STOP & SCRAP UNIVERSAL CREDIT
Universal Credit went full service in Edinburgh from 28 November 2018. This means all new claims for the six benefits that Universal Credit is replacing will now have to be claims for Universal Credit (UC).
Universal Credit is an attack on claimants and on the working class as a whole. It must be resisted and made unworkable. We say Stop and Scrap UC. Demonstrating regularly at Jobcentres, as ECAP does often, is just one step in the resistance.
WHAT IS UNIVERSAL CREDIT?
UC replaces child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance, and working tax credit. It does not affect other benefits like Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Pension Credit or the State Pension. If fully implemented its estimated 7 million households will be on Universal Credit.
UC is even worse than the existing benefits system. It has very harsh rules about proving you are actively seeking work, and for the first time even workers in low-paid part-time jobs can be sanctioned if the DWP decide you are not doing enough to look for full time work. You have to wait 5 – 8 weeks or longer for the first payment, fuelling rent arrears and homelessness.
For this reason, for most people its better not to get transferred onto UC, if you can avoid it. If you are already claiming one of the six benefits listed above you should not be transferred to UC till next year or later. Only a significant change of circumstances should mean you have to make a new claim for UC. You should not have to reclaim and change benefits for simply moving address, as demonstrated in this legal case. The jobcentre may try and persuade you to change over, but often you can say no. Seek support to do this.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – AN ATTACK ON THE DISABLED
Severe disability premium and enhanced disability premium are abolished which mean single disabled people lose around £2,000 and a disabled couple over £4,000 per year.
Claims being conducted mainly online discriminates against many disabled people.
- While you wait for the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) your GP sick line (fit note) no longer automatically exempts you from job seeking and work related activity and you could be subject to ‘all work-related requirements’. If this happens, submit a GP ‘fit note’ and seek support to insist that you are exempted via Universal Credit Regulation 99(4) and (5)(c).
- If you fail the WCA then the default is to impose full job seeking requirements while you appeal – but submit a sick line (fit note) and seek support as above.
Mandatory “Health and Work Conversations” threaten many disabled UC claimants with sanctions. Always be accompanied to such interviews and check if its mandatory for you – if you have “limited capability for work-related activity” its voluntary.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – AN ATTACK ON WOMEN
UC is an attack on women. One UC payment to the household will mean women are more dependent on men, impacting survivors of domestic violence. The Scottish Government has pledged to introduce the right to split payments but this requires an agreement with the DWP and has not happened yet.
Women will only be able to claim UC for a 3rd child if they can proved they were raped and will be required to explain the details of their rape to the DWP through a third party who will essentially be judging whether rape took place or not. This involves filling out a detailed 45 page form about being raped. (Until 31 Jan. 2019, families with 3 or more children claim on the old Tax Credit system.)
Most lone parents, the majority women, will be worse off.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – AN ATTACK ON WORKERS
For the first time workers in low paid part-time work can be sanctioned if the DWP decide they are not doing enough to seek full-time employment, hitting hardest those with care responsibilities or those with disabilities. And such sanctions could cut claimants housing costs, threatening homelessness (if sanctioned seek support to contest the sanction).
Self employed people will have to submit their monthly, instead of annual, income before any UC payment, including for housing costs, will be made for that month causing untold chaos and hardship. Claimants who have been self-employed for more than a year are deemed to be earning the equivalent of the minimum wage for all the hours they are expected to have worked each month, thus cutting their UC entitlement.
If part-time workers or self-employed workers earn too much in any monthly “assessment period” their claim will be closed and they’ll have to start all over again. This could happen if wages or payments were just a bit earlier or later than usual.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – AN ATTACK ON MIGRANT WORKERS
- UC reduces the rights of migrant workers. The right to reside as an EEA jobseeker no longer gives access to benefits, whereas before UC such migrants were entitled to 3 months of Jobseeker’s Allowance (info from CPAG). But migrant workers refused benefits should always seek advice and support as the DWP often break their own rules to refuse migrants benefits, and ECAP has won several such cases.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – MAJORITY WORSE OFF
Research shows the majority of claimants worse off under UC, assuming take-up remains the same. This is still the case despite concessions made in the recent budget. For UC households in employment the Resolution Foundation conclude: “that the overall number of losers (3 million) will still outweigh the overall number of gainers (2.4 million)” see page 9. For households not in employment it’s estimated 1.1 million lose and only 0.4 million gain (not affected by budget changes). Lone parents are particularly hard hit.
