Documents to download

Universal Credit is replacing a range of existing means-tested benefits and tax credits (‘legacy benefits’) for working-age households. Universal Credit is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in Great Britain and by the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland.

In November 2023, 5.36 million households in Great Britain were on Universal Credit. Around 1.66 million households were on legacy benefits.

How people move onto Universal Credit

Universal Credit has been available in all parts of the UK since December 2018, for people who make new benefit claims, who claim because their circumstances change (‘natural migration’) or who choose to move from legacy benefits to Universal Credit (‘voluntary migration’).

Eventually, all remaining legacy benefit claimants will be contacted by the DWP and told they must claim Universal Credit to continue to receive means-tested support (‘managed migration’).

When this stage is complete, legacy benefits and tax credits for people of working age will cease to exist, and the full ‘caseload rollout’ of Universal Credit will be achieved.

The rollout timetable for Universal Credit has been pushed back repeatedly. Under the latest plans, managed migration of the final group of legacy benefit claimants will not happen until 2028/29.

Issues and concerns

In response to a 2018 report from the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) on draft regulations setting out the process for managed migration, the DWP made some changes to its plans including extending the notice period for legacy benefit claimants to claim Universal Credit, and allowing a further one-month ‘grace period’ for those missing the deadline.

The DWP ultimately did not accept SSAC’s recommendation to use information it already held on claimants to ‘pre-populate’ Universal Credit claims, so that the state was responsible for managed migration rather than individuals. Welfare rights organisations and pressure groups responding to SSAC’s consultation were also concerned that people who did not engage with the process could lose financial support completely.

Latest ‘Move to Universal Credit’ plans

Full-scale managed migration started in April 2023, expanding gradually to different areas of Great Britain. Under the latest plans:

  • In 2023/24, migration notices are being sent to over 500,000 households getting tax credits only (and no other legacy benefits).
  • In 2024/25, the DWP will contact the remaining tax credit claimants (those also receiving other legacy benefits), and all claimants of Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), and Housing Benefit. The DWP aims to send migration notices to these households – around 440,000 in total – by September 2024.

The managed migration of claimants of income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) only, or incomed-related ESA and Housing Benefit, has been delayed until 2028/29. This will involve around 600,000 households.

The managed migration process

Managed migration involves claimants being sent a migration notice by the DWP telling them that their legacy benefit awards will end and that they must make a claim for Universal Credit to continue to get support. The deadline for claiming must be at least three months from the date of the migration notice, and it can be extended if there is a good reason.

The DWP then sends reminder letters, and support is available for claimants from the migration notice helpline, online guidance, and the Help to Claim service.

If a person has not claimed Universal Credit by their deadline, but does so within one month, they are treated as having claimed on time and can still get transitional protection in their Universal Credit award.

A person’s entitlement to legacy benefits/tax credits ends when they claim Universal Credit, or on the day before their deadline if they have not claimed Universal Credit. Income Support, income-based JSA, income-related ESA and Housing Benefit continue to be paid for two weeks after entitlement ends, however.

Transitional protection

In April 2022 the DWP estimated that 55% of the remaining households on legacy benefits would have a higher entitlement on Universal Credit, and 35% would have a lower entitlement. Those moving via managed migration with a lower notional entitlement will be eligible for ‘transitional protection’ – a top-up so they don’t lose out in cash terms when they move to Universal Credit.

The top-up will reduce or ‘erode’ over time if a person is awarded a new Universal Credit element, or if elements in their existing award increase, including following annual upratings. Transitional protection may also stop following a change in household circumstances.

There are also special rules for two groups who would not normally qualify for Universal Credit: people moving from tax credits with more than £16,000 in capital and students moving to Universal Credit at managed migration.

Emerging evidence from managed migration

A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) in February 2024 said that while the DWP had a clear plan to move around 900,000 households from legacy benefits to Universal Credit by the end of 2024, more people than expected were not claiming Universal Credit after being sent a migration notice. It recommended that the DWP continue to research why some people were not claiming Universal Credit and address any barriers to claiming.

By December 2023, of the 148,700 households (almost all single people claiming tax credits only) who had been through managed migration and had their legacy claims closed, 31,500 (21%) had not claimed Universal Credit. The DWP had initially thought that 3% of contacted households would not claim Universal Credit, but it now assumes 26% of tax credits-only households, and 4% of households getting other legacy benefits, will not move to UC.

On 29 February 2024, the DWP published research findings that suggested a higher proportion of claimants across all legacy benefits will claim Universal Credit than of tax credits-only cohort. The DWP committed, however, to “continue to learn and iterate” its approach to managed migration.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has been monitoring claimants’ and advisers’ experiences of managed migration. In a briefing published on 27 February 2024, CPAG called on the DWP to slow down its plans for managed migration in 2024/25 to avoid vulnerable claimants “falling through the cracks” and losing their entitlement. CPAG said this would give the department time to clarify remaining ambiguities about how the policy will be delivered and put in place an intensive support package so that all claimants can safely migrate to Universal Credit.

Northern Ireland

The Department for Communities timetable for managed migration in Northern Ireland is closely aligned with the DWP’s plans in Great Britain.

The ‘Move to Universal Credit’ rollout in Northern Ireland began in October 2023, when the Department began to issue migration notices to tax credits-only claimants across all Northern Ireland postcodes. This followed the department’s own ‘discovery phase’ between April and August 2023.

Documents to download

Related posts