Universal Credit or benefits – 10 freebies and discounts you can get
8th January 2021

IF you’re on Universal Credit and struggling to make your cash stretch until payday, you may be able to get extra discounts.

You could get help with bills and costs for housing, prescriptions, travel and more.

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.

It is due to end in April this year – and it’s unclear whether the government will extend it.

So what are the discounts you can get under Universal Credit? We’ve rounded up ten things you can apply for.

What to do if you have problems claiming Universal Credit

IF you’re experiencing trouble applying for your Universal Credit, or the payments just don’t cover costs, here are your options:

  • Apply for an advance – Claimants are able to get some cash within five days rather than waiting weeks for their first payment. But it's a loan which means the repayments will be automatically deducted from your future Universal Credit payout.
  • Alternative Payment Arrangements – If you're falling behind on rent, you or your landlord may be able to apply for an APA which will get your payment sent directly to your landlord. You might also be able to change your payments to get them more frequently, or you can split the payments if you're part of a couple.
  • Budgeting Advance – You may be able to get help from the Government for emergency household costs of up to £348 if you're single, £464 if you're part of a couple or £812 if you have children. These are only in cases like your cooker breaking down or for help getting a job. You'll have to repay the advance through your regular Universal Credit payments. You'll still have to repay the loan, even if you stop claiming for Universal Credit.
  • Cut your Council Tax – You might be able to get a discount on your Council Tax by applying for a Council Tax Reduction. Alternatively, you might be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments to help cover your rent.
  • Foodbanks – If you're really hard up and struggling to buy food and toiletries, you can find your local foodbank who will provide you with help for free. You can find your nearest one on the Trussell Trust website.

Discounted BT phone and broadband

You might be able to get a phone and broadband package for less 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.

Compared to the cheapest Broadband package we could find on BT’s website, which would cost you £29.99, you could potentially shave nearly £20 off your bills.

Free school meals

Although Boris Johnson ordered schools to close until at least February half term earlier this month, families can still get free school meals.

These will be offered as food parcels sent to your home, or vouchers you can use at supermarkets or local shops.

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. 

Discount on your council tax

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, 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.

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.

What to do if you can’t pay your bills

FALLING behind on your energy bills can be extremely stressful.

If you’re struggling to pay what you owe, contact your supplier as soon as possible.

Your provider has to help you come up with a solution, and you should be able to negotiate a deal that works for you both.

One option is to agree a payment plan where you pay off your debts in affordable instalments.

You may be able to pay off your debts directly from your benefits through the Fuel Direct Scheme.

A fixed amount will automatically be taken to cover what you owe plus your usage.

To be eligible, you must be getting one of the following benefits:

  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Income support
  • income-related employment and support allowance
  • Pension credit
  • Universal Credit (but only if you’re not working)

If you cannot come to an agreement with your supplier, they may try to force you to get a prepayment meter installed.

In very rare cases, where you refuse to negotiate, your supplier might threaten you with disconnection.

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’re:

  • 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.

Who is eligible for financial help with school uniforms?

RULES vary but generally you will qualify for a school uniform grant in England if you receive one of the following:

  • Income support
  • Jobseeker's allowance (income based)
  • Child tax credit – provided you are not entitled to working tax credit
  • Employment support allowance (ESA)
  • State pension – this benefit must be your sole source of income
  • Support under Part IV of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • Universal Credit

You may also be able to apply if your annual household income is less than £16,190.

You are likely to be asked to prove that you are legally responsible for the child by providing a recent copy of your bank statement confirming the payment of child benefit to your account.

Rules in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are slightly different.

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.

Under new lockdown rules, Brits must stay at home, with gyms and leisure centres closing until mid-February.

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