And these figures do not take into account the much higher sanction rate under UC.
The transitional protection promised by the government is very limited but if this applies to you make sure you get your rights.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – PEOPLE LEFT PENNILESS
Payments are monthly in arrears and you have to wait 5 – 8 weeks or even longer for first payment (in Scotland you can choose to be paid fortnightly)
Hardship payments have to be repaid
The system is so complicated that 1 in 5 claims to UC fails because of difficulties people face with the application process
Over-payments could be recovered even when they are totally the fault of the DWP (if this happens seek support to challenge it)
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – MORE SANCTIONS
David Webster of Glasgow University has shown UC has a much higher rate of sanctions than the old benefits, plus they are longer – “In the latest quarter March to May 2018, almost a third (30.6%) of UC sanctions were over three months and one in eight were over 6 months, indicating the extreme severity of the regime.” (David Webster) This is due to the brutal regime of conditionality with the insistence on 35 hours per week jobsearch and no provision for holidays.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – MORE POVERTY
UC already operates in East Lothian. The East Lothian Courier reports that while only 30% are in rent arrears for council housing in the area, the figure jumps to 72% for those on UC. The East Lothian Food Bank reports monthly parcels up by 25%. These figures are mirrored Britain-wide.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – MORE HOMELESSNESS
The initial long delay in paying UC means 80% of claimants go immediately into rent arrears, and find it very difficult or impossible to catch up. Along with soaring rent arrears and sanctions on housing costs, mortgage interests payments are no longer met, the only option being to take out a second loan. An Observer investigation finds homeless charities stating that UC is a major cause of increasing homelessness. Many landlords will not now let to benefits claimants (Observer 28.10.18).
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – BENEFITS CLOSED DOWN
The current plans for migration (moving existing claimants to UC) – due to take place from 2019 to 2023 – are horrendous. Rather than the DWP transferring the claims onto the UC system, the plan is to tell people to claim UC and then stop their old benefit whether or not their new UC claim has activated. Tens of thousands will be left penniless – unless our actions can get UC scrapped.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – WORKFARE
UC threatens those aged 18-21 with workfare. The Youth Obligation is a three month work placement enforced via sanctions in a public sector organisation or a registered charity. After 6 months on UC those aged 18 – 21 will have to apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship, gain work-based skills, or go on a work placement.
Workfare under UC also operates in a decentralised way, enforced by work coaches under the guise of ”work experience” as per Section 16(3)(e) of the 2012 Welfare Reform Act. This report by the DWP confirms workfare sanctions are being issued under UC.
In England and Wales the Work and Health Programme threatens workfare on people unemployed for 2 years.
ECAP pledges to take direct action against any employer or organisation who gets involved in any workfare scheme – as we have done successfully in the recent past. If you exploit us we will shut you down!
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – ATTACK ON RIGHTS
UC takes away rights to challenge your Claimants Commitment that existed under Jobseeker’s Allowance. The jobcentre will make you sign a Claimant Commitment listing what you must do. This is supposed to be ‘reasonable’, but without signing you won’t get paid. (If you are unhappy with what you are being made to agree to do, and make a formal request for a second opinion that doesn’t go in your favour, your claim will be stopped and you have to start again.) See SUWN guide to UC.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – UNIVERSAL CHAOS
UC is a mess with IT failures, unclear rules, under staffing, and under training. It has been repeatedly delayed, and now is not planned to be fully implemented till March 2023, with just 10,000 people to be “migrated*” across to UC in 2019.*migration is the process whereby people on the old benefits that UC replaced will be moved over to UC.
UC attacks the whole working class by undermining wages and conditions. It is an integral part of the imposition of austerity and the cuts. Its class war against the poor. It is not a “claimants issue”, everyone needs to get involved in resistance.
To combat the online isolation UC is trying to impose we need to support each other – you can be accompanied at all benefits appointments. We need to organise to make oppressive measures like Universal Credit unworkable.
ECAP aims to build up a presence at the Edinburgh jobcentres through our regular advocacy stalls, with more people involved and more frequent stalls this can create a counter-power, accompanying people and doing solidarity call-outs to back up sanctioned and mistreated claimants by groups invading the jobcentre. We aim to spread knowledge of UC and how claimants can stand up for their rights.
