Moving considerably faster than an advancing glacier, from February of this year, Universal Credit is extending its reach and grasp to cover more groups in greater depth, in more parts of Scotland.
Depending on who you are, you may be viewing its stately progress with anxiety or scepticism. You may feel optimistic about its potential to reduce poverty. Regardless of which camp you belong to, we hope to hear more from you about your experiences over the coming months through the advice line, by email or the Early Warning System.
First, the detail: between February and April 2015, new claims for Universal Credit (UC) can be taken from single jobseekers only – without children – in the following areas: Edinburgh, Dumfries & Galloway, East Lothian, Highland, Midlothian, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Scottish Borders and West Dunbartonshire.
From April 2015, throughout Scotland, the intention is that new claims for tax credits will be accepted only if the claimant is not entitled to universal credit. Between May and July, existing tax credit claims can be renewed as usual.
Looking forward to the period May to July 2015, in Aberdeenshire, Clackmannanshire, Eilean Siar, Falkirk, Glasgow, Orkney, Renfrewshire, Shetland and Stirling, again, single jobseekers without children can claim UC.
Between September and November 2015, this same narrowly restricted group of single jobseekers without children can claim UC in Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverclyde, Moray, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, and West Lothian.
And finally, between December 2015 to April 2016, in Angus, Argyll & Bute, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Fife, Perth & Kinross the same eligible group can claim UC.
April 2017, however, really sees the beginning of the end of the old dispensation. From this point onwards, the intention is that most people will no longer be able to claim tax credits, and from about the end of 2017, it is envisaged that tax credits and working age benefits will have been replaced completely by UC.
A glance at the qualifying criteria on the Universal Credit FAQs on gov.uk pages will quickly persuade you that the numbers able to claim UC aren’t intended to be unmanageable. A lengthy list of qualifying criteria in the UC gateway will significantly reduce those able to claim beyond that simple description “single jobseeker with no children”. For example, you will not be able to claim if you are waiting for the outcome of a decision on a claim for tax credits or one of a list of other benefits, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance. You can’t claim if you receive Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance or Armed Forces Independence Payment.
Reviewing the calls we’ve had on CPAG in Scotland’s advice line for advisers and support workers about UC over the last 12 months, three common themes emerge. One is confusion over conflicting messages in the media as to the who, when and where the so-called “legacy benefits” will disappear. Closely linked with this are worries about whether particular groups who have the option of claiming early should do so. Thirdly, there are concerns about how those aspects of UC which are new are likely to affect vulnerable claimants: single payment to one member of a couple for example, or monthly payments and how these can be managed. Unsurprisingly, “one-size-fits-all” answers rarely emerge. We continue to welcome your calls and emails on the advice line. Keep an eye out for our training and for future blogs on this topic.
We offer free, independent, expert, up-to-date advice and information to frontline advisers and support staff in Scotland on all aspects of the benefits and tax credits system. We welcome any enquiries from frontline staff, no matter what the level of complexity.
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