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Catherine Furze

Northumberland legacy claimants among first to be switched to Universal Credit say DWP

Benefits claimants living in Northumberland will be among the first to be moved from so-called legacy benefits to Universal Credit.

Some people living in the county who are paid Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance, Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Income Support and Housing Benefit will get letters from the Department of Work and Pensions informing them they are required to move to Universal Credit to retain their financial support.

This news comes after the DWP recently resumed its plans to move all claimants currently receiving any of the six benefits over to Universal Credit by the end of 2024 after the switch was paused during the pandemic.

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Only around 6,000 claimants countrywide will be moved before January 2023, with the vast majority not being phased over until next winter, according to information from a Freedom of Information request by benefits campaigners Benefits and Work.

According to the website, "An 'official sensitive’ document obtained via the Freedom of Information Act has revealed more of the DWP’s timetable for the forced move of legacy benefits claimants onto Universal Credit (UC). It appears that most claimants will not begin to be moved until the winter of 2023. Except for an unlucky group of a minimum of 6,000 people, it seems that most legacy benefits claimants are unlikely to be affected by the transfer before the winter of 2023."

Only people living in five areas have been contacted so far, and Northumberland was added to the list earlier this week.

A statement from the DWP said: "Not all legacy benefit claimants in Northumberland will receive a letter requiring them to move to Universal Credit during this phase, but a group of 250 will start to receive letters from September 12 onwards. When claimants receive their Migration Notice letter, it will contain information needed to move to Universal Credit. This will include the exact date they need to claim by – which will give them three months to do so – as well as the next steps they need to take and other important information to help them make their claim.

"A dedicated helpline – signposted on the letter claimants receive – will provide support to make their Universal Credit claim, and guidance will be available online. Those in need of further support can also visit local jobcentres located in Cramlington, Bedlington, Ashington, Blyth, Hexham, Alnwick, Morpeth, and Berwick."

Minister for Welfare Delivery, David Rutley said: “Universal Credit supported millions of people during the pandemic and it continues to provide crucial financial support. It is an accessible and secure benefit supporting people’s needs from month to month and opens up tailored support, helping customers get into and progress in work.”

Northumberland is currently home to over 24,000 Universal Credit claimants. Everyone receiving a letter will have their entitlement to Universal Credit assessed against their current legacy benefits, with top up payments known as transitional protection for eligible claimants whose entitlement would otherwise have been reduced because of the change. This ensures they receive the same entitlement as on the legacy system at the point they move to Universal Credit. This will continue unless their circumstances change.

Claimants will receive a two-week run-on of their Income Support, Income-Based Jobseekers Allowance, or Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance. Those moving from Housing Benefit will receive a two-week transition to Universal Credit Housing Payment.

If you do not receive a letter notifying you to move to Universal Credit, you do not have to do anything, and you will continue receiving your current legacy benefits. However, if you think you would be better off on Universal Credit you can check your entitlement for the benefit using an independent benefits calculator, with a guide on how to apply also on the Understanding Universal Credit website. People who are unsure whether they would be better off are advised by Citizen's Advice to wait until they receive a letter, as the transitional protection top up payments only apply to claimants moved by DWP, and people cannot reclaim their old benefits after moving to Universal Credit.

The document obtained by Benefits and Work, entitled ‘Move to UC Monitoring and Evaluation Strategy’ divides the switch from legacy benefits to Universal Credit into four phases leading up to the full national rollout. A minimum of 1,000 people will be switched over in the second phase, including some in Northumberland.

According to Benefits and Work: "Claimants will be monitored from the point at which they are asked to move to the time when they are on UC, have been paid and their conditionality regime has been established. The DWP say that they will be carrying out in depth interviews and large scale surveys as well as ‘tracking claimant interactions using Smartphone Apps’ in order to capture the full range of experiences of claimants undergoing the transfer.

"The DWP clearly expect a number of claimants not to make the move because they say that: ‘Research will also be undertaken with a sample of claimants who choose not to make a UC claim to understand what has driven this choice.’ The fact that these may be some of the most vulnerable claimants and that they may not want, or be able, to have a dialogue with the DWP does not seem to be a particular concern. And the fact that only ‘a sample’ will be contacted is a real cause for concern."

Universal Credit was introduced in 2013 to end the complex web of six legacy benefits and was fully rolled out for all new claims in December 2018. It was introduced to replace a range of different benefits for unemployed and low-paid people and the aim was to make the system simpler. More than 5.8 million people claim UC in the UK, and of those people, around 40% of claimants have jobs.

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