Universal Credit - all you need to know about the government's flagship welfare reform

Will you be affected by the benefits changes?
Will you be affected by the benefits changes?

The rollout of the government’s controversial Universal Credit benefit system has started - but it's fair to say it’s not going down particularly well.

Universal Credit is the government’s flagship six-in-one benefit payment scheme and is being introduced in stages across the UK.

The controversial system is designed to replace income-based jobseekers’ allowance, housing benefit, child tax credits, income support, working tax credit and Employment and Support Allowance.

It is estimated Universal Credit will be claimed by nearly six million households in 2021.

One of the supposed principal benefits of universal credit is that it will improve take-up rates by making the system less complicated and easier to deliver.

But critics have said the system will send some of the country’s poorest people into a downward spiral.

Since the rollout began, experts have repeatedly highlighted flaws with the system, including a minimum six-week wait for payments to be processed, which has pushed thousands into debt - as well as a confusing online application system, lost documentation and continuous administration errors.

Charities have dubbed it a ‘universal catastrophe’, while claimants say it has made them sick with stress.

Calls to the helpline for Universal Credit are costing 55p a minute – which is a kick in the teeth when you’re worried about heating your home or feeding your children.

Theresa May has defended the expansion of the government's flagship welfare reform, but Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was increasing poverty and homelessness.

The PM said the government was listening to concerns about universal credit and said it was getting more people into work.

During Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, Mr Corbyn urged her to "wake up to reality" and pause the rollout.

And he called it "absurd" that calls to the helpline cost up to 55p a minute.

Mr Corbyn said at PMQs, "Not only are people being driven into poverty but, absurdly, the Universal Credit helpline costs claimants 55p a minute for the privilege of trying to get someone to help them claim what they believe they’re entitled to.

"Will the Prime Minister today show some humanity, intervene and make at least the helpline free?"

Universal Credit Key Facts

*Universal credit is a single monthly payment

*It replaces housing benefit, child tax credit, income support, working tax credit, jobseeker's allowance and employment and support allowance

*Help with rent will no longer be paid directly to landlords

*Couples are paid jointly

*Universal Credit is paid one month in arrears

*There are automatically seven "waiting" days before anything happens after you make a claim

*It can also take seven days for the payment to reach your bank account

*It means it can take six weeks to be paid after making a claim

How Universal Credit Is Calculated

*It is based on a standard allowance

*There are extra sums for carers, people with children, people who are disabled or ill and people who need help with housing costs

*You only get the maximum award if you have no other earnings and less than £6,000 savings

*If you live with someone who has other earnings, your payment is reduced

*If you start work, your Universal Credit is reduced depending how much you earn and other circumstances