Precarious and part-time workers will be hit by Universal Credit and this group of workers have recently shown their ability to organise, for example couriers going on strike. Hopefully this experience will inform resistance to Universal Credit.
Vital to resistance is linking up and coordinating as widely as possible, and ECAP aims to do this Scotland-wide via the Action Against Austerity network and Britain-wide with groups like Disabled People Against Cuts, Boycott Workfare and the Welfare Action network.
The simultaneous attack on wide sectors of the working class raises the possibility of widespread resistance. Some politicians have raised the possibility of Universal Credit sparking a revolt similar to the successful anti poll tax non-payment movement.
As we say in our statement of principles “we believe that with enough people direct action can make the rule of bosses and their political protectors unworkable. We aim to establish a truly democratic counter-power, pressurizing authorities in the here and now and giving people a means to defend themselves in their daily lives, whilst simultaneously challenging the whole capitalist system, demanding and working towards a world without classes, borders and oppressive elites.”
If you need proof of identity for you Universal Credit application, you can use a National Entitlement Card. This website gives the details.
Beware of self-employment on UC
Under universal credit, claimants who have been self-employed for more than a year are deemed to be earning the equivalent of the minimum wage for all the hours they are expected to have worked each month. This is known as the Minimum Income Floor (MIF). A claimant’s UC is assessed as if they were meeting the MIF, even if in reality they are earning a great deal less.
An advance payment of UC
Officially known as a “Universal Credit Advance” this can be asked for while you wait for your first UC payment. It’s a loan not a grant and you pay it back once you start receiving UC. These loans are repayable at an amount of up to 40% of the total UC payments you receive each month. Negotiating a lower amount can often be difficult.
Universal Credit address
FREEPOST Universal Credit Live Service – we recommend all mail sent to the DWP for any purpose is sent ‘signed for’ as proof of delivery. You cannot do so with this FREEPOST address. This is one of the many things wrong with UC and we urge all claimants to complain to their MP, councillors and anyone else who’ll listen to get this changed and force the DWP to provide an alternative mailing address.
Scottish Universal Credit choices eligibility extended
From Wednesday 31 January, everyone in receipt of UC in full service areas will be able to choose if they want to be paid twice monthly and they will also have the option to have the housing element cost of their UC award paid directly to their landlords. This follows the introduction of Scottish Universal Credit Choices for new applicants from 4 October 2017. A total of 5,800 new applicants in full UC service areas were offered the Scottish Universal Credit choices. (Inclusion Scotland E-bulletin 16 March 2018)
Transfer of Tax Credits Debts to Universal Credit
The Government has responded to the Public Accounts Committee’s concerns that vulnerable people receiving tax credits are at increased risk of financial problems as they transfer to universal credit.
It says that it has established a Joint Enquiry Team to provide assistance to claimants moving to UC, including those who need help understanding their transferred debts. Vulnerable claimants needing additional support are referred to its Enhanced Support Team. When claimants move to UC, HMRC sends them a summary of any outstanding debts, advising that these will be transferred to DWP. Importantly, the response states that debts are only transferred when they are not subject to ongoing disputes or appeals.
Tax credit claimants with outstanding over-payments should therefore ensure that they dispute recovery within three months, or request a mandatory reconsideration/appeal against the entitlement decision within one month, or if late give reasons. These should continue to be dealt with by HMRC, and the debt should not be recovered from UC while the dispute or appeal is ongoing. Read the Government response page 12 (CPAG Tax Credits & Early Years Bulletin, April 2018).
Change of Address and Universal Credit
From SUWN: “Craig and Haley had also been told that they had to move to Universal Credit. In their case the only change in their circumstances was a change of address. We told them that this should not require them to change benefit, and that there was an article about a court case that demonstrated this (see quote below). And we advised them to get help arguing the point.” If you need help arguing the point above, please contact us at ECAP for help.
From Leigh Day lawyers: “The regulations state that a change of address within a full-service Universal Credit area can be dealt with by simply recording a change of circumstances; it does not require the recipient to make a new claim for Universal Credit.”
Benefits abolished for sick & disabled claimants:
- enhanced disability premium (EDP)
- severe disability premium (SDP)
[Last updated: November 2018]