What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is a monthly payment for people who are aged between 18 and 65 on a low income or out of work. It replaces six working age benefits that you may previously have been entitled to:
- Jobseeker's Allowance (Income based)
- Employment and Support Allowance (Income based)
- Income Support
- Housing Benefit
- Child Tax Credit
- Working Tax Credit
Before you apply
If you currently claim benefits, do not do anything until you receive a letter from Department for Communities telling you that you need to move from your existing benefits to Universal Credit.
Once you get your letter from Department for Communities you should contact your local advice centre for a full benefits check so that you know your entitlements.
Setting up your account
To set up a Universal Credit online account you must have:
- internet access
- an email account
- a bank account
- a mobile phone
If you need help setting up your email account and Universal Credit account, you can book an online training session at one of our Community Centres by calling 028 9027 0644. Some advice centres, libraries or your local jobs and benefits office have computers or devices with internet access that you can book to use.
Keep your sign in details memorable so that you do not forget them and do not tell these details to anyone. You will need them to access your Universal Credit account regularly to make sure you receive your benefit and to know when it will be paid.
Getting your benefits
Once your claim has been processed you will receive alerts by text to tell you to sign in to your Universal Credit account for updates and instructions on what happens next. Your payment should automatically go in to your bank account. If you haven't received a message in your online account after five weeks, call the Universal Credit helpline on 0844 306 9189.
Don’t ignore your Universal Credit text alerts. Your payment date may change every month so check your Universal Credit online account regularly as there may be communication about future payments, or you may need to follow up on instructions. If you fail to act on actions requested, you may receive a sanction, meaning your payment could be reduced or even stopped.
You will have to wait five weeks for your first payment so you need to be prepared and budget as much as you can.
You may be able to access a Discretionary Support payment, which is a short term advance payment to help you over the five-week waiting period. It is important to note that an Advance Payment is a loan and it will be deducted from your future Universal Credit payments. If you have applied and received an Advance Payment, you may be eligible to apply for a grant from the Contingency Fund which you do not need to repay. You should ask your work coach about the application process.
If you think that you will be moving onto Universal Credit, you should start budgeting now. If you need help with this, your local advice centre or the Consumer Council can help you put together a household budget.
Things you can do to help with the five-week wait for payment:
- buy some extra non-perishable (tinned or dried) food each week
- make a shopping list and plan meals weekly
- put extra money on gas, oil or electric when possible
- if you can, save a small amount of money each week
- try to reduce unnecessary spending
For more information on Universal Credit in Northern Ireland, visit nidirect (link opens in new window)