'THINK' May - June 2023 Edition
Special Edition – Move to UC: Get Ready
The Advice NI Policy & Information team is delighted to publish the May - June 2023 edition of our policy eNewsletter ‘THINK’.
This special edition of THiNK focuses exclusively on the managed migration of legacy benefit recipients to Universal Credit, known colloquially as ‘Move to UC’, which commenced for a small cohort of Tax Credits claimants in the Andersonstown and Enniskillen Jobs & Benefits office areas on 17 April 2023.
Department for Communities: Discovery phase for ‘Move to UC’ to begin in April
In response to the imminent launch of Move to UC in Northern Ireland, the Advice NI Policy & Information team has conducted research into the experience of claimants. Our report highlights the concerns of advice sector advisers, and benefit claimants around the upcoming migration to UC and makes recommendations aimed at mitigating negative impacts, especially for the most vulnerable.
Advice NI publish research as Quarter of million ‘legacy’ benefit claims in NI set to be ‘moved’ to Universal Credit
Speaking at the launch of the research in Stormont’s Long Gallery, Kevin Higgins, Head of Policy at Advice NI, said:
“This is an incredibly complex and far-reaching process, with many thousands of people and over 250,000 separate benefit awards set to be affected by ‘Move to UC’.
In order to help ensure that advisers, the Department for Communities and, most importantly, claimants are ready, we decided to conduct this piece of research, gathering insights into potential fears of claimants who will be affected, collating the experiences of current UC claimants and making sensible, practical recommendations which will help to ensure that people are effectively supported through the process.
UC is like no other benefit we have seen before. It is a digital benefit which means people must apply for and manage their claim online. That will require claimants to have a level of digital skills as well as access to the Internet and a digital device. This will be a challenge for many. Other challenges include the monthly Assessment Period, the five week wait for the first payment, and the Claimant Commitment with ongoing conditionality and risk of sanctions.
Our research found that independent advisers were worried about how claimants would manage financially and about them falling into debt and rent arrears. They were also worried about how people with poor digital skills or Internet access would handle the online nature of UC.”
Belfast Live: Concern as NI legacy benefit claimants to be moved to Universal Credit
Ekklesia: Advice NI research on ‘legacy’ benefits migrating to Universal Credit
Express: Universal Credit warning as people migrating to benefit ‘forced to take out loans’
Our report sets out the findings of research conducted by the Advice NI Policy & Information team. It highlights views, concerns and ideas relating to the ‘Move to Universal Credit’, which will see the managed migration of around 250,000 ‘legacy’ benefit claims in NI to Universal Credit.
The Move to Universal Credit: Get Ready
In response to the findings, Advice NI has proposed a number of recommendations, many of which can be implemented without any cost. For example:
- ensuring people are made fully aware of and have easy access to all the financial support available;
- clearly cautioning that some of this support is in the form of a loan that must be repaid;
- increasing awareness of options to waive or write-off recovery of existing benefit debt;
- creating real-time access to UC staff so that independent advisers can escalate urgent cases immediately.
Kevin Higgins continued:
“We know that ‘Move to UC’ has started, but it is phased and that means not everybody will be moved over right away. We also know that some claimants may now be thinking about whether they should move to Universal Credit before they receive their ‘Migration Notice’: 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 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 receive their ‘Migration Notice’ 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.”
On 4 May 2023 Advice NI held a launch event for the Move to UC research report at the Long Gallery in the Parliament Buildings at Stormont, sponsored by Kellie Armstrong MLA, previously Deputy Chair of the Committee for Communities in the Assembly.
Other speakers at the event included Bridget Meehan, Advice NI Policy & Engagement Officer, introducing the detail of the report and our recommendations, Thomas Henry from MindWise, who highlighted the significant challenges for claimants with mental ill-health, and Samantha Gallagher of Community Advice Fermanagh, who gave an impassioned account of the experiences of rural claimants. We also heard from Paddy Rooney, Deputy Secretary for the Work & Health Group, with overall responsibility for the delivery of the Move to UC in Northern Ireland.
We are grateful to all those who contributed to and attended the launch event. If you missed it, a recording of the live stream is available to watch back at Vimeo:
The Move to UC
You can also see our short video introducing the process of managed migration via Vimeo. Aimed at members of the public, the animation provides basic information about which claimants will be affected, what action will be required by those affected and the type of support that is available.
Move to UC - Get Ready
To support the roll-out of Move to UC, Advice NI have developed an information session aimed at members of the public and non-specialists providing support to benefit claimants. The session will cover the following aspects of the ‘Move to Universal Credit’:
- the Managed Migration process, including the Migration Notice and the requirement to make a claim to Universal Credit;
- how to make a claim for Universal Credit;
- managing a claim for Universal Credit, including using the Online Portal, payment and assessment procedures and work-related requirements;
- financial support, including legacy benefit run-on, transitional protection and the Contingency Fund.
