Move to Universal Credit – what’s happening in Northern Ireland?
From April 2023 the Department for Communities (DfC) in Northern Ireland will start the process of moving some Tax Credit claimants from their current benefit onto Universal Credit (UC) in a project known as ‘Move to UC’. This is called ‘managed migration’, where the move to UC is not because of a change in the claimant’s personal circumstances. This was previously due to begin in 2020 but was delayed due to Covid-19.
How will this change happen?
Between April 2023 and March 2024 a small number of people living in Northern Ireland, who are in receipt of Tax Credits only, will receive a Migration Notice letter telling them that they need to claim Universal Credit (UC). At this time this will only apply to people receiving Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credits or a combination of both.
If selected, you will receive a Migration Notice letter from DfC telling you that you have to claim Universal Credit within three months. The letter will also explain what you need to do to claim Universal Credit. People who receive a Migration Notice letter can contact a dedicated Universal Credit team who can provide help and support through the application process and manage your UC claim. The contact details for this support team will be included in the Migration Notice letter.
People who make a claim for Universal Credit following receipt of a Migration Notice letter and who are entitled to less financial support through UC than they received on their previous benefits will receive a top up called ‘Transitional Protection’. This means they will not experience a reduction in their benefit entitlement at the point of transition to Universal Credit if their circumstances have remained the same.
What about people on other benefits?
There are approximately 80,000 households in Northern Ireland who are in receipt of a benefit which will be replaced by Universal Credit. If you are in receipt of any other benefits such as Job Seekers Allowance, Income Support or Housing Benefit you will not be affected at this time. The government plans to have those claimants moved over to Universal Credit in 2024-25.
In addition to those claimants, there are approximately 66,000 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants for whom the managed migration will be delayed until 2028-29. The delay for these claimants was announced by the Chancellor in his 2022 Autumn Statement.
Can I choose to move to Universal Credit even if I don’t have to?
Whatever your circumstances and whichever benefits you are currently in receipt of, you are still able to make a claim for Universal Credit. However, we suggest that you speak to an independent benefits advisor before considering making a claim for UC because you will not be able to revert to your previous benefits once you have made a claim for UC, even if you find you are worse off. It is only those claims made due to receiving a Migration Notice that will receive the previously mentioned ‘Transitional Protection’ to ensure they are not worse off.
In our experience, some households will find they are better off on Universal Credit, but this won’t be the case for everyone so make sure you find out what is right for your family before taking any action to move to Universal Credit.
To discuss how a future claim for Universal Credit may impact you, contact the Family Benefits Advice Service for a free, personalised ‘better off’ calculation. We can help you work out if you will be better off on Universal Credit or by remaining on your existing benefits. Freephone 0800 028 3008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.