Universal Credit and Universal Credit Housing Costs: Prisoners
By Karen Dunn, Specialist benefits advisor, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent
In this months installment from our resident benefits expert, Karen looks at the most up to date definitions and information around how prison sentences can affect Universal Credit claims and claimants.
For Universal Credit (UC) you are counted as a prisoner if you are:
- Detained in custody – whether pending trial, pending sentence, on conviction, or sentenced by a court; or
- On temporary release (home leave or release on temporary licence).
You cannot get UC standard allowance if you are a prisoner or a hospital detainee.
You can continue to get UC housing costs for the first 6 months if:
- You are single and were entitled to UC immediately before you became a prisoner; and
- The calculation of that award of UC included a UC housing costs element; and
- You have not been sentenced, or have been sentenced to a term that is not expected to exceed 6 months.
You do not count as a ‘prisoner’ for UC housing costs if you are detained in hospital (therefore if UC housing costs is in place when detained in hospital this will not be affected and will remain in pay)
Once you are sentenced the test is whether your term in prison is expected to exceed 6 months. If it is your UC housing costs will stop. However, in considering this any remission you could get should be allowed for. For example if you are sentenced to 6 months, you are only likely to serve 3-4 months. If you are sentenced to no more than 1 year, you are likely to qualify (can be longer than this if Home Detention Curfew).
If you are a couple and you are a prisoner or a hospital detainee, your partner may be able to get UC housing costs as a single person.
If you are a prisoner, the sole tenant of your home and, your partner is not liable to pay the rent, they can be ‘treated as’ liable in your absence.
They would be treated as liable if:
- The person who is actually liable is not making the payments; and
- They have to make the payments in order to continue occupying the home; and
- It would be unreasonable in the circumstances to expect them to make other arrangements; and
- It is reasonable in all the circumstances to treat them as liable.
This rule may be helpful if you are likely to be absent as a prisoner for more than 6 months.
If you are receiving Housing Benefit (HB) because you live in supported accommodation, you can continue to receive it for up to 52 weeks for a temporary absence if, you are on remand or bailed to live in a bail or probation hostel or, anywhere else. For prisoners on bail the time limit includes the time you spent in prison. If sentenced, your absence must be unlikely to exceed 13 weeks but factors that affect your release are taken into account such as any remission you qualify for, or if a parole hearing is delayed. If you are sentenced after more than 13 weeks on remand you do not have to pay back any HB received under the 52 weeks rule. If your absence is likely to be more than 13 weeks, you may be able to get HB on your old home for up to 4 weeks after you move out. If you qualified for HB while on remand, this means up to 4 weeks after you are sentenced.
Prison Work Coaches
There are Prison Work Coaches (PWC) in every prison across the country and, as it is a national project they can liaise with other prisons and job centres when necessary.
Since the introduction of UC, the focus has been on preparing the claimant for the digital world of benefits on release. As UC is a digital benefit prison leavers cannot currently make a claim in advance. This is due to restrictions on access to and use of computers in prisons. Prison work coaches will support prison leavers to make a claim on release.
About 12 weeks before your release date you will be sent an invitation to attend one of the PWC sessions. This is not compulsory. There are also difficulties with early release and release with little or no notice. However each prison should have details on noticeboards and the PWC can be approached for help at any time prior to release.
As the main concern is all about resettlement, the PWC provides individual coaching through the UC claim process. They also work with other partners within the prison to help with other things like obtaining relevant ID and bank accounts etc., where possible. They have access to job centre diaries and aim to make the appointment at the job centre as early as the actual day of release.
Advance Payments (New Claim)
If you are going to struggle financially on your release from prison you should ask for an advance payment.
The aim of a new claim advance is to support claimants who cannot manage until they receive their first payment of UC. You are not required to have signed your UC Claimant Commitment before you can get an advance, but you must:
- be unable to manage until your next payment of UC ( financial need)
- have likely entitlement to UC (your ID must have been verified and there must be no doubt that the habitual residence test will be satisfied)
- have the ability and agree to repay the advance
Advances are paid by BACS transaction into the account that you are using for your UC claim within three working days. If a payment is needed more quickly, provision can be made for a same day Faster Electronic payment. These are only made where there are exceptional circumstances that require this, for example, you do not have enough money to last the usual 3 days before the advance is paid. You will have 12 months to repay the advance.
Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide an overview and act as a guide before seeking appropriate support and advice. It is important to remember that individual cases should be treated as such and information online is not a substitute for specialist one to one advice. If you or someone you know needs information around these issues please contact your local Citizens Advice, benefits specialist or DWP representative.