Latest benefit updates

echo newspaper stand

December 2017

Universal Credit (full service) commences today (6 December) if you are living in postcodes which start with GL50 or GL51 and you are making a new claim for certain benefits.
Please seek advice if you are unsure.

November 2017

Autumn Budget 2017 - Universal Credit changes

Waiting period - The standard wait for Universal Credit claimants to get their first benefit payment will be cut from six to five weeks from February 2018.

Advance payments - From January 2018, claimants who are struggling financially can get a full month's advance payment within five days of applying. The current advance is just half of a month. They will then get the normal payment as everyone else does after five weeks but will have to pay back the advance throughout the year through lower standard payouts, with no interest to pay on the extra money (currently you have to pay it back within six months, not a year).

Housing payments - From April 2018 anyone claiming Universal Credit for the first time who previously got housing benefit will continue to receive housing benefit for another two weeks after their application. At the moment, the benefit stops and a claimant doesn't get anything until their Universal Credit begins.

Unclaimed pension credit

Pension credit is a non-taxable income-related benefit. It tops up pensioners’ weekly income if it’s below £159.35 (for single people) or £243.25 (for couples). In 2015/16 more than £6 billion in pension credit was claimed by people on low incomes to help cover their basic costs of living. However, official figures released last month reveal that 4 in 10 pensioners could be missing out. More than £3.3 billion was unclaimed in 2015/16, an average annual amount of £2,000 for each entitled family who do not claim.

You can get an estimate and details of how to claim or you can contact the benefit and advice officer for more details

October 2017

The government drops plans to cap housing benefit in the social housing sector

The plans to introduce the local housing allowance cap for both general needs social housing and supported housing will be dropped, Theresa May announced at Prime Minster’s Questions this morning (25 October 2017)
The Prime Minister said: “We will not apply the Local Housing Allowance cap to supported housing – indeed we will not be implementing it in the wider social housing sector, and the full details will be made available when we publish our response to the consultation. The government will be publishing their full response on Tuesday 31 October.

Cheltenham Borough Council benefits service
Council tax support Scheme 2018-19

Each year we have to review the local council tax support scheme so that it is place ready for 1 April 2018.

We would like you to tell us what you think about the proposed 2018-19 scheme. 

Find out more

September 2017

Warm home discount scheme

You could get £140 off your electricity bill for winter 2017 to 2018 under the warm home discount scheme.

The money isn’t paid to you - it’s a one-off discount on your electricity bill, between October and March.

Find out more.

April 2017

Amendments to the Under Occupation Charge legislation following Supreme Court ruling

New DWP guidance advises an extra bedroom will be allowed for disabled adults who cannot share, and for disabled children or non-dependants who need an overnight carer.

Coming into force on 1 April 2017. the regulations will make provision for an extra bedroom where – 

  • a disabled child or disabled non-dependant adult requires, and has, overnight care from a non-resident carer (or group of carers); or
  • a couple are unable to share a bedroom because of their disabilities and where one distrupts the sleep of the other.

Withdrawal of support for housing costs under Universal Credit

The 2015 Summer Budget confirmed that the Government was planning to remove the automatic entitlement to the housing costs element of Universal Credit (currently known as Housing Benefit) from some new 18 to 21 year old claimants from April 2017 onwards. There will be some exemptions, including vulnerable young people, those who may not be able to return to live with their parents and those who have been in work for six months prior to making a claim.

The Work-Related Activity Component (WRAC) of ESA will be abolished for new claimants from 3 April 2017.

In Summer Budget 2015, it was announced that the Work-Related Activity Component paid to those in the WRAG would be abolished for new claims from 3 April 2017. The equivalent element in Universal Credit will also be abolished. This will involve a reduction of £29.05 a week (2017-18 rates) and aligns the rate of payment with those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (£73.10 a week). Existing claimants will not be affected, while there will be protections for those who may move into the WRAG or Universal Credit equivalent from the Support Group.

Tax credits for three or more children

What’s changing? Tax credits will not be paid for third and subsequent children.

When? April 2017

Who’s affected? Families that have two or more children and have more children after April 2017. If you already have three or more children and start a claim before April 2017 you’ll continue to be able to claim tax credits for those children. This change only affects parents of children born after April 2017, or new claims after April 2017.

What else is changing? Removal of the family element in tax credits and UC.

