Covid-19 has been devastating for the UK economy – since the start of the pandemic nearly three million people have been forced on to Universal Credit.
Lockdown caused job losses, pay cuts and an almost complete shutdown of retail, leisure and entertainment industry meaning many needed to rely on benefits.
Universal Credit was brought in a couple of years ago as part of the Conservative government’s plans to roll all six benefits into one.
It is also available as a top up to your wages or as a monthly income for those unable to cover their outgoings.
Initially introduced to support those on low incomes, the benefit is also available to anyone who is at risk of poverty or without a job, The Mirror reports.
Money will not be handed to anyone, or any couple if relevant, who has more than £16,000 in a rainy day fund but, the government is currently advising anyone at risk of debt to apply for the scheme.
People could be granted the benefit include those who have lost their jobs and self-employed workers who are experiencing a shortfall in work or have had to self-isolate. Basically, anyone who has faced financial difficulty due to the pandemic should apply.
It can be paid in addition to mortgage holidays, water bill discounts and council tax breaks.
But what other help is available once you're on universal credit and how can you access extra support?
Minister for Welfare Delivery Will Quince said: "These are challenging times, but claiming benefits doesn’t have to be challenging. If you need help, our staff are here to simplify the system and make sure you’re getting the right level of support.
"We are helping people to access the support they need, and Universal Credit unlocks a wide range of extra help with essential bills, such as housing, travel and childcare costs.”
What help can I get from Universal Credit?
- Up to 85% of childcare costs can be reimbursed through Universal Credit. Employed claimants can claim up to £646.35 per month if you have one child and up to £1,108.40 for two or more children. For more information visit the Understanding Universal Credit website.
- You can get up to 50% off train and bus travel if you are eligible for a Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card. This can help you get to interviews and appointments as well as other journeys you make. Those receiving Jobseekers Allowance may also be eligible.
- Not having 'work clothes' doesn't have to stop you accepting a job . A Flexible Support Fund is available to help you cover the costs of starting work. This money does not have to be paid back, and can cover the costs of things like clothing and uniforms to start work, and travel to interviews.
- If you are having a child, you may be entitled to a one off payment known as the Sure Start Maternity Grant . Households on Universal Credit can benefit from a one-off payment of £500. This does not have to be paid back and will not affect the benefit payments you receive.
- You could save on your Council Tax bill and in some cases you may not need to pay anything at all. Depending on your circumstances and where you live you may be eligible for a Council Tax Reduction. Apply for one online at gov.uk.
- You can get help to start saving . The government’s Help to Save scheme offers people who receive Universal Credit, and some people entitled to Working Tax Credit, incentives to save anything from £1 up to £50 per month. After two years of saving, the government will give you an extra 50p for every £1 you have saved.
Additional support is available to applicants through citizens advice and the jobcentre.
If you are unsure about something relating your Universal Credit claim call the DWP’s Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644, or visit the Understanding Universal Credit website.