Generally, once you have claimed universal credit (UC), you stay on it even if your circumstances later change – sometimes called the ‘lobster-pot’ principle. However, if your circumstances change so that you are no longer eligible for UC, in certain situations you may be able to claim the benefits that UC is replacing (housing benefit, jobseeker’s allowance, income support etc). This may be particularly useful for young people who live away from their parents, are on UC and who start a full-time non-advanced course at college.
If such a person is under 21 when they start the course, single, has no children, no disabilities and is not estranged from their parents or anything similar, then their UC award is likely to end. This is because they are not in one of the groups of full-time student who can claim UC. If they do have a non-student partner, a child/ren, are disabled, or are estranged from their parents then it is likely that their UC can continue throughout the course.
Going back to the example of the young person whose UC award ends when they start a course, in this situation they may be able to make a claim for housing benefit.
To explain why, it is necessary to say a bit about the roll-out of UC. UC has been rolled out in a number of local authorities in Scotland, although in most of those areas it is only people who meet certain ‘gateway conditions’, generally single jobseekers in simple circumstances, who have to claim UC.
When the young person initially claimed universal credit they met the gateway conditions, ie, they were someone who fit the current criteria for claiming universal credit. The gateway conditions basically filter out people in more complex circumstances from claiming universal credit, so that it can be introduced gradually.
The gateway conditions require that someone is not in education or training, and not planning to start education or training in the month following the claim. There are many other exceptions, too numerous to list here, such as that the person is not under 18 or over 60 ½, not ill or disabled, not claiming certain other benefits, and not homeless or a home-owner. See p21-22 of CPAG's Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook 2015/16 for more information.
The young person’s UC has now ended. Note that this is due to no longer meeting the basic rules about entitlement, rather than no longer meeting the gateway conditions. This is important as ordinarily your universal credit claim would continue even if your circumstances change, the ‘lobster pot’ principle explained above.
When the universal credit claim ends the student no longer meets the gateway conditions, due to now being in education, and therefore is excluded from making a new claim for universal credit. In these circumstances there is nothing in the law to prevent the young person making a new claim for housing benefit. It still exists for people who do not meet the gateway conditions, and need help with their rent.
The housing benefit rules for young people in full-time non-advanced education are more generous than the UC rules. Someone in these circumstances would only be able to get UC if they were ‘without parental support’ (eg, estranged from parents). However, a student can get housing benefit if s/he is in full-time non-advanced education and is under 21 when the course begins. Housing benefit can continue if the student turns 21 during their course.
So students in these circumstances can successfully escape the lobster pot, although they may have to move back on to universal credit at the end of their course…but that is another story.