Universal Credit rules to be tightened for part-time workers

A significant change to Universal Credit is set to affect 120,000 people - we explain everything you need to know

Worried man checking bills at home
(Image credit: Getty images)

Around 120,000 part-time workers on Universal Credit will be required to work up to 15 hours a week or face having their benefits reduced under new welfare reforms.

The change is set to be announced by new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng in the mini-budget on 23 September.

Currently, those on Universal Credit in part-time employment work up to 12 hours a week at the National Living Wage and already risk having their benefits cut if they do not meet regularly with a work coach and take active steps to increase their earnings.

Under the new welfare reforms, this requirement will increase to 15 hours a week from January 2023. Those aged over 50 who claim Universal Credit will get extra support from work coaches. Meanwhile, the newly unemployed will get nine months of targeted sessions, and people who are long-term unemployed will receive a booster session followed by three months of intensive employment support.

The Treasury stated: “Work Coaches will set clear expectations with claimants and make sure they stick to their commitments. These commitments could include applying for jobs, attending interviews or increasing their hours. People who don’t fulfil their job-search commitments without good reason could have their benefits reduced in line with existing benefit sanctions policy.”

Claimants can lose some or all of their benefits if they don’t stick to the rules set out in their claimants commitment - these are set to suit the claimant’s personal circumstances. 

Benefit payments can be cut for reasons that include failing to turn up to meetings, turning down a job or failing to update how many hours you’ve worked.

The government said some groups, such as people who cannot work due to long-term illness or disability, will be excluded from sanctions.

It’s estimated that a return to pre-pandemic levels of employment in the over-50s could benefit the economy and “boost the level of GDP by up to one percentage point.”

Chancellor Kwarteng said: “While unemployment is at its lowest rate for nearly 50 years, the high number of vacancies that still exist and inactivity in the labour market is limiting economic growth.”

Claimants and organisations have responded to the news via social media.

Charity Save the Children expressed its concern.

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A benefit claimant expressed her worry:

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What is Universal Credit? Am I eligible?

Universal Credit is claimed by 5.8 million people who are unemployed or in work and on a low income. Around 2.3 million claimants have a job. There’s no flat single payment with the benefit - how much you get is based on your personal circumstances. 

But, around 1.3 million households eligible for the Universal Credit aren’t currently claiming it according to the New Economics Foundation. With rising food, energy and fuel prices, it’s worth checking you’re claiming every penny you can. 

The easy way to check is to put your details into one of the free online benefits calculators from organisations including Entitledto (opens in new tab) and Turn2Us (opens in new tab). Extra payments could be worth up to £7,300 a year.

Katie is staff writer at The Money Edit. She was the former staff writer at The Times and The Sunday Times. Her experience includes writing about personal finance, culture, travel and interviews celebrities.  Her investigative work on financial abuse resulted in a number of mortgage prisoners being set free - and a nomination for the Best Personal Finance Story of the Year in the Headlinemoney awards 2021.