When Universal Credit was brought in it was described as a lobster-pot system: once you were in there was no way back onto the older benefits. BUT for people in areas that have not yet had the Universal Credit Full Service roll out, there is a possible escape route, especially following the changes brought in at the beginning of this year. In those areas, anyone making a new benefit application now makes it through the old system. If you are unemployed you apply for JSA, if you are unable to work you apply for ESA, if you don’t have to work due to caring responsibilities you apply for Income Support, and you apply for Housing Benefit separately from the local council. This should mean that if you are on UC in one of those areas and close down your current claim and make a new one, you would go back onto the old system. There doesn’t appear to be anything in the legislation to suggest that this wouldn’t work, though we don’t know of any examples of people who have tried it.
You would have to survive the initial unpaid week, and then there is always a risk of delays in any benefit application. Also, we would never suggest closing down an ESA claim and risking another assessment. But this might prove a useful route for some people – e.g. if you are on UC and have become unfit for work and would rather apply for ESA than UC for people who are sick or disabled; or if you want to escape the jobcentre altogether and just apply for Housing Benefit. Of course there are a few people for whom UC actually works better; and, if you are still needing benefits you will have to go on UC eventually, which will mean – assuming they haven’t improved the system – another long wait for the first payment. You would need to think what the advantages and disadvantages might be in your particular circumstances – and discuss your options with a welfare advisor if you can – but this could be a useful hole in the lobster pot for some. Please let us know if you’ve tried it!
You can find whether you are in a relevant area here. It will be described as Universal Credit Live Service (as distinct from Full Service). And you can find when the Full Service rollout is due to come to your area here.
[24 February 2018 – just discovered a much fuller examination of what is possible here.]