Move to UC

Universal Credit is designed to replace the following benefits: income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.

These are known as legacy benefits.

Ultimately, all legacy benefit claimants will be required to claim Universal Credit. 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 Universal Credit – this is known as natural migration. We are urging people not to gamble on a claim for UC without seeking independent advice about what is the best choice for them.

Everyone else will fall under the managed migration process (also known as Move to UC) and at some point in the near future they will receive a letter from the Department for Communities informing them that they have to claim Universal Credit. It will not be possible to delay the Move to UC at this stage, as failing to make a claim as instructed will result in entitlement to benefit ending.

Because we are only in the early stages of Move to UC 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 and we will be publishing further policy briefings in the coming months.

Advice NI Social Policy Briefing Paper: Move to Universal Credit

When will I have to move to UC?

The Department for Communities is currently in what it calls a discovery phase, which means they are testing their processes with a small selection of claimants. This started on 17 April with Migration Notices being issued to 500 people in the Andersonstown and Enniskillen areas. If you are one of those affected, get in touch with your local advice centre for assistance.

Remaining legacy benefit claimants will be brought across to Universal Credit in stages so that the process is easier to manage and support can be targeted. At present, the Department has not decided on a specific timetable, but we will update this page as more information becomes available.

It is expected that the majority of those affected will be moved across within the next two years. However, the government at Westminster recently decided that the process will be delayed until 2028 for those people receiving Employment and Support Allowance (provided they do not also receive one of the other legacy benefits, such as Child Tax Credit or Housing Benefit).

Discovery phase for ‘Move to UC’ to begin in April

Migration Notice

When the Department for Communities decide that it is time for you to move to Universal Credit they will send out a letter called a Migration Notice. This is a formal letter instructing people on legacy benefits to make a claim for Universal Credit. It should also provide all the information needed to make a claim and access any support you might require.

Once you receive a Migration Notice you will have 3 months from the date of the letter to make a claim for Universal Credit. After that time, your claim to legacy benefits will expire. Whilst there may be grounds to backdate the Universal Credit claim by up to a month in some cases, this should not be relied upon.

Given the complexities of making a claim for UC, which usually 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.

You do not need to wait for the Migration Notice to begin getting ready for the move to UC. See the Making a claim section for more information about documentation you might need and support for those who might not be able to manage a claim for themselves. If you lack digital confidence, consider signing up for a course to improve your capacity.

More information about claiming Universal Credit when you receive a Migration Notice can be accessed at nidirect:

Universal Credit if you receive a Migration Notice letter

Transitional Protection

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 Universal Credit you receive is the same as the amount of your legacy benefits. This protection is not available to those who move to Universal Credit voluntarily or as a result of natural migration, with the exception of those people receiving the Severe Disability Premium.

Transitional Protection should be applied automatically to your Universal Credit award by the Department of Communities. However, it will not be included if there is a gap between the end of your legacy benefit award and the start of your Universal Credit claim. Decisions about Transitional Protection can be disputed in the normal way by asking the Department to look again at their assessment, so get in touch if you have any reason to think that you are not receiving your full entitlement.

It is important to note that Transitional Protection is not a permanent feature of Universal Credit. This is because it will not increase due to what is called uprating – the uplift to benefit amounts that happens each year linked to inflation. In addition, certain changes, like a partner moving into or out of the household, will result in Transitional Protection stopping altogether.

More information about Transitional Protection is available from Turn2us, but please note that some of the detail is specific to Great Britain:

Universal Credit (UC) transitional protection

Legacy benefit run-on

Anyone who moves directly from Housing Benefit, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support or income-related Employment and Support Allowance onto Universal Credit will be entitled to an additional two-week payment of their legacy benefit, known as a run-on.

A run-on should be applied automatically with no specific action from the claimant, whether the claim for Universal Credit is made voluntarily, due to a change of circumstances, or following receipt of a Migration Notice. However, the claim for Universal Credit needs to be made while still in receipt of the legacy benefit for the run-on to apply.

The purpose of the run-on is to mitigate some of the financial risk associated with the five-week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit, thereby avoiding the need for claimants to apply for an Advance loan and thereby fall into debt as a result.

There is no run-on of Child or Working Tax Credit. People moving from Tax Credits will need to consider other forms of financial support that are available if they are unable to manage before their first payment of Universal Credit.

Further information about claiming Universal Credit while receiving other benefits is available at nidirect:

Universal Credit if you're claiming other benefits or tax credits