Anyone interested in attending and/or hosting an information session can submit an enquiry via the expression of interest form online.
Move to Universal Credit Awareness Sessions
BBC Radio Ulster’s On Your Behalf consumer programme on Saturday 24 May focused on the beginning of Managed Migration to Universal Credit in Northern Ireland. Host Linda McAuley welcomed Advice NI Head of Policy, Kevin Higgins, and Paddy Rooney, Deputy Secretary for the Work & Health Group in the Department for Communities, to discuss support for claimants and the findings of Advice NI’s research on Move to UC.
The show also featured an interview with Samantha Gallagher, Assistant Manager and Welfare Rights Specialist at Community Advice Fermanagh, and Fermanagh client Jane, who has recently moved onto Universal Credit from Tax Credits. Jane’s experience reflects some of the key findings from our research, particularly with regard to the impact of the five-week wait for the first Universal Credit payment and the identification and recovery of overpayments.
Both Kevin and Samantha re-emphasised our advice not to gamble on making a claim for Universal Credit without seeking specialist, independent advice.
You can listen back to the programme throughout the next month via BBC Sounds:
On Your Behalf: Universal Credit and Gas Prices
To support an expected increase in enquiries from members of the public following the commencement of Managed Migration, we have created a new section on our website providing information about Universal Credit, including information about how to make and manage a claim and access financial and other forms of support. There is also detailed information about Move to UC, which we will continue to update as the situation changes.
Aimed primarily at members of the public, the information can be accessed through the main header at the Advice NI website:
Advice NI: Move to UC
As our research has shown, support for vulnerable claimants will be crucial to the effective management of the managed migration process. Whilst we continue to engage directly with the Department in this area, it may be helpful to be aware of the assistance they already provide in this respect, which is summarised in the links below from NI Direct:
Contact Universal Credit for help with your claim
Unable to manage your Universal Credit claim by yourself
Help while waiting for a Universal Credit payment
If you have any comments about the content of these pages, get in touch with the Policy & Information team and we will take your suggestions to the Department for consideration.
UC:Us is a resource created by welfare advisers and claimants with lived experiences of Universal Credit following research carried out by the universities of York and Ulster, Housing Rights and Law Centre NI.
The core of the website is a guide to Universal Credit written from and based on the perspective of claimants. As such, it draws on the lived experience of real people, whose experiences and words of wisdom are extremely helpful to those people navigating the system for the first time.
Information in the guide has recently been updated to reflect the commencement of managed migration, and you can watch a short promotional video to get a sense of how the website works.
Stephen Farry, Alliance
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if he will make an assessment of the implications for his policies on the managed migration of legacy benefit claims to Universal Credit of the recommendations of Advice NI's publication entitled the move to Universal Credit: get ready, published on 25 April 2023.
Guy Opperman, Conservative:
The Administration of Universal Credit in Northern Ireland is devolved to the Department for Communities. DWP regularly engages with a broad range of external stakeholders and is committed to ensuring the managed migration of legacy benefit claimants to Universal Credit in Great Britain provides a smooth and safe transition.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, for what reason his Department has delayed the managed migration of benefit recipients claiming only income-based ESA until 2028-29.
Guy Opperman, Conservative:
Employment and Support Allowance claimants are still able to make a claim for Universal Credit if they believe that they will be better off before they are migrated over.
As the Chancellor set out in his Autumn Statement in November, the United Kingdom faces significant economic challenges. The decision to delay the managed migration of the majority of income-based ESA claimants until 2028-29 is estimated to reduce costs by around £1bn over 5 years.
Karen Buck, Labour
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with reference to the paper entitled Completing the move to Universal Credit: Learning from the Discovery Phase, published by his Department on 10 January 2023, whether his Department has taken steps to support legacy benefit claimants who did not make a claim for Universal Credit within three months of their migration notice and had their existing entitlement terminated without a replacement income being in place.
Guy Opperman, Conservative:
The Department has provided significant support to claimants as part of the Discovery Phase of the Universal Credit Programme.
For the Discovery cohorts, claimants were granted an automatic one-month extension to their deadline date. If a claimant did not claim by their extended deadline, they were notified that their current benefit(s) would be terminated unless they had significant support needs requiring a further extension.
To encourage and support claimants to claim Universal Credit, the Department sent text messages and phone calls during the one-month extension period. Where appropriate, the Department provided enhanced support, including home visits, to engage claimants face-to-face.
For those claimants who require significant support, the Department holds case conferences with local Advanced Customer Support Senior Leaders who provide local expertise, working with different organisations to take a multi-agency approach to supporting our most vulnerable claimants.
For claimants who have their benefits terminated, if they then make a claim to UC within one month of their benefit(s) being terminated, their claim is then backdated to their deadline