consumer rights: How you can get to grips with the new world of Universal Credit
The online benefits system is supposed to be simpler – but beware of pitfalls with the rent
Saturday 04 May 2013
While the "Bedroom Tax" has been making the headlines there are other benefits system changes in the pipeline. If they're not affecting you yet they may do so soon.
New rules on housing and Council Tax benefit have just come into force and now the next raft of changes is upon us. This week, single unemployed people, capable of working, and making new claims for benefit in Ashton under Lyme near Manchester found themselves guinea pigs for the new Universal Credit. Oldham, Wigan and Warrington will be the next areas to become part of the trials in July.
Universal Credit will be rolled out over England, Wales and Scotland (Northern Ireland has a different system) for new claims by the middle of 2014. All existing claims will be transferred to Universal Credit between April 2014 and 2017.
Universal Credit is a means-tested benefit for people of working age. People old enough to claim Pension Credit needn't worry about it, but most other benefit claimants will eventually be affected. The Government wants a simpler system and designed the benefit to eventually replace Job Seekers' Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, Housing Benefit and Budgeting Loans. This should help to make the system more understandable but some changes may confuse many.
Universal Credit is means-tested. That's not new. It means the amount of benefit someone gets depends on how much income they have coming in from work, rent or interest on savings, and on how much savings they have. People don't have to be out of work to get it; they could be working but on a low income, looking for work, sick or disabled, or caring for a child or disabled person.
What is new is that people will be expected, if possible, to make their claims and manage their Universal Credit accounts online. Not everyone has the necessary computer skills and advice agencies are worried some won't be able to make a claim. People with no one to help or no friends with computer skills should seek help at the nearest agency such as the Citizens Advice Bureau.
To claim Universal Credit people have to meet various conditions. Part of the claim is a claimant commitment – a document that says someone agrees to do certain things such as go to job interviews and when they do get back into work (or if they are already in work) that they'll try to find better-paid work or work for more hours if possible. The "work-related" conditions in each claimant commitment will depend on the work someone does and their personal circumstances.
People already in work won't lose all their Universal Credit if their earnings go up, as it will go down as earnings rise. There's no limit on the number of hours a person can work as there is at the minute. The Government wants no one to be worse off by working than by claiming benefit.
People claiming successfully for Universal Credit will get monthly payments paid into an account of their choice. This is meant to prepare people for work as that's how employers pay. If both partners are entitled to a Universal Credit payment they will get it as one payment. Tenants will have to pay their rent from this to their landlord themselves. Many people claiming benefits, used to the rent being paid direct to the landlord, may be confused or tempted to spend their money without keeping enough for the rent. People in arrears could be evicted by landlords. It's really important for people who aren't sure about handling their Universal Credit payments to get help.
The system may be simpler for some but could lead to complications for others. People who previously didn't have a bank account or access to the internet will need both. Bank accounts must receive electronic payments. People who had their own payments may be paid jointly with their partner. They will have to spread money out over a longer period and hand over the rent themselves. The rent should be the priority. Many people will prefer having responsibility for their own money and will make budgets and stick to them. But others will find it difficult.
The Money Advice Service website at moneyadviceservice.org.uk has information on everything from bank accounts to budgets and the Citizens Advice site at adviceguide.org.uk has information on the dates of the benefit changes and who can claim.
I stupidly let out a small flat to a colleague's son and he's left it in a real mess. The carpet will have to be replaced, the kitchen and bathroom are filthy, crockery is missing and the washing machine has been leaking. I didn't ask for a deposit but I'll have to spend a lot before it can be let again. I don't know where he's gone and don't want to involve his father as we had a row. What can I do?
SJ, West Yorkshire
Your only hope is that his father will help you sort this out. You could make a list of the damage and costs and ask him to pass on a letter seeking payment by a certain date, after which you will take court action, or to call you to make payment proposals. It might work.
But you now know what can happen if you don't have a proper tenancy agreement, a deposit to cover damage or an inventory of everything in the flat before a new tenant moves in. In short you have no come-back and are left with the bill if things go wrong. You may be able to deduct for a new carpet and crockery and cleaning from the taxable income from the flat. Dot the i's and cross the t's with future tenants. And take a deposit – look at gov.uk/ tenancy-deposit-protection.
