Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a payment for people who are on a low income or out of work. It includes support for the cost of housing, children and childcare, and financial support for people with disabilities, carers and people too ill to work.

If someone needs help, advice or support with a Universal Credit claim, they can use their Universal Credit online account, go to their local Jobs & Benefits office or phone the Universal Credit Service Centre.

There are official information videos about Universal Credit at YouTube, which are also available in British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL).

Universal Credit Eligibility

The main eligibility criteria for Universal Credit are that the claimant is legally resident in Northern Ireland, aged 18 or over, under State Pension age, not in full-time education or training and with no more than £16,000 in savings, although certain exceptions also apply in all of these scenarios. Anyone living with a partner as a couple will need to make a joint claim.

More information about eligibility criteria for Universal Credit can be accessed at nidirect:

Universal Credit Claims

Universal Credit claims are made online. The claimant will also use their online account to provide information to the Department for Communities, including about work-related requirements. Your Work Coach will use this account to communicate with you about your responsibilities and the administration of your award. Those who cannot manage their claim for themselves will need help from a representative.

More information about making a claim for Universal Credit can be accessed at nidirect:

Universal Credit Payments

Universal Credit is calculated over a monthly Assessment Period. First payments are made about five weeks after claiming and payments are made twice a month, although they can also be made monthly and you can split payments with your partner. Housing costs will usually be paid direct to your landlord. The amount of Universal Credit paid in each Assessment Period can vary according to the claimant’s circumstances and their income.

More information about payment of Universal Credit can be accessed at nidirect:

Universal Credit Conditionality

Universal Credit claimants need to agree a Commitment to establish what they will do to prepare for work, look for work or increase their earnings, depending on their circumstances. Failing to adhere to this commitment can lead to sanctions, which reduce benefit payments. Certain groups, such as those in work, with caring responsibilities or health conditions and disabilities, will have reduced work-related requirements.

More information about the conditions for receiving Universal Credit can be accessed at nidirect:

Universal Credit Deductions

There are a number of reasons why money can be deducted from Universal Credit payments, including to repay loans or overpayments and because of sanctions. Deductions can also now be taken to repay third parties, like a landlord or energy supplier. Basic rates of deduction apply, but there are also limits to how much can be taken from your award and in most cases you will be able to make a case to the Department for reducing your deductions if the financial burden is too great. Get in touch if you need help negotiating with the Department about deductions being made from your Universal Credit payments.

More information about deductions from Universal Credit payments can be accessed at nidirect:

Move to UC

As legacy benefits are being replaced by Universal Credit (UC), many people will find themselves needing to make a claim for the new benefit. We are urging people not to gamble on a claim for UC without seeking independent advice about what is the best choice for them (whilst some people might be better off on UC, many will find they are entitled to less if they move now).

Ultimately, all legacy benefit claimants will be required to claim UC. For some, this will happen because they have a change of circumstances that means they are no longer entitled to their existing benefit and their only option is to claim UC – this is known as ‘natural migration’. Everyone else will fall under the ‘managed migration’ process and at some point in the next two years they will receive a migration notice from the Department for Communities informing them that they have to claim UC. Once you receive this notification you will have 3 months to make your claim for UC. Given the complexities of making a claim for UC, which involves setting up and managing the claim online and potentially waiting up to 5 weeks for the first payment, we would strongly encourage you to seek independent advice to help prepare you for the move to UC.

One big advantage of waiting for the managed migration of your legacy benefit claim is that you will be entitled to transitional protection, which will ensure that the amount of UC you receive is equivalent to the amount of your legacy benefits. This protection is not available to those who move to UC voluntarily or as a result of natural migration.

Due to the fact that the managed migration process is not due to start in Northern Ireland until 2023 at the earliest, there is not a great deal of official information available to members of the public. However, we have produced a Policy & Information Briefing which addresses the key issues as we currently understand them:

Newly granted refugees and Universal Credit verification

Some asylum seekers who have been granted refugee status have found delays in receiving their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) Card.

The BRP card allows a newly granted refugee to:

  • Verify their identity when claiming Universal Credit
  • Open a bank account to receive Universal Credit payments
  • Request a Universal Credit advance

Refugees can now use the following documents to verify their identify when making a new claim for Universal Credit:

  • the Asylum Registration Card (ARC), received when a claim for asylum is made, and
  • the Home Office Decision Asylum Grant Letter confirming leave to remain

If the information is the same on both and has been confirmed by the Home Office, these documents can be used instead of a BRP card. Both documents are required.

Additional support for refugee claimants that are experiencing issues verifying their identity for Universal Credit or opening a bank, credit union, or building society account, is available through their local Jobs and Benefits office.