Welfare Reform and Universal Credit for Farmers

Universal Credit (UC) has now rolled out across Northern Ireland. Anyone entitled to financial assistance for the first time will receive UC instead of Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Employment & Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.
Under UC, claims must be done online and payments are made fortnightly through bank accounts. To make a UC claim you must have a bank, building society, credit union or a post office account, an email address and be able to use the internet.

People who are self-employed can claim UC, but not on a yearly basis as before. Now, you will need to report monthly earnings through your online journal, instead of on a yearly basis as you might have done in the past.

Not all self-employed people will need to claim UC but those that do can make small changes to prepare for it. Improving your digital skills, making sure you can access the internet and keeping an eye on household finances and farm or business accounts on a monthly basis could make all the difference for any self-employed person making the move to UC.


Isn’t UC just for people who don’t work?

UC is a payment for people over 18 but under State Pension age who are in work but on a low income or are 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.

What does this mean for farmers and producers?

For those who haven’t claimed before, it’s time to get online as claims will now be made over the internet. You will also need to report your earnings on a monthly basis through your online journal – under the old benefits system this was done on a yearly basis. One of our Welfare Reform advisers can assist with this (see details below)

If you’re currently claiming Working Tax Credit or other benefits and your circumstances don’t change, you can expect to be moved to UC sometime between 2020 and 2023. When this happens you will need to make your claim online and report monthly earnings instead of yearly.

I’m self-employed and get Working Tax Credits. What will moving to UC mean for me?

Unlike Tax Credits, which are assessed annually, under UC if you are self-employed you must report your earnings every month.

To work out your UC payments, it is assumed you earn at least the Minimum Income Floor, even if your actual earnings fall below it. This is an assumed level of earnings, based on what an employed person would receive in similar circumstances.

The Minimum Income Floor is calculated using the National Minimum Wage for your age group, multiplied by the number of hours you are expected to look for and be available for work.

Are there any exemptions?

At the moment, yes. If you are self- employed and your business is less than 12 months old, the Minimum Income Floor won’t apply to you for one year. Also, if you are a self-employed person with a disability; or lone parent and in any of the following groups the Minimum Income Floor won’t apply to you either (no work-related requirements group; work-focused interview group; or work preparation group).
From September 2020, all self-employed claimants making a claim to UC will have a 12 month grace period, after which the Minimum Income Floor will apply.

If I own a lot of machinery and equipment and my own home, does this damage my UC claim?

Neither the home you live in nor any self-employed business assets count in the calculation of your UC claim.

What different circumstances are taken into account when looking at my UC entitlement?

There are elements of UC that provide for adults, children, disabled children, carers, those with illness impacting on their ability to work, working adults with registered childcare costs and those renting homes. It does not include help towards your rates if you are a homeowner or tenant but there is a separate benefit for this administered by the Land and Property Service for those who claim UC

How do I find out more about this?

Help and advice is available through your local independent advice centre or you can call Advice NI’s free and independent dedicated Independent Welfare Changes Helpline on 0808 802 0020 (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm) or via email on welfarechanges@adviceni.net. Advice NI member Rural Support also provides a helpline and face-to-face support on more generic issues facing farmers and rural dwellers and can be reached on 0800 138 1678.