When? April 2017

Who’s affected? Anyone who wants to make a new claim for child tax credits. What’s more, anyone making new family claims for Universal Credit will lose £45pm after April 2017.

Housing benefit transferred to Universal Credit

Since June 2015, single working age people who have become unemployed have been paid their rent benefit as part of a new payment called Universal Credit, which is paid by the DWP. The only help the local council can give is through the local discretionary housing fund, where the tenant has a shortfall in rent and needs short-term help. 

In December 2017, Universal Credit will be expanded in Cheltenham to all new claims from working age people, whether they are unemployed, working or sick.

All the other councils in Gloucestershire will have similar dates to Cheltenham.

The local councils will still be administering their council tax support schemes to help working and pension age customers to pay their council tax, if they have a low income. Due to financial constraints and loss of government funding, you may start to see some of the schemes changing in the next few years.

August 2016

Benefit cap latest

The date that the new reduced benefit cap will apply has been announced as Monday 7 November 2016. Cheltenham Borough Council are actively working with households who will be affected.

Pension credit and benefit claimants eligible for Warm Home Discounts for a further two years

New regulations have been issued that extend the Warm Home Discount scheme until 31 March 2018.

This will provide payments and services to:

  • a core group - electicity suppliers provide a rebate of £140 off electricity bills to eligible customers in receipt of pension credit guranteed credit
  • a non-core group - electricity suppliers provide a rebate of £140 off electricity bills to low income and vulnerable customers who meet their individual criteria

Please contact your utility supplier to apply. This is usually applied on a first-come, first-served basis.

Roll-out of universal credit to be further delayed

Migration of existing claims will not now be complete until March 2022

The roll-out of universal credit is to be further delayed, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green, has announced.

In a written statement to parliament, Mr Green said that the government is 'reshaping' the next phase of universal credit and he sets out a new plan for roll-out of the full service:

  • five jobcentres a month up to June 2017
  • 30 jobcentres a month from July 2017
  • following a break over the summer, 55 jobcentres a month between October and December 2017
  • 65 jobcentres a month from February 2018
  • the final 57 jobcentres in September 2018

July 2016

When you are going abroad

The government has made a change to the rules on claiming housing benefit when you are going abroad. From 28 July 2016 you can usually only get housing benefit for up to four weeks if you are abroad.

It counts as going abroad if you go anywhere outside England, Scotland and Wales. Staying in Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man count as going abroad.

In certain circumstances you can get housing benefit when you are abroad for a longer period, for example up to:

  • 8 weeks where your absence is connected to the death of a close relative
  • 26 weeks when you are getting medical treatment
  • 26 weeks where you are working on a ship or you're a member of the armed forces on operations abroad
  • 26 weeks if you are fleeing domestic violence

June 2016

Benefit cap reduction

The cap amount and benefits included will be changing in Autumn 2016.

Claimants are being written to by the Job Centre and being advised to access the online calculator to see by how much they will be affected.

Social rented sector capped to the relevant local housing allowance (LHA) rate for under 35s

The government plans to cap the amount of rent that housing benefit will cover in the social rented sector to the relevant LHA rate.

It is intended that the cap will apply to tenancies signed after 1 April 2016 with the housing benefit entitlement changing from 1 April 2018. This will apply to single claimants aged under 35 without dependant children. There will be some exceptions which have yet to be published.

Changes that are still going ahead

  • Many working age benefits are to be frozen for the next 4 years, starting in April 2016
  • From April 2016 the maximum period for which housing benefit for working age claimants can be backdated will be one month
  • The family premium will be removed from housing benefit from 1 May 2016. This will not apply to existing claimants whose claim includes the family premium on 30 April 2016
  • Tax Credits will be re-assessed if the claimant's income increases by £2,500 or more in a year. Claimants are required to report this change in their income.
  • Limit housing benefit and pension credit for claimants who are outside Great Britain from 13 weeks to a month

June 2015

Universal Credit is now live in Cheltenham

Universal Credit is a new type of benefit designed to support people who are on a low income or out of work. It will replace six existing benefits and is currently being rolled out across the UK. The new system is based on a single monthly payment, transferred directly into a bank account. At present Universal Credit only affects newly unemployed people in certain areas of the country.

July 2014

Residency Tests

From 1 July 2014, new rules mean that you must have been living in the UK for three months before you can get Child Benefit or Child Tax Credit. This is most likely to affect people who have recently arrived in the UK. However, there are some exceptions to the new rule.

