Many people are facing unemployment for the first time, or the prospect of claiming from benefits system for the first time in many years.
Unfortunately, you may well find the experience of claiming a hard and pitiless one.
New claimants may be in for a shock – both in terms of the wait of weeks before you get any money.
The major change is Universal Credit (UC)– brought in from 2012-2013. It has been steadily extinguishing and replacing the former Job Seeker’s Allowance and income support (the old system of unemployment support).
1. This system can be slow – so don’t wait until you’re down to your last penny or in debt before claim.
Expect to wait before getting money – it is even slower than in 1970s and 1980s.If you ever claimed before 2008 don’t expect it to work as efficiently as you remember.
Top-tip: Don’t leave it to the last moment to claim – start as soon as possible
2. Get your information and personal data ready for claiming
You will need to verify ID and be asked to produce a lot of information (especially proof of earnings and savings)
Get this together in order as soon as possible – and expect to be asked several times for the same information.
It takes long than you may think.
Top-tip: Be ready to have to repeat things and supply the same information several times
3. Don’t wait to be told about housing benefit and council tax reduction by the DWP
Basic income is meant to be covered by universal credit administered by the DWP.
However, you may also be entitled to housing benefit if you rent a home and you may be get a council tax reduction.
Don’t expect to be told automatically about them by the DWP.
Both of these benefits are administered by your local Council.
You have to make separate claims. Details will be on-line. Expect to be asked many of the same questions as by the DWP
If housing benefit is lower than your rent, you may be able to get a Discretionary Housing Benefit to top-up your housing benefit.
Top-tip: Contact your Council to find out about possible rent and housing costs help with housing benefit
4. When claiming you have to prove 3 months of bank/saving accounts statements and earnings to claim quickly
You will be asked to produce proof of bank accounts and earnings and also for a partner.
Get ID and proof of address. Get your tenancy agreement if renting or mortgage details and other info handy.
Savings held by children do not count but you may be asked to explain these in some cases.
Top-tip: Get your info organised, ready to present when you have to produce them. If you have changed banks you’ll have to produce earlier ones.
5. You have to report changes of circumstances – for both you and your partner
If you are applying getting more than one benefit and your circumstances change you must tell both the DWP and the Council whenever anything changes.
The same applies to your partner.
Whenever his/her circumstances change you must report this to both bureaucracies – even if it doesn’t have an effect.
Don’t imagine the DWP or the local Council will tell the other about any change – except when it comes to cutting your benefits off – their computers are programmed to message each other where ‘failure to report change of circumstances’ is suspected.
Even though their computer systems do talk to each other, the pretence is kept up that they don’t, doubling the paperwork and admin for claimants.
Top-tip: Whenever anything changes moneywise -“tell ‘em both”.
6. Delays in getting your UC payment should be expected - so AVOID overdraft fees
You have to provide a bank or building society details - an account into watch out for overdraft fees.
Get your UC / benefit payment paid into a building society account or an account that does not charge you interest or charges. Check your account before you do. (I’ve lost count of the times I seen first time claimants face delays, only to have it swallowed up in an overdraft because of bank-charges).
Top-tip: Get your benefit paid into a building society account or one that does not charge fees for an overdraft.
Some key decisions on benefits are often delegated to computers with summary and adverse rulings can occur .
Decisions by the DWP and local authorities should not be considered final – you have a right of appeal or to request a review if a mistake is made – this must normally be commenced within 1 month.