The last few years have seen significant changes to the welfare benefits and tax credits system, and more are scheduled for later this year and beyond. Here's what to look out for
Universal Credit roll-out
Universal Credit (UC) is gradually replacing six means-tested benefits for working-age people - Income Support, Income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. UC will be paid on a monthly basis, and it is expected that most claims will be made and managed online.
Universal Credit is replacing six means-tested benefits
Roll-out of UC is continuing throughout 2016, with new benefit claimants making a claim for UC rather than the benefits it replaces. You don’t need to do anything if you are already claiming one of the existing benefits – you will be told by the Department of Work and Pensions when to make a claim. The government currently expects that existing claimants will start to move over to UC during 2018, with the process completed by 2021.
If one member of a couple is over Pension Credit age, and the other one is under, both of you will have to claim UC unless you are already receiving Pension Credit. If for some reason there is a break in your Pension Credit claim, you may have to claim Universal Credit instead of returning to Pension Credit.
As UC replaces Housing Benefit and Child Tax Credit but is only for working-age people, there will be some changes to Pension Credit to include support for rent and an additional amount for pensioners with dependent children.
Increasing State Pension Age
There are different qualifying ages for Pension Credit and State Pension depending on your age and your gender. You can check your qualifying age on the government website on their Check your State Pension age page.
The State Pension age for women has been gradually increased to match State Pension age for men. By November 2018, all people retiring from then onwards will have to be at least 65 to claim Pension Credit or a State Pension. State Pension age is then increased for both men and women.
By October 2020, all people retiring from then onwards will have to be at least 66 to claim a Pension Credit or a State Pension. State Pension age continues to rise gradually to 68 by 2046.
Lowering of the Benefit Cap
The Benefit Cap limits the maximum amount of benefits that working-age out of work families can receive.
The government plans to lower the cap from autumn 2016. It will be reduced to £23,000 for families in London (£15,410 for single claimants) and £20,000 elsewhere (£13,400 for single claimants).
Households claiming Working Tax Credit or benefits for a disability or illness are exempt from the cap. The government has also announced that from autumn 2016, it will introduce exemptions for people claiming Guardian’s Allowance, Carer’s Allowance and the carer's element of Universal Credit.
ESA Work-Related Activity Group
From April 2017, new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who are placed in the Work-Related Activity Group, will receive the same rate of payment as those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and the equivalent in Universal Credit.
This will not apply to existing ESA claimants, or those who are placed in the ESA Support Group.
Bereavement Support Payment
The current bereavement benefits system will be replaced with a single system of Bereavement Support Payments. This will be introduced for new claims from April 2017.
Capping Housing Benefit in the social rented sector
From April 2017, new or renewed tenancies for supported accommodation in the social sector will be subject to a cap on Housing Benefit in line with Local Housing Allowance rates.
You can find out more about all of these changes on the Turn2us Benefits Changes Timetable.
You can use the charity’s free Benefits Calculator to check your up to date benefits entitlements, and if you are struggling financially, why not try the Grants Search to see if you might be eligible for additional support from a grant-giving charity.
If you would like further help with your situation, you can use the Turn2us Find an Adviser tool to find face-to-face advice in your local area.
Thanks to Kelly-Marie Jones, Welfare Benefits Specialist at the charity explains more about some of these changes.
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