Universal Credit and benefits – 10 freebies and benefits you can get in January

IF you claim Universal Credit or other benefits and you're worried about how to make your cash last in January, you can get extra help.

You might be able to get help to pay for housing, prescriptions, travel and bills – we explain how to access support in the New Year.

Christmas can be an expensive time for families, and January's budget is often a bit tighter than usual.

If you claim Universal Credit, you could be eligible for extra help that might ease financial pressures in 2022.

Universal Credit rolls six benefits, including Housing Benefit and Child Tax Credit, into one payment.

Last year, households on the scheme saw payments temporarily boosted by £1,040 (£20 a week) due to the coronavirus crisis.

This ended in October but claimants can now keep more of their income due to changes in the taper rate, which is the amount of money the government takes for earnings above a certain allowance.

It has been cut from 63p to 55p.

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So what are the discounts you can get under Universal Credit? We’ve rounded up ten things you can apply for to help your finances in the New Year.

Discounted BT phone and broadband

It's worth checking whether you can get discounted phone and broadband deals if you're on Universal Credit.

If you’re on Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Pensions Credit (Guaranteed Credit), and Employment and Support Allowance (Income related) benefits, you might be able to get it too.

The package costs £5.16 a month, and if you want to add broadband, this rises to £10.07.

Your bill will be capped each month, which means that no matter how many calls you make, the most you’ll pay is £15.16 or £20.07 with broadband.

To find out more information about the package and how to apply, check out BT’s website.

Free school meals

Families who claim certain benefits can access free school meals when kids return to school after the Christmas holiday.

This means your child will be provided with lunch at school, free of charge, and can help you cut your food bills.

You may be able to claim free school meals for your child if you, or your child, get any of the following benefits:

  • Income support
  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • The guaranteed element of pension credit
  • Child tax credit (provided you’re not also entitled to working tax credit and have an annual income of no more than £16,190)
  • Working tax credit run-on – paid for four weeks after you stop qualifying for working tax credit
  • Universal Credit – if you applied on or after April 1, 2018 your household income is less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get)

If you qualify, kids get the support from nursery age through to sixth form. 

Contact your child's school directly for information about how to apply.

Discount on your council tax

Council tax bills are set to rise next year but you can get a discount, or avoid paying completely, if you claim certain benefits.

You might not have to pay any council tax at all if you’re on a low income or claim benefits. 

You can apply if you own your own home, rent, are unemployed, or are working.

What you get depends on where you live, as each council runs its own scheme.

You’ll need to provide details on your income, number of children you have, benefits you recieve, and your residency status.

You can find out how much discount you can get on the Gov.uk website.

Get £25 a week during cold weather

You may be able to get Cold Weather Payments if you claim certain benefits, so keep an eye on the temperature.

If you’re eligible, you could get £25 if the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees celsius or below over seven consecutive days. 

For this year, the scheme runs between November 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021.

You’ll get the payments if you’re on Pension Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit or Support for Mortgage Interest.

You don’t need to apply, as you’ll get paid automatically.

Help with rent

If your Universal Credit payment is not enough to cover your rent, you can apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP).

This will give you extra money if your council decides you need help to meet your housing costs. You don't need to repay a DHP.

You can use it to cover a rent shortfall, rent deposits, or rent in advance if you need to move house.

You can’t get a payment to help pay your Council Tax, but we’ve outlined ways you could get help on that above.

You’ll have to apply through your local council by downloading an application form from their website or phoning them.

Check out how to find your local council here.

Money for health costs 

You could also get help with covering health costs, such as paying for your prescriptions and dental treatment.

To claim, you’ll need to show a copy of your Universal Credit award notice. 

You won’t be able to claim on health costs before you were deemed eligible for the Universal Credit.

If you’re entitled to claim, you could get free NHS prescriptions, dental treatment, sight tests, wigs and fabric supports.

NHS prescriptions currently cost £9.15 in the UK.

You could also get help with the cost of glasses and contact lenses and money for travel costs for treatment.

The NHS has outlined more information on how to go about claiming here.

Free school transport

All children between five and 16 qualify for free school transport if they go to their nearest suitable school and live at least:

  • Two miles from the school if they’re under eight
  • Three miles from the school if they’re eight or older

If there’s no safe walking route, they must be given free transport, no matter how far from school they live.

Contact your local council if you think that the walk to school isn’t safe.

If you get the maximum Working Tax Credit or your child is eligible for free school meals, they’ll get free school transport if they are:

  • aged 8 to 11 and the school’s at least 2 miles away
  • aged 11 to 16 and the school’s 2 to 6 miles away – as long as there are not 3 or more suitable schools nearer to home
  • aged 11 to 16 and the school’s 2 to 15 miles away – if it’s their nearest school preferred on the grounds of religion or belief

And your child can get free transport, no matter where they live, if they cannot walk to school because of their special educational needs and disabilities, or if they have a mobility problem.

Of course, free school transport won't be useful to the majority of families right now as schools are shut expect for children of key workers and vulnerable children.

Up to £150 free cash for school uniforms 

Your local council may provide help with the cost of school uniform and PE kit.

As schools are currently shut, this will likely not be top priority right now for parents – but it's worth keeping in the mind for later in the year.

Parents may be able to claim up to £150, but the amount you can claim varies hugely across the UK.

But there are also plenty of local authorities that don't offer any help to struggling parents.

To see how much you could claim, enter your postcode into the government’s search engine here.

In most cases, financial help will be dependent on what year your child is in.

For example, in the London Borough of Greenwich, grants range from £40 for pupils starting reception up to £100 for those entering year seven.

We’ve outlined all you need to know about applying for the discount here.

Half price rail tickets

If you’re unemployed, you might be entitled to half price on selected rail fares.

You’ll have to apply for a Jobcentre Plus railcard, which is free of charge, to get the discount.

Cards are not automatically given out and are provided on a case-by-case basis.

You can apply for one if you’ve been on Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance between three to 12 months if you’re 25 or over.

However, you should only be travelling for essential reasons such as work – so if you're currently unemployed, it's likely you won't need one of these right now.

For 18 to 24 year olds, you must be claiming for three to nine months.

You’ll have to contact Jobcentre Plus to apply, which you can do here.

Because of the Covid crisis, you do not need to go to a jobcentre unless you’re asked to.

Money off passes to your local leisure centre

Some councils offer a discount on membership cards to your local council run leisure centres, tennis courts and swimming pools.

How much of a discount you can get depends on your local council.

For example, Waverley Borough Council has slashed the price of many activities at all council leisure centres by 50% if you’re on benefits including Universal Credit.

You’ll need to apply for the discount through your local leisure centre. 

The exact process varies by district but generally you'll be asked to fill out a form as well as provide proof that you're on benefits.

You should double check with your local centre, but proof can be either a benefit award letter or a bank statement showing the benefit being paid in that's dated within the past 12 months.

However, you’ll have to wait a while before you can take advantage of this scheme.

There are some big Universal Credit changes planned for next year so check how they could impact your finances.

You might be able to get extra help for food and bills through the Household Support Fund.

Millions of workers are missing out on free pension cash, so make sure you're getting the right amount.

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