For example, the new rules will not apply to you if:

  • you most recently entered the UK before 1 July 2014, or
  • you are employed or self-employed and earning enough to have to pay National Insurance contributions, or
  • you were ordinarily resident in the UK for at least three months immediately before going abroad and you returned to the UK within 52 weeks of leaving.

There are some other exceptions too.

Even if you have been living in the UK for at least three months, you will still have to meet all the other conditions for getting Child Benefit or Child Tax Credit. For example, you must have the right to reside in the UK and be ordinarily resident in the UK.

Ready for a rainy day?

Save £3 a day for emergencies

We can all be caught out by unplanned events and surprise bills. An ‘Unexpected Costs’ report reveals that seven out of ten households in the UK have experienced at least one unplanned expense in the past 12 months. It also shows that one in three people have no savings or investments to help them pay for out of the blue costs.

By cutting back and saving more you can be better prepared for the unanticipated. Once you set a goal and start saving, you can watch your money grow. Did you realise saving just £3 a day adds up to £1,095 over a year?

December 2013

Stop Loan Sharks

Please don't be tempted to use a loan shark.
They can be expensive and dangerous. You could pay them back for years, with no dent in the original loan. They won't just harass you, they'll target your family and friends too.

For confidential help and advice you can: 

call - 0300 555 2222
email - reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk
text - "loan shark" and your message to 60003

Rent arrears increasing

Rent arrears are becoming the fastest-growing debt problem in the UK, according to the Money Advice Trust charity.

In the first nine months of this year, its telephone helpline received nearly 20,000 calls from people behind with their rent.

That represents a 37% increase compared with the 2011 figure, the charity said.

More than half the calls to the National Debtline are now from people renting their home.

A recent survey by LSL property services suggested that rents across the country have risen to an all-time high.

"Rent arrears are now the fastest growing debt problem we help people with at National Debtline," said Joanna Elson, the chief executive of the Money Advice Trust.

"We are in danger of falling into a rent debt crisis," she said.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics this week show that the proportion of people renting their homes has increased.

In 2012, more than a third of households were renting.

Top tips

National Debtline suggested five priorities for people struggling with their rent.

  • Don't bury your head in the sand
  • Work out a personal budget
  • Remember that rent is a priority debt
  • Make sure that you are receiving all the benefits to which you are entilted to
  • Speak to your Landlord

    If you are worried about being able to afford your rent, please contact our Benefit and Money Advice Officer

Employment Plus Local - Cheltenham Salvation Army

Free drop-in service for all job seekers every Monday between 10am and 1pm. No appointment necessary (Closed Bank Holidays).

Employment Plus Local is a supported environment where unemployed people can find information and guidance on their journey into work. It is set up with computers, internet access and job search resources. The Employment Plus Local in Cheltenham is based at and provided by The Salvation Army Community Church in Bath Road.

November 2013

Universal Credit Personal Planner

Get ready for Universal Credit.

Universal Credit is a new type of financial support for people in work and out of work.
This Personal Planner will show you what you need to do to be ready for Universal Credit.

Record 360,000 carers missing out on £1bn allowances

Click here to read more

October 2013

Tackling fuel poverty

We've been lucky to be able to bask in the sunshine well into October, but winter is on its way.

Over the next few months, many vulnerable people will face a harsh choice between warmth and food. Sadly, every year, older people slip through the net and die in their own homes because of the cold. There are several agencies that can give advice on staying warm this winter such as Age UK.

Find out if you are eligible for the Warm Home Discount scheme, which could get you a £135 discount on your electricity bill for winter 2013 to 2014.

September 2013

People Like Us

Child Poverty Action Group have launched their latest campaign called "People Like Us". Their message focuses on 'Benefits Britain' and that people receiving benefits are just like us.

You can watch the video online.

August 2013

Pension Credit

The Welfare Reform mainly affects 'working age' claimants, however there is a change coming soon that may affect couples where only one has reached retirement age.

At the moment, if you are in such a couple and need to claim benefit then you have a choice. You can either claim working-age benefits such as Jobseekers Allowance or claim Pension Credit instead. Whichever you claim you are paid the higher rates that retirement-age people get.

You also won't be affected by the benefit cap or any housing benefit shortfall if you are affected by the under occupation charge.

This rule will be changing once Universal Credit is introduced (new claims from October 2013). If you haven't already claimed Pension Credit then you may be stuck on a lower rate of benefit and might lose a percentage of housing benefit if you have a spare room.

