1. What is it?

The new scheme will merge income-based jobseekers’ allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, housing benefit and working tax credit into one single payment.

There is no maximum to the number of weekly working hours for recipients; however the payment will reduce gradually as recipients start to earn more. Recipients must sign a “Claimant Commitment” agreeing to undertake certain tasks in order to make a claim. These commitments will depend upon the individual circumstances of each case, and factors that will be taken into account in this regard include health, care responsibilities and how much financial assistance a person needs.

  1. How will it affect the current regime?

Payment will be made once a month directly into the recipient’s bank account, as opposed to weekly or fortnightly as was the case under the old system. This includes any assistance with rent which may previously have been paid directly to the landlord. Under the new system help with rent will be paid to recipient as part of the single payment and it will then be for the recipient to pay the landlord.

The system will be solely online based, both when submitting a claim and also when managing payments and dealing with subsequent queries or issues. If a recipient does not have internet access they will therefore need to go to their local library or internet café.

  1. When will it be implemented?

The new scheme is being rolled out in stages and at the moment it is only operating in extremely limited geographical areas. Currently eligible persons may claim if they are single and if they live in Bath, Hammersmith, Harrogate, Inverness, the North West of England and Shotton, Wales. The idea is that claimants will gradually be transferred to Universal Credit as and when there is a significant change in their circumstances such as the birth of a child or the start of a new job.

The government hope to have fully implemented the system by 2017 but there have been major delays which have been mainly attributed to errors with the new IT system. The government have not been clear about how these delays will affect the 2017 target, stating only that it may take a little longer than expected.