If you are a continuing student and eligible to claim benefits over the summer, make sure you get a benefit check before making any new claim.
Universal Credit is replacing other benefits
Slowly over a number of years Universal Credit has been rolled out in all regions in the UK. This means that if you are putting a new claim in for any income-based benefit you will most likely have to claim Universal Credit instead of what have been termed “legacy benefits”. Examples of legacy benefits are Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Employment & Support Allowance, Child and Working Tax Credits, and also Housing Benefit, all of which are being replaced by Universal Credit.
For claimants already receiving these legacy benefits this will continue (possibly until 2023). However, if you have a change of circumstances this could trigger a Universal Credit transfer.
In previous years, students with children or health conditions (specifically those receiving Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support or Child Tax Credits) may have been able to apply for housing benefit over the summer break, because they were not receiving their student loan income. However, as Universal Credit has now been fully rolled out from early 2019, if you were wanting to claim housing benefit over the 2021 summer break, this will most likely trigger a change of circumstances and you will be required to claim Universal Credit. By claiming Universal Credit this will stop all legacy benefits and you are unlikely to be able to reopen them.
The effect of claiming Universal Credit
While it is possible that claiming Universal Credit over the summer months will increase your income in the short-term (as it will include a housing cost element), in the longer term, when a student returns to their course after the summer break, research from the Child Poverty Action Group has shown students tend to be significantly worse off than those who remain on legacy benefits.
The reason for this is that the rules on how student finance affects Universal Credit is radically different from how it affected legacy benefits. Previously, student loans and certain grants had less of an effect on income-based benefits.
Aside from a set disregard of £110 a week, a significant amount of student finance (including student loans, the lone parent grant, dependants grant and young students’ bursary) will lower the Universal Credit award pound for pound. It is therefore possible that while under the legacy benefit system a single parent student would be entitled to Child Tax Credits during their study, if the same claim was submitted under Universal Credit they would not be entitled to any income-based benefit. You should note that circumstances and entitlements vary, so we can’t say that all cases would be worse off or better off – we advise getting a benefit check specific to your own individual circumstances.
As noted above, the UK Government plans to transfer all claimants from legacy benefits to Universal Credit via a managed migration by 2023, however at this current time unless a change of circumstances occurs, a claimant can continue to receive legacy benefits.
For these reasons we would again strongly recommend any continuing student not currently receiving Universal Credit but considering claiming housing benefit or any other income-based benefit over this summer break to make sure you get a benefit check before you make any new claim.
Where to get a benefit check:
BBC News Article (December 2018)
Child Poverty Action Group Briefing (pdf, February 2019)