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It’s no wonder Brits are feeling unsettled about the economy at the moment: the unemployment rate has hit its highest level in almost five years, according to The BBC. Given that fact, it’s never been more important to end the shame around claiming benefits: they’ve been a crucial tool to help many people survive this difficult time. If you’ve been impacted by redundancy or furlough and are struggling to pay your bills or afford the essentials, you could be able to make a claim for Universal Credit. 6 million people are claiming Universal Credit (according to official statistics from January 2021), which is a 98% increase since March 2020.

Universal credit is a government benefit system for people who are currently out of work or on a low income. The benefit replaces six existing benefits, including housing benefit, income-based jobseeker’s allowance and child tax credit. The amount you are paid will depend on your circumstances, but you usually receive a payment each month.

Here’s what you need to know about the benefit:

1. An easy breakdown of the key information

The Sun has pulled together this useful guide to cover the 14 main things you need to know about Universal Credit, covering everything from advance payments to how to claim freebies. This article explains how the benefit system works without going into too much detail and highlights all the extra help you might be able to claim.

“You can get help with your council tax
It's possible for Universal Credit claimants to reduce their council tax by up to 100%. The help available depends on your circumstances - for example, your household income, whether you have children, whether you're in work, and whether you own your home or rent it. It also depends on your local council as schemes vary. Use to find out if your local council offers a council tax reduction - sometimes known as council tax support - and how to apply. There’s a different scheme available in Northern Ireland.”

2. The official source is the official government website so is totally trustworthy and will always have the most up-to-date information. It covers key areas, such as eligibility, the standard allowance and how your earnings affect your payments in lots of detail but the website is easy to understand and navigate around. There’s also a handy step-by-step guide on how to claim Universal Credit here – you move through each step on the checklist to see if you’re eligible and, if so, you can create an account, make a claim, find out how to get an advance on your first payment and get your first payment.

You may be able to get Universal Credit if:
you’re on a low income or out of work
you’re 18 or over (there are some exceptions if you’re 16 to 17)
you’re under State Pension age (or your partner is)
you and your partner have £16,000 or less in savings between you
you live in the UK
The number of children you have does not affect your eligibility for Universal Credit, but it may affect how much you get.
Use a benefits calculator to check what benefits you could get if you’re not eligible for Universal Credit.”

3. A reliable fountain of knowledge

Citizens Advice gives free, confidential advice to people with money, legal, consumer and other problems. It hosts a huge amount of information on its website but it’s all accurate and easy to digest. This article helps you check if your income or savings affects your payments, as well as how to work out if your capital (things including property, shares and savings) makes a difference and much more. It also includes examples to illustrate how it all works.

“Check the effect of your earnings from work
Your Universal Credit decreases gradually as you earn more. Each £1 you or your partner earn after income tax reduces your Universal Credit by 63p.
You can get some income without reducing your Universal Credit payment if you're responsible for a child or have limited capability for work. This is called having a 'work allowance'.
The size of your work allowance depends on whether you also get the Universal Credit housing”

Your situation

Your work allowance

You get the housing element

£292 a month

You don't get the housing element

£512 a month

4. Real people sharing how Universal Credit has helped them survive the pandemic

Our last recommendation is for Stylist, a lifestyle, fashion, beauty, travel, wellness and entertainment news magazine with a feminist lens. They’ve published a positive article around three women who have chosen to break down the stigma of shame and embarrassment that has been attached to claiming benefits in the UK and instead explain how Universal Credit has helped them since Covid-19. This is well worth a read if you’re struggling to ask for financial help.

“You have no idea how incredibly relieved I was when I got my first advanced payment”
27-year-old lifestyle blogger and hospitality worker Ebun Oluwole in Manchester was left with “just enough” money to survive on at the start of the pandemic when she was only being paid part of her day job income.
“Around June, when the first lockdown was lifted, the uncertainty of not having a job or a decent income hit me really hard,” she shares. “I got really stressed and anxious which affected my mental health.”
Ebun’s flatmate, who left his job just before the pandemic began, explained to her that he was able to pay his rent through Universal Credit: “He advised me to start a claim, especially since the hospitality industry would be the last to recover from the pandemic. You have no idea how incredibly relieved I was when I got my first advanced payment. It felt like all the stress from the entire pandemic briefly went out of the window.”

I need immediate support with my financial situation. Who should I call? #MoneyOnYourMind

We’ve got lots of other helpful information on Brighter Money. Read our useful guides on what you need to know if you’ve been made redundant and everything about the furlough scheme.

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