I’m a benefits expert – the five most common Universal Credit questions answered | The Sun

NEARLY six million people are on Universal Credit and use it to help pay for everyday living costs.

But the benefit can be complicated to understand, and often people have multiple questions about how the system works.

Millions are being shifted from old-style legacy benefits onto Universal Credit as well.

As the cost of living increases and with annual average energy bills set to rise to £2,500 a year on average, knowing your way around Universal Credit has never been more important.

So The Sun spoke to Lee Healey, benefits expert at social enterprise IncomeMAX, who offered the five top questions his team receives on the benefit, and how to get around them.

How do I get in touch with my work coach?

Universal Credit claimants are all assigned a work coach to help them find employment.

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The coach may continue to offer support and advice even if you start work as well.

Lee said lots of people don't know how to get in touch with their work coach, but there are two options.

"You're always encouraged to go on your journal," he said.

"And the Universal Credit helpline."

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The journal can be accessed online on your account, but if you don't have a mobile phone, tablet or computer with internet, the helpline will be your best bet.

The Universal Credit helpline is 0800 328 5644.

How long will I have to wait for a decision or a payment?

Often, Universal Credit payments can deviate if you've had a change of circumstances, such as you've taken on more work.

But that obviously means you could be entitled to less money in certain situations.

You might also be waiting to be put onto Universal Credit for the first time after applying.

When you sign onto Universal Credit, you usually have to wait 5 weeks before your first payment. After that you should get it on the same date every month.

Delays can be caused if there is information missing from your claim, so double check if there is an error.

You can ask for an advance loan if you're struggling while waiting for your first payment – but you will have to repay the cash and it will mean your benefits are reduced until you've paid it off.

But what happens if you are experiencing a delay that is longer than the usual time? While this is rare, don't be afraid to be proactive, Lee said.

"So, if you are in a vulnerable situation, explain that to the DWP.

"And make sure you put in your journal notes that you are vulnerable, so it will be spotted."

Government guidance suggests people should report a change of circumstances "as soon as possible" to ensure Universal Credit payments are correct each month.

How do payments work?

Universal Credit payments are made every calendar month, but if you're working you may receive less.

That's because the benefit is reduced the more you earn.

If you're paid weekly, every two weeks or every four weeks, sometimes you will get more payments from work than is usual during a calendar month.

Because Universal Credit is assessed on your monthly income, the system will pay you less in the month after the one where you've received extra pay packets.

This is because you've received more money the previous month and therefore have more to live on.

But Lee said a lot of people were not aware if they received surplus pay packets one month, that their Universal Credit payment would drop, leaving them with less money that they've budgeted for.

He said: "You will need to be prepared for months where you'll get two work payments and then your Universal Credit will go down the following month."

You should also speak to your work coach to see if they can help.

However, there was a rule change in October 2020 after a High Court case which means Universal Credit claimants who get paid twice in a month can tell the DWP via their work coach and earnings can be split.

What about if I've got special circumstances?

There are certain situations where you might be entitled to more money through Universal Credit depending on your circumstances.

For example, carers, parents of a disabled child, or someone who is disabled are all due extra money.

But Lee said his team come across lots of people who don't know this.

He said: "Be proactive about your claims.

"We find thousands of people a week of people missing out on these elements.

"So make sure your calculation is correct and that it has all the right elements in it."

You can visit the government's website to see if you might eligible for more Universal Credit because you're in a special circumstance.

Because each claimants case is individual, it's hard to work exactly how much you might get depending on your circumstances.

However, Citizens Advice's website recommends talking to an adviser or using a benefit calculator to get a rough ball park figure.

How are deductions worked out?

Your Universal Credit is reduced if you need to pay off debts.

Deductions can be made for, among other things, gas, electric or water arrears, council tax bills arrears, some loans, some fines and child support maintenance.

But Lee said a lot of the time people don't know how to handle these situations, how much their Universal Credit should be deducted by, and whether they can have payments reduced.

His advice if you have questions about Universal Credit payments being docked because of benefit overpayments was to call the DWP's debt management line on 0800 916 0647.

From that point, you might be passed onto a different government department who will handle your query.

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However, Lee said: "I would always advise people to speak to their work coach, especially about repayments."

"Or you can seek some one-to-one advice."

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