Benefits for Refugees

This video explains how to apply for Universal Credit for a refugee who has recently received status. This video is part of a six episode series on housing rights for refugees.
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This video explains the main requirements for an application, how to get an advance payment, and we will specifically look at the housing element of Universal Credit. This will include some basic information about the local housing allowance and how you may be able to receive discretionary housing payments from your local authority. We will also briefly cover how to apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and the criteria for doing so.

See below for the questions and answers that came up in the webinar that accompanied this video.

Benefits for refugees Q&A 

When you apply for universal credit you can get paid in five weeks, right?

Technically it’s a calendar month and a week.  

So is that a pre-payment or a post-payment?

It’s a post-payment, a payment in arrears for the period when you began your claim. It would then be on the same date every month for a month in arrears. That’s why the advance can be claimed for people who are going to struggle living in that first month and a week.

When would you be liable to pay the advance back?

Normally, if you ask for an advance, its paid back out of your first twelve monthly payments. You can ask them, exceptionally, to delay it for a couple of months, but usually you begin with your first monthly payment.

When would you apply for council tax support? At the same time as applying for Universal Credit?

You should apply as soon as you become liable for council tax. You can apply whether or not you are getting other benefits. You don’t have to be in receipt of universal credit. Its important to make your claim as soon as possible otherwise arrears of council tax can rack up very quickly.    

I recently helped someone set up a UC account. She recently received her first payment. When should I apply for the council tax exemption?

You only can get council tax support if you are liable to pay it so check you are liable – there is a hierarchy of liability for council tax. But if you are registered to pay and are going to receive a bill then get your application in as soon as possible.

There are a number of separate discounts and exceptions which get wrapped up in what we call council tax support. You can get a 25% single person discount if you live alone.

Do you need an address to make a Universal Credit claim?

There is specific guidance on this. You do not have to have a fixed address to make a claim for Universal Credit. You can use a care of address, an office of an NGO, and in exceptional circumstances you can also use the Job Centre itself. They don’t publicise this widely but there is specific guidance:  Not having an address should not be a barrier to making a claim for Universal Credit. The guidance also covers other easements such as not having a bank account.

What are the exemptions to the benefit cap?

There are a number of exemptions. If a member of the household is entitled to a disability benefit. Otherwise, you have to be working and either receiving working tax credits under the old system, or earning above a certain amount. If you earn more than £604 per month you are exempt from the benefits cap. So the benefit cap  limits the amount of benefits you can received. Remember with Universal Credit you can be talking quite large amounts because the housing cost element is included. So a large chunk can be taken into account. So if your overall benefits go over the limit of the benefit cap it will be reduced, unless you are exempt. If you are receiving disability benefits the cap is removed and there is no restriction on the benefits you can receive. Otherwise, the only way to avoid the cap is by earning over a set amount each month. Universal Credit can be paid whether you work full time, part time, or not at all, depending on your circumstances and overall income. Plenty of people work full time and still receive some UC.

If people are earning different amounts of money a month how do you claim Universal Credit? Also what if it is cash in hand? How is this accommodated in the claim?

If you are an employed earner with UC, it works differently to the legacy benefits. Under the old system if you received related benefits and your income varied weekly, every week the claimant would have to tell each individual benefit office. Under UC you no longer have to disclose your earnings, that information is collected automatically from the employer. So if your income varies or you have multiple jobs or have variable shifts, all this information is collected automatically by the DWP so the claimant doesn’t have to report it. If you are self-employed you have to actively disclose your earnings on a monthly basis to the DWP.

In terms of cash in hand, you could be still going through a payroll so the DWP should receive that information. If you are receiving income the DWP is not aware of through the “real time information system”, which all employers now use to notify the tax office and therefore the DWP, if this information isn’t going through, you should declare that income to the DWP yourself. Otherwise it could be considered a fraudulent claim.

If a disabled person is supported by the DWP through limited capability for work, until when will they receive this support?

People who are unable to work go through a work capability assessment and if they pass it will be put into one of two groups  - limited capability for work, and work-related activity. Usually, people would be re-assessed and the DWP have complete discretion as to how frequently they reassess you. By law they can reassess you every six months but you would be unlucky if this were the case. They usually set a review date and for most people you can expect a review once every year to three years. Some people are given a “light touch” review every ten years, for people with particularly debilitating illnesses. It should say this in the letter, it would be unusual for this not to be mentioned. If there is not one set, you can ask the DWP over the phone.

 Do you have to get a letter from a GP or have a diagnosis to claim for PIP?

You can tell the work coach about the issues and problems you are having without a medical certificate. Often the certificates don’t give any detail and it’s the detail that’s important. But having a medical certificate can be helpful at starting the process even if not on the individual difficulties.

Do you always have to go through the job centre and work with the job coach or can you go through citizens advice help to claim? Are they two different ways or do they work together?

The help to claim service is an intermediary. They step in and cover the first five weeks of a UC claim. The service stops at the first payment of UC. The work coach is the contact in the job centre throughout the whole of the claim, which could be years. Its really important to have some sort of dialogue and relationship with the work coach. They have a large amount of discretion when it comes to adjusting the claimant commitment and the work seeking activities. They are the key person who can make things easier for you.

If you get a DHP do you need to notify universal credit?

No, its ignored as payment and doesn’t affect any other benefits.

What if you feel like you are being unfairly treated by your local authority compared to another local authority which might be more generous in allocating DHPs?

You can complain but you have no right of appeal against a DHP. If they say no, I would suggest you try to build a better case. Make sure they are fully aware of the family, financial and any other circumstances. A financial statement showing the shortfall can be useful. You can ask them to review their decision in light of more information. I would advise this instead of a complaint. You can also make multiple applications.

If you are studying full time and a carer how many hours do you have to work?

If the DWP accept that you are a carer you usually have to be providing 35 hours a week to someone receiving a disability benefit there shouldn’t be any work-related requirements for a carer.

How long would UC pay your rent for?

Potentially as long as you are liable to pay rent and your circumstances don’t change. If your income goes up your UC will go down. But in theory you can claim UC at 16 and if you are liable to get help with housing costs and your circumstances don’t change that could continue right up to state pension age.

If someone is in Higher Education would they be eligible for UC?

The general rule is that full time students can’t claim UC. The definition of a student is complex – there are different rules depending on age as well. Broadly a full-time student isn’t eligible. Exceptions include disabled students, some lone parents, and some people without parental support under 21. It’s a complicated area. Part-time study is okay but bear in mind that work-related activities may well still be expected. 

Are part-time students eligible for housing benefit?

You can’t usually make a new claim for housing benefits. The help for rent would usually come through Universal Credit. A part-time student, depending on their circumstances, may well qualify for the housing element of Universal Credit.

 October 2020

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