I’ve lost my job, how do I apply for Universal Credit?

Linda J. Dodson

The effects of coronavirus are taking their toll as millions of Britons could be out of a job if companies continue to be forced to drastically cut down costs.

The Treasury is setting up a Job Retention Scheme to incentivise employers to keep as many employees on the payroll as possible but that’s not going to be an option for the hardest-hit businesses. 

It is also not available to any of Britain’s five million self-employed workers if they lose their livelihood due to the pandemic. The Government has said it will instead support them via a grant scheme to cover up to 80pc of profits lost. Unfortunately, not all freelancers and contractors will be eligible and even those that are will have to wait until at least June to receive the money. 

However, if you have lost your job or your income you are still entitled to some support. 

Universal credit

If you’ve found yourself out of work, or if you’re self-employed and your business has been badly affected, you can apply for Universal Credit. This is a payment made by the Government to help with your living costs. 

Normally the standard payments are up to £251.77 a month if you’re single and under 25 or up to £317.82 if you are over this age. Those in a couple both under 25 would usually get £395.20 while those over 25 will receive £398.89 for both individuals.

You may be eligible for more if you have children, have a health condition or disability and/or need help paying your rent. 

These payments have been temporarily increased for the next 12 months to match the rate of statutory sick pay. Claimants will now be able to get £94.25 a week. 

The first step towards receiving universal credit is to check if you are eligible. You may be excluded if you have personal savings of £16,000 or more, although if you have money invested in your own business this will not count. The full criteria can be found at gov.uk/universal-credit.

Extra support for employees

If you have worked as an employee in the past two to three years and paid National Insurance contributions then you may be able to also receive the “new style” jobseeker’s allowance.

You will need to be over 18 but under the state pension age, not be in full-time education, be available to work and not have an illness or disability that stops you from working. You will have to show you are actively looking for new work to keep receiving the payments. 

Those who are eligible can get a “new style” allowance for up to 182 days, which is about six months. Check if you’re eligible here: gov.uk/jobseekers-allowance.

You would usually need to book an interview with Jobcentre Plus to prove you have been looking for work however this will not be necessary during the coronavirus period.

Extra support for the self-employed 

If you’re self-employed and lose work to coronavirus you may be entitled to both Universal Credit and employment support allowance (ESA). To qualify you must have paid enough National Insurance contributions or credit in the last two to three years. 

You must be under the state pension age and have a health condition that affects you much you can work. The full criteria are available on the Government’s website: gov.uk/employment-support-allowance.

The Government is also offering a grant scheme that will help some, but not all, people who work for themselves. They will also be able to delay tax payments and apply for loans. 

Long delays 

Those only just putting in a benefits claim now may find they have to wait weeks until their first pay cheque comes in. The usual processing time for a Universal Credit application is five weeks. This could well be longer now as there have been almost half a million new applications, with claimants reporting online queues into the tens of thousands.

The Chancellor also announced plans to support those who lose their jobs to keep a roof over their head by giving mortgage payers a three-month holiday on their payments if they need it. 

For renters he has released £1bn of support, by “increasing the generosity of housing benefit and Universal Credit, so that the local housing allowance will cover at least 30pc of market rents in your area.”

What jobs can I apply for?

For those who need to get back into work as soon as possible, the good news is that there are a lot of new jobs going. Businesses that are on the front line of the fight against coronavirus have posted tens of thousands of job listings online. 

The key jobs that are in demand currently include delivery drivers, nurses, teachers and cleaners. There were 31,387 new jobs advertised in just three days last week on Indeed, an online jobs board.

Among these there were just over 5,000 adverts for customer service staff, 4,600 for nurses and 2,800 in transport.

Supermarkets are among the mass hirers, as they have been forced to take on more staff to meet the growing demand of shoppers.

Tesco announced it is hiring 20,000 new employees, while Morrisons is taking on 3,500 new delivery drivers. The sectors with the highest growth in job listings included the distribution sector, telecoms, social care, childcare providers and online tutors. 

How can I volunteer?

If you are not struggling to make ends meet and want to do some good with the new free time you have on your hands then you can sign up to volunteer for the NHS. 

This week Health Secretary Matt Hancock called for 250,000 volunteers to help the NHS during the pandemic and within 24 hours, 405,000 people had signed up. 

Those volunteering will donate their time to help the 1.5 million people with medical condition isolating for 12 weeks. 

Anyone over the age of 18 who is fit and healthy and  shows no coronavirus symptoms can offer their time to the scheme and help to deliver shopping to vulnerable people, transport patients to and from hospital, pick up and deliver medicine and check up on isolated people by telephone. 

You can sign up to become an NHS Volunteer Responder at goodsamapp.org/NHS.

Read more about all the different roles you can carry out as a volunteer. 

Additional reporting by Sam Meadows

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