Universal Credit is paid provided you meet certain conditions. This is called the claimant commitment. Your Universal Credit (UC) claimant commitment level will be decided when you attend your first interview at the Job Centre after you claim UC. The claimant commitment is important because it details what action you have to take in return for getting your UC. These actions will be to do with preparing for work or looking for work. If you do not do these then your benefit can be sanctioned. You should be moved between different claimant commitment levels if your circumstances change. If you are a member of a couple a separate claimant commitment will be expected of each member of the couple. These do not have to be at the same level. You have to agree to accept the claimant commitment when you attend the interview at the Job Centre. You will not be paid UC until you and your partner have accepted the claimant commitment. UC claimant commitments are generally tougher than they were for Job Seekers Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance.
There are 4 claimant commitment levels:
- No work related requirements
- Work-focused interview requirement
- Work focused interview requirement and work preparation requirement
- All work-related requirements
In addition anyone who has an appointee to look after their benefits for them or who has similar difficulties in managing their own claim and anyone who is unable to attend the office due to exceptional circumstances (eg if they are in hospital for weeks) is allowed to claim without accepting a claimant commitment. If you have exceptional circumstances, this situation will be kept under review and will not continue indefinitely. If you feel this should apply to you, you should point this out when you make your claim. If you have any difficulties with this you should seek advice.
We will look at the conditions for each of these in turn.
No Work Related Requirements
If you are placed in this group there are no activities you have to do as a condition of receiving your benefit although you will have to sign a claimant commitment which specifies this before your benefit will be paid. There are no work related requirements if you are in any of the following situations:
- You are considered to be incapable of work and of work related activity (the same as the old ESA Support Group). This will apply if you are claiming on the basis of being too ill to work and after you have had a work capability assessment. If your partner is too ill to work but you have been the claimant in the past your partner will need to inform DWP at the claimant commitment interview that you feel this should apply and ideally you should obtain a sick note from your GP. This category cannot be applied immediately and you will be placed in the all-work related requirements group until the medical assessment can be arranged.
- You have caring responsibilities. This will apply if you look after a disabled person who is receiving Attendance Allowance, middle or higher rate care component of Disability Living Allowance or any rate of Personal Independence Payment daily living component. You need to be spending at least 35 hours per week looking after the disabled person (or this could be met by looking after several disabled people). It is not necessary that you have claimed Carer’s Allowance for looking after the person. More information about claiming as a carer is available on this website.
- You have child care responsibilities This will apply if you are looking after a child who is under one. It can apply to single parents and also in the case of couples with children under one it can apply to one member of the couple. It also applied to foster parents of children who are under one. If your youngest child is aged over one you will be in one of the other claimant commitment levels unless you fit into another category in the no work-related requirements section. In the case of people who are adopting it can apply for the first 12 months of the adoption and the period can start up to 14 days before the adoption.
- You are pregnant or have recently had a child. This applies to a woman who has less than 11 weeks to go before the baby is due and for up to 15 weeks after the baby was born (this also applies if there was a still birth)
- You are a student. This will apply if you are in full-time non-advanced education and you have no parental support. This can apply until you are 21 or until the end of the course if you become 21 while on the course. Other students who are entitled to UC and who have student income relating to their course which is take into account in the UC calculation will be placed in this category.
- You are already working (employed or self-employed). This applies if you are already working and your earnings are higher than your individual earnings threshold. This is the number of hours you are expected to work paid at minimum wage if you are under 25 or the National Living Wage if you are over 25. If you are in a couple this sum will be a combination of your and your partner’s individual earnings thresholds.
- You have reached the qualifying age for Pension Credit. You should claim Pension Credit as soon as you reach this age if you are single. If you are in a couple and have not claimed Pension Credit before claiming UC you will not be able to claim Pension Credit until you are both over Pension Credit age (link to Universal Credit and Pensioners)
- You have been subject to domestic violence in the last 13 weeks. This only applies if you notify DWP of the domestic violence. Domestic violence can be actual or threatened domestic violence from a partner, former partner or family member. You have to be not living in the household of the person who is being violent or threatening violence and you will also be expected to provide some evidence from someone acting in an official capacity that you have reported the violence to. This could be a healthcare worker, a police officer, a social worker, your employer or any public, charitable or voluntary sector organisation that has been in contact with you over the domestic violence.
Work Focused Interview requirement
This applies if you have childcare responsibility for a child who is aged under 3. If you are a single parent this will apply to you if your youngest child is aged 1 to 3. If you are in a couple this will apply to the person in the couple who takes responsibility for childcare.
This will also apply if you are a foster parent with a child aged one to 16 or over 16 if the young person is in education and has additional care needs. If you are a foster parent it can also apply during a gap of up to 8 weeks in having a child placed with you.
This also applies if you are responsible for a child
- who is an orphan, or
- whose parents cannot look after them or
- where you have taken on care to prevent them having to go into local authority care.
If the work focused interview requirement applies you will be expected to attend and participate in work-focused interviews. You can be sanctioned for not attending or participating in work-focused interviews.
Work Focused interview and work preparation requirements
This applies in the following circumstances
- You are accepted as being incapable of work (this applies after you have had your work capability assessment and is the equivalent of the work related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance). If you are accepted as incapable of work and of work related activity you will be placed in the no work related requirements category
- You are the responsible carer of a child aged 3 to 4
- You have just had a 13 week period of being in the no work related requirements category due to domestic violence (see above) and you have caring responsibilities for a child and you were previously in the all work related requirements group. This can apply for a further period of 13 weeks.
If you are in this category you will be expected to attend and participate in work-focused interviews and take actions to improve your chances of getting a job when your circumstances change and you are placed in the all work related requirements category. The DWP may ask you to attend a training programme or work experience. Any activity they ask you to do should take into account your health difficulties or other responsibilities so make sure you tell DWP about these. If you do not comply with these requirements your benefit may be sanctioned.
All work-related requirements apply
Everyone who is not placed in any of the above categories is expected to undertake all of the work related requirements. In addition to attending work focused interviews and preparing for work you will also be expected to look for work and be available for work. You can be expected to do this for up to 35 hours per week although this period can be reduced if you are already working part-time, if you are doing voluntary work or if you have caring responsibilities or health problems. Normally the number of hours you are expected to spend looking for work will correspond to the number of hours that DWP expect you to work for. If you feel that the number of hours you are expected to spend looking for work is too much you should check whether you fit into any of the categories mentioned above under the first three claimant commitment levels and if so put these forward to DWP and ask for the category to be changed. Your arguments should be put forward to a decision maker and if they do not agree to change your category you can dispute this decision and should seek advice. If you do not carry out the activities as expected by DWP your benefit will be at risk of being sanctioned.
Temporary situations when the work search and work availability requirement does not apply
The work search and work availability requirements do not apply to you if you are in any of the following situations:
- Attending a court or tribunal
- In prison
- Temporarily abroad for medical treatment or convalescence or accompanying a family member for medical treatment or convalescence abroad
- Your partner or child has died in the last 6 months
- You are participating in a structured alcohol or drug dependency treatment programme
- You are under a witness protection programme (for up to 3 months)
- Your weekly earnings are at a level where DWP are satisfied that you should not be expected to look for more work
- You are unfit for work for up to 14 days on no more than 2 occasions in 12 months
These are the most common scenarios when the rules are relaxed although DWP do have discretion to consider other factors. If you have any difficulty with this you should seek advice.