The amounts can be substantial, the difference between Jobseekers Allowance and Pension Credit for a couple is over £100 a week.

Calculate when you reach State Pension age or Pension Credit qualifying age and how much you may get in  money for your basic State Pension using the State Pension calculator.

July 2013

The Benefit Cap

The Benefit Cap has begun to affect Cheltenham residents from 22 July.

The Department of Works and Pensions has indicated that all households in the borough will be affected by the end of August.

June 2013

PIP

10 June - New claims for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will now be rolled out across Britain (except for Northern Ireland) from the 10 June 2013.

From now on, Disability Living Allowance (DLA) will no longer be available to adults aged 16 to 64.
PIP assessments will be delivered by two providers, Atos and Capita. Gloucestershire claimants will be assessed by Capita and we have been advised that these will taken place in the claimant's home in most cases.

Anyone wishing to make a new claim for PIP should telephone the new claims line on 0800 917 2222.

Full details of how to claim can be found on the GOV.UK website.

Get Online @ Home 

Charities and individuals on certain benefits can get a no-nonsense refurbished computer, with desktop computers from as low as £99 and laptops from £149.

Find out more about the scheme

April 2013

Universal Credit update

29 April - A massive shake-up in the UK benefits system has begun, with the first claims being made for new universal credit payments.

Universal credit will merge several benefits and tax credits into one monthly payout.

It begins with a very small number of new claimants in Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester, but will eventually affect around eight million people by 2017.

Read more in this government press release.

Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants

1 April - Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants ended on 31 March 2013. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is transferring funding used to provide Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans schemes to all top tier authorities in England. In Gloucestershire, this is Gloucestershire County Council.

As of 1 April 2013, the Gloucestershire Local Welfare Reform Offer will provide one-off practical support or other forms of assistance for people who are eligible. The offer is discretionary. There will be an emphasis on the use of non-cash schemes such as recycled goods and food parcels.

A contract has been awarded to Auriga Services Ltd to administer the delivery of the local welfare reform offer in Gloucestershire.

Gloucestershire County Council has agreed criteria for the discretionary awards, but will not be involved in the processing of applications which must be channelled through Auriga Services, to ensure a speedy response. The council  is overseeing the policy and development of the scheme and will be closely monitoring the new arrangements to ensure that a high quality service is delivered.

From 1 April 2013, people in Gloucestershire who are eligible for emergency support should call 0330 123 5550

March 2013

Under Occupation Charge - Disabled children, foster carers and armed forces personnel

Disabled children
Local authorities will be able to consider an extra bedroom for children who are unable to share a bedroom under the new rules. This would apply if one of the children had severe disabilities requiring care and support during the night which would disrupt the other child if they had to share.

The disabled child would normally be in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (unless under 3) due to their medical condition. The local authority will require detailed medical evidence to confirm the nature and severity of the disability and also the nature and frequency of care required during the night. 

Foster carers
A tenant who is a foster carer will be allowed one additional bedroom in both the private and social rented sector, when working out their housing benefit award. The local authority will require documentary evidence of current foster care payments or a letter from Social Services, if the carer is newly approved or between placements and the period does not exceed 52 weeks since they had a foster child.

Parents of armed forces personnel
Adult children who are in the armed forces, but continue to live with parents when not deployed on operations, will be treated as still living in the home when working out the number of bedrooms their parents need for the purposes of housing benefit. This applies to tenants in both the private and social rented sector.

A non-dependent deduction will continue to be made from the parent's benefit, based on the adult child's gross income and will be removed each time the son or daughter is deployed on operations and away from home.

The local authority will require documentary evidence each time the son or daughter is deployed in order to remove the non-dependent charge. In some cases it may be cheaper if the adult child pays the bedroom tax shortfall, rather than the non-dependent charge each week, when they are not on deployment. You may need to ask your local Authority for advice.

January 2013

Benefit cap delayed

The household benefits cap will be trialled in four London boroughs before being rolled out nationally over the summer. Cheltenham households will be affected sometime between 15 July and the end of September 2013

Personal Independence Payment

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is to send information about the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) to all Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimants. The DWP says that it will be including information about PIP in DLA uprating letters that will be sent to all DLA claimants between the end of January and the end of February 2013, and that the letters will help claimants understand what PIP is, how DWP plans to introduce the new benefit and how the changes will affect them