Universal credit: expansion to new areas and to couples
Recent rule changes have made a number of changes to the universal credit (UC) rules. The changes include an expansion of the UC areas in north west England, and the introduction of the possibility of new claims from couples. Simon Osborne explains.
The planned expansion of UC from a small number of ‘pathfinder’ areas and effective limitation mainly to unemployed single claimants is a process that has slowed in pace from steady to glacial. Nevertheless, it has begun. Various amendments, sometimes of fierce complexity, have introduced a number of changes. In brief, the most important of these are:
- new UC areas (ie, areas in which UC claims are possible for certain claimants) in north west England, introduced between 23 June and 28 July;
- amendment of the ‘gateway’ conditions for making a UC claim so that from 30 June new claims can be made by couples in some of the UC areas, and from 28 July in all UC areas;
- other more minor changes to the UC gateway conditions, and to the transitional rules about the relationship between UC and other means-tested benefits and tax credits.
New UC areas
During the summer of 2014 UC has been expanded to a group of six new districts, all in the north west of England.1 At time of writing, there was no announcement about when the next geographical expansion of the UC areas will occur.
The summer 2014 expansion involved the following jobcentres: Hyde, Stalybridge, Stretford, Altrincham, Southport, Crosby, Bootle, Bolton (Great Moor Street and Blackhorse Street), Farnworth, Birkenhead, Bromborough, Hoylake, Upton, Wallasey, Preston, Leyland, Prestwich, Bury, Eccles, Worsley, Huyton, Kirkby, St Helens, Newton-le-Willows, Chester, Congleton, Crewe and Wilmslow. The specific postcode districts involved are:
- from 23 June: M31, M32, M33 2, M33 4 to M33 7, M34, M41, OL5, SK 14 1 and 2, SK14 4, SK14 9, SK15, WA 14 1 and 2, WA14 5, WA15 5 and 6, WA15 9;
- from 30 June: BL1 to 4, BL5 1, BL5 3, BL 6 4, BL6 9, L20 0, L20 3 to 6, L21, L22, L23, L29, L30, L31 0, L31 2 and 3, L31 5 to 9, L37 1 to 4, L37 6 to 8, L38, M26 3, PR8 1 and 2, PR 8 6, PR8 9, PR 9 0, PR 9 7, PR 9 9;
- from 7 July: CH41, CH42, CH43, CH44, CH45, CH46, CH47, CH48, CH49, CH60, CH61, CH62 0 to 8;
- from 14 July: BL0 9, BL8 to 3, BL8 9, BL9 0, BL9 5, BL9 8-9, M25 1, M25 3, M25 9, M25 9, M26 1 to 2, M26 4, M45, PR0, PR1, PR2, PR 4 to 5, PR 5 4 and 5, PR 11, PR25 1 to 3, PR25 9, PR26 6;
- from 21 July: L10 0, L10 2 to 3, L10 6, L10 8, L28 3 to 7, L32, L33 0 to 2, L33 5 to 9, L34, L35 0 to 5, L35 7 to 9, L36 0 to 4, L36 6 to 9, M17 1, M17 8, M27 0, M27 5, M27 8 to 9, M28, M30, M38, WA9, WA10, WA121 0, WA11, 0, WA11 8 to 9, WA12;
- from 28 July: CH1, CH2, CH3, CH4 7 to 8, CH62 9, CW1, CW2 6 to 8, CW3 0, CW 4, CW5, CW10, CW11, CW12 1 to 2, CW12 4, CW12 9, SK9, WA 6, WA14 3 to 4, WA16.
New claims from couples
Changes to the ‘gateway conditions’ for UC allowed new claims from couples in certain UC areas from 30 June. The DWP said that the five areas in which these claims were accepted from that date were: Hammersmith, Bath, Rugby, Harrogate and Inverness (though certain postcodes were not included).2 However, a similar change allows new claims from couples in all UC areas (without exceptions for certain postcodes) from 28 July.3
The change is brought about by simply removing, in the specified areas, the requirement in the gateway conditions that the claimant is a single person.4 The other gateway conditions are essentially the same as those that would also apply to a claim by a single person. So, for example, in a couple claim neither claimant can be unfit for work, and the couple must not have children. Note that other more minor changes to the gateway conditions (see below) apply both to single claims and couple claims.
Other gateway and transitional rule changes
On 16 June, a new set of rules on transitional provisions (regarding UC and entitlement to other means-tested benefits and tax credits) were introduced.5 That involved the revocation of the old rules, including the ‘personal characteristics’ that limited the ability to claim UC to certain types of claimants. Such characteristics were re-labelled as the UC ‘gateway conditions’ and are now provided for by Commencement Orders.6 That change is significant in that it allows Commencement Orders to change the gateway conditions in specific UC areas – eg, as was done, albeit only for a short time before applying in all UC areas, for new claims from couples.
But where not subject to such specific change, the gateway conditions are otherwise substantially the same as the former ‘personal characteristics’. So, for example, claimants must be fit for work and not have children. Later in the year, it is expected that change to the gateway conditions in some areas will permit claims from people with children.
For now, other more minor changes to the gateway conditions, applying to new claims in all UC areas from 30 June, include:
- entitlement to housing benefit (HB) and or tax credits is no longer a barrier to a claim for UC – but generally they will cease if UC is awarded.7 However, a claimant in exempt accommodation (or from 3 November 2014 ‘specified accommodation’) remains able to get both HB and UC;8
- the earned income limit for the month after the claim is set at £330 per claimant, regardless of age.9
The transitional rules have been modified (from 13 October 2014)10 to allow for tax credit awards to be finalised in-year (ie, before the end of the tax year) if the claimant is awarded UC during the year. They also make provision for full backdating of limited capability for work/work-related activity elements for claimants entitled to incapacity benefit/severe disablement allowance (though such claimants are currently barred from making UC claims under the gateway conditions). They also provide for the continuation of working tax credit fraud penalties via application to a UC award.
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- 1. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.17 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions) Order 2014, SI No.1583 (C.61); see also ‘North west Universal Credit expansion’, DWP press release, 20 June 2014
- 2. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.9, 11, 13, 14, 16 and 17 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Amendment) Order 2014, SI No.1661 (C.69); ‘Universal Credit to take the first new claims for couples’, DWP press release, 30 June 2014
- 3. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.9, 11, 13, 14, 16 and 17 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Amendment) (No.2) Order 2014, SI No.1923 (C.88)
- 4. Via amendments to Sch 5 para 1(b) (‘the Gateway Conditions’) to The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.9 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions and Commencement No.8 and Savings and Transitional Provisions (Amendment) Order 2013, SI No.983 (C.41) (‘the No.9 Order’)
- 5. The Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2014, SI No.1230 (‘the Transitional Provisions regulations’)
- 6. The basic set of gateway conditions, subject to amendment by later Commencement Orders, is set out in Sch 5 No.9 Order, as inserted by The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.9, 11, 13, 14 and 16 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Amendment) Order, SI No.1452
- 7. Sch 5 para 3 No.9 Order, as amended by SI 2014 No.1661 (C.69); regs 5, 8 and 12A Transitional Provisions Regulations
- 8. Reg 5(2)(a) Transitional Provisions Regulations, amended from 3 November by SI 2014 No.1626
- 9. Sch 5 para 4 No.9 Order, as amended by SI 2014 No.1661 (C.69)
- 10. The Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations 2014, SI No.1626