What they don’t tell you about (applying for) Universal Credit

I didn’t know when I applied for Universal Credit that they would require three meetings to be arranged within that week, let alone why. If I had, I might have waited a couple more days to get the things I needed.

I had to have proof of my identity, proof of my bank account and proof of my address – with no overlap between the documents used. It ended up meaning that I needed:

  • passport, driving licence and birth certificate;
  • plus my only proof of address at the time which was from my yet-to-be installed internet provider, and which I only had because I had been extra-keen and arranged and paid for my internet before I’d exchanged and completed on my shared ownership property;
  • plus my cheque book because despite setting it aside carefully for the meeting I couldn’t find my bank card.
  • (plus, at a separate meeting, proof of my rent, service charge and number of bedrooms)

But my birth certificate was at my old (parents) house, because the box it was in had accidentally got left behind. So my sister had to drive to my parents’ house (my mum is currently unable to drive, and my dad was in London on a business meeting) specially to collect the box and then bring it over to me. The same day that I started my UC claim, because my identity check was booked for the next day.

Because I’m only claiming UC because I moved house, and I was (am?) in the ESA Support Group, I can’t work and can’t prepare for work. But UC doesn’t hold this information and can’t talk to ESA to obtain it. So I needed to get a sick note – either from my old GP, whom I no longer lived near, or a new GP with whom I hadn’t yet registered and who wouldn’t know me or my illness or abilities (which reminds me – must register for GP. It’s crazy that sorting out benefit stuff had to take precedence over sorting out health stuff). Again, my sister had to collect this for me and drive over with it.

Also, UC isn’t happy with a copy of my sick note, which means I need to take it with the original to one of my appointments with the jobcentre. For ESA, I’ve always posted copies, and that seemed to do fine. I could post the original, but would I get it back?

My first meeting was to prove my identity. My second is to prove my rent, service charge and number of bedrooms (tomorrow). I had to ask my housing association to specifically write and post to me a letter detailing all this information, as all I have is the draft leasehold contract. My solicitor has the signed, final contract, and that doesn’t specify the number of bedrooms nor an exact service charge. I couldn’t have this letter emailed to me for me to print out, because I didn’t have broadband internet set up and the printer I got for free from my Grandma only works by WiFi.

My third meeting is with a work coach (also tomorrow). Before my meeting, I had to fill in information about things like work I could do, what experience I have and what I will do to get ready for work. I ticked the ‘I have a CV’ box and left the rest of it blank. I’m in the ESA SG. I can’t work or look for work or get ready for work. My CV had to wait until today, when my broadband was connected (yay!). I just freaked myself out by logging in to my Universal Credit journal for help with writing this blog post, and seeing that I still had to upload my CV. I’d completely forgotten.

I also, in logging in today, discovered a document uploaded to my account last week which I need to prepare for my work coach meeting. Somewhere along the line, I’d told UC that I’m self-employed, i.e. that under ESA SG I carry out up to five hours/week of permitted work, which is done under a self-employed rather than employed basis. In the midst of the many entries in my journal, I’d missed this specific one.

The idea is that the Jobcentre can work out if my ‘self-employment’ is my main job; developed, regular and organised; and expected to make a profit. The answers being yes and no (it’s my ‘only’ job, but my benefit status is more relevant); no; and no.

In a number of ways this just isn’t set up for people who need unemployment support, whether sick or not. It’s set up to be cheap for the DWP. Here’s some ideas for how to make it work for the people it ought to work for:

  • Tell people what they need in advance of their application for UC, so that they can get it all ready.
  • Backdate people’s UC claim to the date they became eligible or for the last three months, whichever is the most recent. This would allow people to take time gathering everything they need without losing out financially.
  • Allow people to simply walk into a Jobcentre to prove their identity, address and housing information; start their claim for UC; and hand in a sick note/ESA award letter or book a work coach meeting. This would make it easier for people who don’t have much internet access, and save them much needed time and money.
  • People who hand in sick notes or who have an ESA award letter are treated as not fit for work or work-related activity until their first or repeat WCA is due.
  • Instead of having different people doing the identity checks versus work coach meetings, let there be just one person that a claimant sees and speaks to. This saves the claimant time and money – which is important, because jobless people tend to be both time and money poor.
  • Use people’s National Insurance number, instead of levels of security that make banks look shoddy. Who uses 16-digit security numbers? What happens if I lose the card with the number on?
  • Pay UC in advance, because people need money before they can purchase what they need to live for a month. Then pay job-finders a bonus for getting a job, which will see them through to their paycheck.
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