(Our thanks go to an anonymous contributor from a local authority welfare benefits advice service…)
Scene: an advice centre, place unspecified…
“Hello, don’t know if you can help me?  I need to know what’s going to happen to my money.  I’m on the sick and I don’t know what’s going to happen to my benefits.”
There is a brief interlude while the adviser reads the paperwork that the client has brought along…
“OK, it looks like you’re getting Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and you get Housing Benefit for your rent plus some help with Council Tax.”
“That sounds right – will they take any of these away?  I’m a bit confused by all this talk of changes, and now I’m having to pay Council Tax…”
“Yes, that’s right, Council Tax Benefit has been abolished and replaced with schemes run by local councils.  It depends on where you live, but here you do need to make a contribution.  Income-Related ESA, Income Support, Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit and Tax Credits – they’re all going to be abolished and replaced by Universal Credit.”
“So why haven’t my benefits changed – should I have done something?”
“Well, I was going to say, Universal Credit is only being brought in for a limited number of claimants in a limited number of areas – no changes here for the moment.  We’re not exactly sure when further changes will happen for different areas of the country.”
“Right, OK, so am I getting what I should be?”  
“We’d best go through your own claim, benefit by benefit.”
“I’d appreciate that…”
“Your ESA is paid because you’re ill and can’t work. It’s not based on your contributions, you have no other income, so it’s called Income-Related ESA; it’s a ‘means tested’ benefit.  ESA and JSA have national insurance contributions-based versions which are not being abolished at all.”
“Wait a bit, you’re confusing me.  Which have I got – and are they going to take it away?”
“You’ve got the Income-Related one, so it’s going to change eventually, but not for the moment.  You’re in the Work-Related Activity Group.  It may be, I dunno, a year or more before your claim is changed to Universal Credit – or as late as 2017.”
“So if I’ve already claimed before Universal Credit comes in, I stay on the old benefits, under the old rules, for longer?”
“Exactly.  It’s only if you make a brand new claim for benefits after Universal Credit comes in that you’ll be under the new system.”
“So I stay on my benefits, but my friend, she’s too ill to work.  If she makes a new claim later on she’ll be on the new system and on a different benefit?”
“Yes. People in exactly the same circumstances will be on different systems.”
“What about paying the rent?”
“Housing Benefit stays until Universal Credit comes in. Then your renting costs become part of Universal Credit – the rules for getting help will be pretty much the same, but you’ll have to pay your landlord yourself, it won’t be paid direct to them.  Oh, and Universal Credit is paid monthly, in arrears, unlike benefits now.”
“That’s OK for me I hope – but my neighbour already has trouble managing money.  She’ll need help!  Will this Universal Credit be less than what I get now?”
“The amount of Universal Credit is generally the same as the current system – it merges several benefits together but it doesn’t change much about how they work.  Some people with disabilities will get less though.”
“Doesn’t sound good…”
“But if you’re already on a benefit and Universal Credit would be less, you keep your current level of payment – so that no-one loses out right away.  But you can lose that protection if your situation changes, say you starting living with someone else…  Then you might have to claim Universal Credit jointly, and you wouldn’t be able to go back to your old benefits.”
“Well, can’t see any of that applying to me. But I’ve heard they’ll force me to work on this Universal Credit…”
“The DWP wants to make going to work easier, so if you do some work you can keep more of your income before it starts affecting your benefits.  As your income goes up, the amount of Universal Credit you get paid goes down until it stops altogether.  It could be helpful to people; they’ll have a clearer idea of whether it’s worth working or not.”
“And what about me not being able to work?”
“Well, given that you’re in the Work-Related Activity Group for your ESA, you need to go to regular interviews with an adviser.  If you don’t – and don’t have a good reason – your benefits can be cut.  Make sure you let us know if you do start working, and we’ll do our best to explain what’s likely to happen.”
“Thanks, that’s what I thought…  Now what about my DLA? I’ve heard it will change to this PIP thing…”
“Yes – DLA is changing to Personal Independence Payment, but again it will only be for new claims from June 10 2013. If you’re already on DLA you’ll carry on getting it for a while, until… maybe 2016.  But what’s really important to know is that you won’t be transferred to PIP automatically…  At some point after October this year, you’ll get a letter asking you to make a claim for it: you need to reply to that letter or get advice.  If you don’t your DLA will stop being paid after four weeks, and you’ll lose it altogether after another four weeks.”
“So there’s two systems running with this too – depending on when you claim?”
“Clear as mud.  How complicated can you make it?  I thought it was meant to make things easier to understand…”
“Sounds like you’re going to be busy.  I’ll tell my friend to come in and talk it through with you.”


“OK, but remember, we can only see her on Tuesday mornings, we’ve had to cut back some of our services…”
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