Universal Credit

The government is making changes to the benefit system for people of working age. Universal credit is gradually replacing these six existing benefits:

  • Jobseekers Allowance
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Income Support
  • Housing Benefit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit

If you are currently claiming one or more of these benefits in the Borough of Lewisham, you will at some point be moved onto universal credit instead. Universal credit works differently to the benefits you’re already claiming, so it’s important be aware of, and plan for, what will change.

We’re here to help with any uncertainty, answer your questions and try to make this change as smooth as possible for the Phoenix residents it affects. Click on the headings in the blue box to learn more about how universal credit might affect you.

Before you start claiming universal credit

You will need:

  • Your own bank account in your own name

Universal credit is paid directly to you, so you need your own account to receive it. This can be a current or basic account with a bank or building society, a pre-payment card, or certain kinds of credit union accounts. Read more about which accounts are suitable here.

  • A working email address

You need an email address to complete a claim for universal credit online.

If you would like any support setting up an email address or filling out online applications please get in touch or attend Phoenix's free digital drop in sessions on Wednesday mornings (10-12) at The Green Man.

  • A monthly budget

Universal credit replaces several benefits paid more frequently with one monthly payment. It’s very important to adjust your budget to work with this new arrangement.

  • It’s paid monthly

Universal credit is paid monthly in arrears. That means the payments will arrive in your account on the same day each month. It brings together into one payment all the separate payments from the six benefits it is replacing.

It is very likely at the start of your universal credit claim that you will wait longer than a month for the first payment. Having a planned budget in place for that period is essential.

You may find it useful to visit the Money Advice Service website for help preparing a budget.

  • Housing Benefit is paid to you, not to Phoenix

When you switch to universal credit your Housing Benefit (the name of which will change to 'Housing Cost Element') will be paid directly to you, rather than directly to Phoenix.

Receiving these payments monthly and not having housing benefit sent to Phoenix straight away means that you’ll need to prioritise paying rent out of what you receive each month.

You may find it useful to visit the Money Advice Service website for help preparing a budget.

Universal credit in Lewisham

Since February 2016, some people in Lewisham have been able to claim universal credit.

However, in December 2017 all new claims for universal credit in Lewisham were suspended until July 2018. This means that any new claims made before July 2018 will be made through the existing system (such as Job Seeker's Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance).

‘Full service’ universal credit will begin in July 2018. From July 2018 all new claims for the six benefits universal credit is replacing will instead be for universal credit.

See details about how to make claims for benefits here.

Lewisham Jobcentre Plus (Rushey Green) has closed.

If you used to use this Jobcentre Plus, you should have been transferred to either Forest Hill or Bromley based on your postcode.

From July 2018,All new claims made at both of these jobcentres will be for universal credit.

Claiming universal credit

Here are some things to bear in mind when making a claim for universal credit:

  • Claims are made online at www.gov.uk/universalcredit. You can also call the Service Centre on 0345 600 0723 and 0845 6000 723, though the staff will encourage you to claim online.
  • Make your claim as soon as possible. Your claim will run from the day that it is submitted, it cannot be backdated. There is no longer a seven-day waiting period.
  • If you need help with your claim, please email Phoenix's financial inclusion team or call us on 0800 0285 700.

Universal credit and housing costs

Payment for housing costs (previously known as Housing Benefit) is included in your universal credit payment. Unlike housing benefit, this money for your housing costs will come into your account and not be paid directly to Phoenix.

Under universal credit, it will become your responsibility to make payments to your rent account in addition to any rent not covered by this benefit. It can be a challenge adjusting to this new rent arrangement and getting used to receiving money monthly.

Phoenix is here to support you with anything you find difficult, it’s best to get in touch with us as soon as you begin with universal credit so we can help you right from the start.

In some circumstances we may be able to request that your housing costs be paid to Phoenix directly. Please get in touch with us if you would like to consider this option.

Universal credit and sanctions

If you haven't done one of the activities in your claimant commitment, you could be sanctioned. This means that your universal credit payments will be temporarily reduced.

If you are sanctioned, you can apply for a hardship payment but this amount will then be deducted from your future universal credit payments. 

You can ask the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to rethink the decision to sanction your universal credit payments. You will need to submit a Mandatory Reconsideration Request. Details of how to do so and the time limit that applies will be included in the letter sent to you about your sanction. Contact Phoenix’s financial inclusion team if you need help.

Couples in which one person is over pension credit age

If only one person in a couple is over pension credit age it may be advisable to claim pension credit instead of universal credit.

To discuss this or find out more about managing benefits please contact our financial inclusion team on 0800 0285 700 or by emailing our financial inclusion team.

Council tax reduction and universal credit

If you are on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction in council tax. This reduction is assessed by Lewisham Council not The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Previously, claims for council tax reduction were carried out at the same time as claims for Housing Benefit. However, from July 2018 Phoenix residents will need to make a claim online here on the Lewisham Council’s website. You will need an account with the Lewisham Council website before you can make a claim.

Phoenix’s digital drop in sessions on Wednesday mornings from 10am – 12 midday at The Green Man are available for free to help you set up online accounts and handle your claims over the internet, as well supporting you to use technology in other ways.