Could your Universal Credit be affected this festive season?

Assessment Periods during Bank Holidays

We are coming up to the festive period and, if your employer pays you earlier ahead of Bank Holidays, this may affect your Universal Credit entitlement, depending upon your assessment period.  Additionally, Universal Credit payment dates are sometimes brought forward if the usual payment date is a non-banking day.  The strict application of the assessment periods means that some claimants who are paid earlier around any Bank Holiday period could be treated as receiving two monthly wages in one assessment period which can affect their Universal Credit award and result in a significant loss of benefit for that month.

Universal Credit is paid in arrears, on a monthly basis.  Your personal circumstances and income are assessed to work out the amount of Universal Credit you will get on a month to month basis.

Your first assessment period will start on the date that you make your claim, and will always cover the same dates going forward. Assessment periods last one calendar month.

Example: Sophie submitted a new claim for Universal Credit on 28 September 2019 and this was the start of her first assessment period, which ran until 27 October, with subsequent assessment periods starting on the 28th of each month following. Sophie is normally paid on the 29th of the month, but this is being brought forward due to Christmas, when Sophie will receive her salary for December on 24th. Sophie will therefore receive two wages within the one assessment period, on 29th November and on 25th December. This will mean that Sophie’s income is assessed as too high to qualify for Universal Credit in that month.

How can I check if I am affected?

Check your Universal Credit assessment dates by logging in to your Journal and viewing your statements.  If your assessment period is around the date that your employer is scheduled to pay you in December you could be affected and you should seek further advice from our Family Benefits Advice Service.

Can I change this assessment period?

No, we have been advised by the Department for Communities that a claimant cannot change the assessment date on their claim, unless a claim is closed then a new claim is made with a gap of more than 6 months between claims.

Until this issue is resolved it can be advantageous for those who are considering making a new claim for Universal Credit to avoid making their claim around the date they are normally paid as this could lessen any impact this issue may have.

What is being done to resolve this issue?

The Department for Communities is aware of this problem but currently there is no resolution and claimants continue to suffer a loss in their Universal Credit as a result of their pay being processed early.

HMRC has informed employers that at this time of year they are allowed, but not compelled, to report their pay dates as the end of the month, even if they process payments early to help avoid this issue.

This issue was highlighted in GB back in January 2019  in a Judicial Review Case – Johnston, Woods, Barrett and Stewart v SSWP (2019) – challenging the rigidity of the assessment periods under Universal Credit.   The case was successful and found in favour of the claimants, but despite this judgement, no action has been taken to date to resolve this issue.

A further case is now being taken up in Northern Ireland, supported by the Law Centre, in respect of this same issue where the claimant has been repeatedly affected by these rigid assessment periods.

Employers For Childcare will be monitoring the outcome of this case closely and hopefully we will see a resolution.

Further information regarding Universal Credit as well as  other benefits and financial support is available on our website.  For a personal benefits check or to find out if you might be affected by this issue, please call our Family Benefits Advice Service on 028 9267 8200 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm).

For more information on Universal Credit, download the factsheet from our website.