Q & A
Q. I stupidly let out a small flat to a colleague’s son and he’s left it in a real mess. The carpet will have to be replaced, the kitchen and bathroom are filthy, crockery is missing and the washing machine has been leaking. I didn’t ask for a deposit but I’ll have to spend a lot before it can be let again. I don’t know where he’s gone and don’t want to involve his father as we had a row. What can I do?
SJ, West Yorkshire
A. Your only hope is that his father will help you sort this out. You could make a list of the damage and costs and ask him to pass on a letter seeking payment by a certain date, after which you will take court action, or to call you to make payment proposals. It might work.
But you now know what can happen if you don’t have a proper tenancy agreement, a deposit to cover damage or an inventory of everything in the flat before a new tenant moves in. In short you have no come-back and are left with the bill if things go wrong. You may be able to deduct for a new carpet and crockery and cleaning from the taxable income from the flat. Dot the i’s and cross the t’s with future tenants. And take a deposit – look at gov.uk/tenancy-deposit-protection.
Compare with the Independent: See how much you could save by switching credit cards. Compare now
- 1 To those who can’t see the point of International Women’s Day: you are the very reason it exists
- 2 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Orgasm machine to deliver climax at the push of a button
- 5 Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because late wife Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
White people become less racist just by moving to more diverse areas, study finds
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
iJobs Money & Business
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: The company works with Tier 1 FTSE 100 Ba...
£32000 - £36000 per annum + generous benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: * TAX * ...
£37000 - £40000 per annum + £20000 benefits package: Pro-Recruitment Group: **...
£30000 - £35000 per annum + generous benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Mixed Ta...
Day In a Page
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony
A charming four-bedroom Oxfordshire cottage with oak floors and chunky-beamed ceilings, £465,000
A beautiful one-bed flat in a sought-after portered block, with access to Norland Square communal gardens
A one-bedroom flat within a Sixties school conversion with high-spec design and open-plan kitchen, close to Lambeth North Tube, £435,000
A 17th century four-bedroom house, with open fireplaces, cellar and pool, £600,000
A three-bedroom, coach house with luxury open-plan living space and contemporary breakfast bar
A newly refurbished one-bedroom flat in the heart of Mayfair, close to Grosvenor Square
A charming four-bedroom house overlooking Burleigh Square Park, close to Thorpe Bay
A three-bedroom farmhouse with a large inglenook fireplace and exposed beams
A boutique mews house, set around a central courtyard, with three bedrooms and a private roof terrace
A four-bedroom farm-conversion with three bathrooms and two reception rooms
A two-bedroom detached house with ensuite bathrooms and a sun-drenched decked terrace, £750,000
A modern and spacious two-bedroom, penthouse flat with two bathrooms in a prestigious development
A beautifully renovated five-bedroom terrace with three reception rooms and a courtyard garden, £700,000
A four-bedroom period house which has been extended to provide almost 2,500sq ft of living space, £675,000
A pretty three-bedroom Georgian home with a 22ft drawing room and a master suite with a balcony, £525,000
A substanstial family home with five bedrooms and landscaped gardens in the much sought-after Branksome Park area
A well-presented three-bedroom house with front and rear gardens, close to White City station, £475,000
A handsome five-bedroom house in a sought-after location close to the city centre
A five-bedroom country home with valley views, equestrian stables and 27 acres of land, £725,000
A six-bedroom farm house with separate, detached cottages and 371 acres of land
A two-bedroom cottage with parquet floors, chunky beams and an open fireplace
A three-bedrrom flat with 2,733sq feet of living space, a beautiful private garden and 15 acres of communal grounds
A four-bedroom chalet bungalow with three bathrooms and a spacious garden, £525,000
A two-bedroom flat with an open plan kitchen and two balconies, close to Arsenal station
A Grade II-listed home with six bedrooms, secluded landscaped gardens and views across Hadley Green
A Grade II-listed mansion with two apartments and a cottage, near Gretna Green
A three-bedroom Grade II-listed mews house with vaulted ceilings and roof garden
A spacious Grade II-listed family home with annexe and equestrian facilities among four acres of land in Itchingfield
A four-bedroom home with exposed brick walls and open fires in the picturesque village of Northill
A Grade II-listed property with five bedrooms and unique tower, overlooking Hastings Old Town
A charming five-bedroom detached family home, set within half an acre in Kew