Advice NI urge legacy benefit claimants not to gamble on Universal Credit
Advice NI responds to plans by the UK Government to begin the managed migration of millions of people in Great Britain off legacy benefits and on to Universal Credit.
Kevin Higgins, Head of Policy Advice NI said:
“Firstly I would like to reassure people in Northern Ireland who may be concerned about headlines in the media about Government plans to move people off legacy benefits and on to Universal Credit. We do not expect this process to commence here until 2023.
We also know that some claimants may now be thinking about whether they should move to Universal Credit: our clear message is ‘don’t gamble on Universal Credit’. Comparing the amount of money someone would receive on Universal Credit as opposed to their current ‘legacy’ benefit(s) is often a complicated task, but there are some fundamental truths:
- While some people may be entitled to more money under Universal Credit than they receive in the ‘legacy’ benefits system, others will be entitled to less;
- People who voluntarily move from ‘legacy’ benefits to Universal Credit by natural migration and find themselves worse off will not be able to return to their ‘legacy’ benefits and will simply be expected to cope with the loss of income at a time when the cost of living is steadily rising.
- People who wait until they are called forward for ‘managed migration’ will automatically avail of ‘Transitional Protection’ —a top-up payment to a claimant’s Universal Credit award to ensure that their award is equal to the amount they were receiving in the legacy system— should they find themselves in a position where they would be worse off.”
‘Move to UC’ refers to the UK Government’s plan to move ‘legacy’ benefit claimants on to Universal Credit. The UK Government has recently announced its intention to complete the process by 2024.
Social security is devolved in NI, although the principle of parity and reliance on GB computer systems means that significant policy decisions follow a similar path. There is the added consideration of Assembly elections which took place on 5th May with the possibility of protracted negotiations thereafter before the formation of a new Executive which could impact on decision making around ‘Move to UC’ commencement, timescales and processes in NI.
‘Legacy’ benefits refer to the number of working age means tested benefits that are to be replaced by Universal Credit. They are: Income Support, income-based Employment & Support Allowance, income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.
Migration to Universal Credit can happen in one of two ways:
Through ‘natural migration’. For example, a ‘legacy’ benefit claimant simply decides to claim Universal Credit or they have a change in their circumstances (e.g. birth of first child, a partner moves in/out, bereavement of spouse/partner, move into rented accommodation) and they discover that they must claim Universal Credit;
Through ‘managed migration’, where claimants of ‘legacy’ benefits will be moved by the Department from legacy benefits to Universal Credit. This process has begun in GB and is expected to commence in NI next year, with managed migration completed by 2024.
Kevin Higgins continued:
“Just to be clear, the key message is ‘don’t gamble on Universal Credit’. If you are currently receiving legacy benefits and are thinking about moving to Universal Credit ALWAYS seek independent advice so that you can make an informed choice. Otherwise you should wait until you are called forward for managed migration when you will be protected against any potential loss of income.”