What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit (UC) is a relatively new benefit for people of working age who are on a low income or unable to work due to a disability or long-term health condition. It is also for people who have not paid enough national insurance contributions to be eligible for the benefit new-style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
It replaces six means-tested benefits. The benefits that UC has replaced are known as ‘legacy benefits’; these are:
- Income support
- Income based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income related Employment and Support Allowance
- Housing benefit
- Child tax credit
- Working tax credit
This was done so that claimants would only need to claim one single benefit instead of six different types.
Applying for UC
If you are applying for UC because of your brain injury, it will be ‘UC for people with a health condition’. You will need to provide statements of fitness for work from your GP until you have been assessed.
You can apply for UC online. You will need to do this from the government website.
The effects of brain injury might make it difficult for you to use a computer. For instance, fatigue, problems with concentration, memory problems and headaches can make it difficult to look at a computer screen for too long. If you struggle with using a computer, here are some suggestions to help.
- Make a note in your Universal Credit journal that you are struggling to use the system as you may be able to use an alternative system such as phone calls.
- Call the UC helpline. This freephone number has been set up to help people who cannot use a computer due to a disability. The information that you share will still be used towards an online application and in some cases you might be able to receive a copy of your answers by post.
- Help to Claim scheme is a specialist, free service offered by Citizens Advice to help with making applications to UC.
- Contact your local Headway group or branch to see if they can help you with using the online system.
You will need to set up an account online to apply for UC, check details of your payments and statements and to contact the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) if your circumstances change or if you need to challenge a decision. This can be done through an online ‘journal’ in your account. Remember to keep your login details in a safe place so that you can easily log back on in future.
After completing the online application form, you may need to fill out a questionnaire called the Capability for work questionnaire (UC50). You can either complete this online or you will be sent a printed copy by post within 29 days.
Once your form has been received by the Health Assessment Advisory Service, you may be asked to have a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The assessment will either be at your home or an assessment centre.
UC application outcomes
The assessment is scored using a points-based system, with the number of points that you get determining the outcome of your application.
If you score 15 points or over, you are considered to have limited capability for work (LCW). If you are placed in this group, it means the DWP considers you have the potential to return to work in the future while needing financial support in the meantime.
In this group you will be expected to attend your local Jobcentre to discuss how you are preparing yourself to return to work. You can place limits on what you can be expected to do and you can negotiate this with your adviser.
If the DWP thinks that you meet any of a number of set descriptors relating to limitations, you will be placed in the Limited Capability for Work and Work Related Activity group of UC. Within this group you are not expected to prepare for work or work related activity.
If you struggle financially while waiting to receive your payment, you can apply for an advance payment, but this will be treated as a loan that you will be required to pay back through your UC payments once these begin.
Your UC entitlement will be reviewed every month. If you disagree with the decision made about your UC entitlement, you can ask for a mandatory reconsideration from the DWP. You should do this within a month of the date of the decision.
To start off, you should write a note in your online ‘journal’ (through your online UC account) to say that you are challenging a decision made about your payment. You should also phone the UC helpline to tell them this, as it might take a while for your online message to be read.
If you struggle with using your online journal, you can write to the DWP or fill in an online form.
For more detailed guidance and advice, see the Universal Credit after brain injury (PDF).