Benefits can be bewildering. We’ve tried to simplify a complicated process with some tips to get you started.

Many of us will claim benefits during our lives. We may have been made redundant or be too unwell to work. Some of us will be employed, but will claim benefits to either help make ends meet or to pay for expenses incurred as a result of ill health. Some people will claim benefits if they are employed on ‘zero hours’ contracts when their employer has no work for them to do at the time.

Universal Credit

The benefits system has changed a great deal recently with the introduction of universal credit. This was introduced to bring a wide range of benefits together and to make claiming simpler. Although the new system has its critics, for most people, making a claim can be completed from home using a computer. Under the old system people claimed an ‘out of work’ benefit such as JSA and claimed their housing costs (housing benefit) on top. Under universal credit, living costs and housing costs are now paid together each month. There are some exceptions to this and if you live in supported housing, your housing costs will continue to be paid directly to your landlord.

If you want to make a claim for universal credit, go to: https://www.gov.uk/apply-universal-credit

Tips for universal credit readiness

1. Prepare and plan.

Before you do though, make sure you have important information such as your address and postcode, your previous employers and landlord’s details to hand. If you need help you can call 0800 3285644. You’ll get your first payment around 5 weeks after applying online if your application is successful. When you apply, you can ask for an advance if you need help sooner. At some stage during the claim process, you’ll be asked to visit your local Job Centre to provide ID documents. It is also worth remembering that you will be expected to prove that you are looking for work during the duration of your universal credit claim.

2. Get online.

Not everybody has access to a computer and some people find using them difficult. If you are facing these challenges, you can approach an organisation like Connection Support or your local CAB to help you.

3.  Other benefits.

If you are ill or disabled, you may be able to claim ESA. ESA stands for Employment and Support Allowance, the benefit which has replaced incapacity benefit. ESA can be a more difficult benefit to claim than incapacity benefit, primarily because of the medical test – the work capability assessment.

The assessment phase of ESA is intended to last for 13 weeks, but for many claimants it can last a lot longer. In the assessment phase you are likely to be sent an ESA50 limited capability for work questionnaire and may have to attend a medical. At the end of the assessment phase a decision will be made about whether you are eligible for ESA and, if so, which group you will be put in – the support group, or the work related activity group, where you have to attend regular interviews with an advisor. To make a claim go to: https://www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance

Again, if you do not have access to a computer, you can approach organisation such as Connection Support or the CAB for help.

4. Paying the rent.

Some people claiming benefits may need further help with their rent. This can be claimed in the form of a ‘discretionary housing payment’, and is paid through your local council. To find details of your local council, go to: https://www.gov.uk/find-your-local-council

Connection Support Housing Support Service in Oxfordshire

Our Housing Support service provides support to you if you are at risk of becoming homeless, living in inappropriate or unsuitable housing. Our team provides advice on housing law, can accompany you to court hearings and guide you through the benefits maze.

You can self-refer to access this service (you need to be aged 16 and living in Oxfordshire) or be referred to our Housing Support Team by your GP, social services or housing association or other support service. For a self-referral form and further details about how this service can help you please visit the Oxfordshire Housing Support project page.