In this issue:
Have you got your copy yet? The 16th edition of the Benefits for Students in Scotland Handbook was published in August 2018. It has the latest information on benefit eligibility for full-time students, including information about universal credit, and example calculations of how Scottish student funding affects benefits. Buy a copy here.
To look up the FREE online Handbook go to www.onlinepublications.cpag.org.uk (click on the + button at the left of the screen beside Benefits for Students in Scotland Handbook to navigate the handbook).
The ‘full service’ of universal credit (UC) is now rolled out in all areas. New claims can no longer be made for income-based JSA, income support, income-related ESA, housing benefit (unless you are in temporary or ‘specified’ accommodation), child tax credit or working tax credit. If you are already on these benefits you can stay on them, but if you need to make a new claim for one of these benefits you cannot. Instead you can claim UC. There are situations in which a claim for UC is necessary, but sometimes a better-off calculation needs to be done to check that claiming UC is the best way forward (see Q & A, below). Note that if you already get CTC and need to add WTC, or vice versa, this can be done as it does not count as a new claim.
There are two situations where you can (or will be able to) claim legacy benefits instead of UC. These are if:
- you have three or more children – in this case you cannot make a new claim for UC, but can claim legacy benefits instead. This exception is currently due to end on 31/1/19.
- you get a severe disability premium in your legacy benefits, from 16/1/19. You cannot make a new claim for UC, but can claim (other) legacy benefits instead. This provision is subject to parliamentary approval.
Further UC changes were announced in the Budget on 29 October, including an increase in the work allowance from April 2019. The work allowance – an amount parents and people with an illness/disability can earn before UC starts to reduce – is increasing by around £1,000 a year. This means an extra £670 or so of UC over a year for most working parents. If you are a student and are eligible for a work allowance, and your UC stopped because your income was too high, you may be entitled again from April 2019 and you should reclaim.
Remember advisers can phone CPAG in Scotland's advice line for advisers and frontline staff on 0141 552 0552 if you want to check what benefits a student can claim, or if you have any other questions about social security benefits.
The advice line is available Monday –Thursday 10am – 4pm and Fridays 10am - 12 noon. You can also email your enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
A recent Upper Tribunal case concerned the entitlement of full-time students to income-related ESA (MW v SSWP (ESA)  UKUT 304 (AAC)). Full-time students (unless they are under 20 in non-advanced education) who get DLA or PIP are eligible for income-related ESA (Regulation 18 of the ESA Regulations 2008), and are automatically treated as having limited capability for work under Regulation 33(2) of the ESA Regulations 2008.
The DWP and then the First-tier Tribunal had completely overlooked this, despite the relevant provision being pointed out ‘very shortly and very clearly’ by the student’s support worker in the appeal letter and other submissions. The student’s ESA was reinstated by the Judge, who said the DWP and the First-tier Tribunal’s approach was ‘disappointing’ and added that ‘reading the grounds of appeal is always a good place to start’.
This case is indeed disappointing, as the student’s ESA stopped in January 2017 and the appeal was not heard until September 2018 (although note that if a student loan was available, or the student had certain other student funding, this would reduce the amount of ESA due).
The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee has opened an inquiry into overpayments of carer’s allowance (CA). This follows a Guardian article that ‘more than a thousand carers face being prosecuted for fraud’ and that ‘another 10,000 carers could face fines’ owing to moves by the DWP to recoup money reportedly paid incorrectly over several years. The Guardian stated that overpayment cases involved people who had received more CA than they were entitled to owing to a change in their earnings so that they started to earn more than £120 a week, or because they had enrolled as a student in full-time education, often without realising that this affected their entitlement. It reported that in some cases people have received £10,000 more than they were entitled to.
Starting a full-time course of study should mean that CA stops. Yet every year we hear of carers starting full-time study and being told by the DWP Carer’s Allowance Unit that this does not affect their entitlement. Our advice is to put the information in writing to the Carer’s Allowance Unit and keep a copy of the letter. This way you have proof that you notified the change.
Note that if you are overpaid CA, you only have to pay this back if you ‘failed to disclose’ or ‘misrepresented’ your circumstances. So if you have kept the Carer’s Allowance Unit up-to-date with changes, such as starting a full-time course, and they have continued to pay you CA in error, they cannot recover this money from you, as you did not fail to disclose that you had started a course.
Q: The student is a single parent with two dependent children aged 11 and 9. She is on a full-time advanced course. She has been advised to change from child tax credit (CTC) to universal credit (UC) to get help with her rent (she was previously working so not getting housing benefit). She gets a student loan and grants, and her rent is £360 a month.
A: In these circumstances, she would be better off staying on CTC. This is because tax credits don't take (most) student income into account, and with two children she will get just over £500 per month CTC, whereas on UC she would only get around £300 per month. This is due to the fact that almost all student income affects UC pound for pound. So the advice to claim UC is wrong. A better off calculation is necessary in these situations.