What is universal credit and who qualifies for it?

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The rules around universal credit (UC) will be tightened, the government has announced.

Part-time workers will have their UC reduced if they fail to take "active steps" to work more.

How are universal credit rules changing?

Claimants already risk having their benefits reduced if they don't take steps to earn more and meet regularly with a work coach.

At the moment, this rule applies to people earning less than the equivalent of nine hours a week on the National Living Wage (£85.50 for people over 23).

This was set to rise to 12 hours from 26 September. However, it will now increase to 15 hours a week from January.

This will affect about 120,000 more people, the government says.

It also plans to strengthen sanctions.

Claimants will be set "clear work expectations" - including applying for jobs, attending interviews, or increasing work hours.

Certain groups will remain exempt - including people who can't work because of long-term sickness, or a disability.

What is universal credit and how much is it worth?

It was introduced to replace a range of different benefits for unemployed and low-paid people. The aim was to make the system simpler.

More than 5.8 million people claim UC in England, Scotland and Wales.

About 40% of claimants have jobs.

The amount you get depends on whether you are single, or claiming as a couple, and your age. There is one standard allowance per household:

  • Single claimant under 25: £265.31 per month
  • Single claimant 25 or over: £334.91 per month
  • Joint claimants both under 25: £416.45 per month
  • Joint claimants either aged 25 or over: £525.72 per month

You may be entitled to extra money if, for instance, you have children.

Extra money may also be available for rent payments, which works in different ways across the UK. You may also be able to claim a reduction in council tax while on UC.

You may also be entitled to assistance to pay your mortgage, although you would need to meet strict criteria.

What is the universal credit taper rate?

During the Covid pandemic, claimants received an extra £20 per week, but this was withdrawn in October 2021.

The government partially offset this loss with a change to what's known as the taper rate.

Under the UC taper, payments are gradually reduced as claimants earn more money.

The current tape is 55%. This means that for every additional £1 earned over the work allowance, UC payments are reduced by 55p.

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Why has universal credit proved controversial?

It is complicated to work out exactly how much UC you might receive.

Some people have found they are entitled to less money under UC than they would have been under the previous benefit arrangements.

Those with £16,000 or more in savings are not eligible.

It can take five weeks from the date of claiming to receiving a first payment, although an advance loan may be possible.

An application for UC may put a stop to any tax credits you receive, even if it proves to be unsuccessful.

What other benefits are still available?

The main benefit for anyone losing their job after a period in work is new-style jobseeker's allowance (JSA).

This is worth £61.05 a week, if you are under 25, or £77 a week if you are 25 or over.

You can get this for up to six months and it will be paid into your bank, building society, or credit union account every two weeks.

Unlike UC, your partner's or spouse's income will not affect your claim, although you may get less if you have part-time earnings or a pension.

You may be able to claim new-style JSA as well as universal credit.

Where can I go for help?

Places offering support include: