Universal Credit experts reveal their top tips from half price travel to 85% of childcare costs paid

UNIVERSAL Credit experts have revealed their top tips ranging from how to get money off childcare and travel, to acing job interviews.

Work coaches are there to advise benefit claimants on the support they can find and how to get back into work.

Now three of them – Claire Davies, Stephen Tanfield, and Amy Milner – are sharing their most valuable advice.

The number of people claiming Universal Credit has rocketed to more than six million because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The trio have shared their insight on little known schemes that can give you extra cash to find work – and there's also valuable advice on getting your CV in shape.

Childcare support

Getting childcare support is one of Mr Tanfield's top tips, who has been a work coach for the past year in Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.

He said: "I think a lot of people out there don’t think they can get into the workplace because they’ve got children that need to be looked after all day.

"Of course, that’s a tough job all on its own, but we have support available for working parents."

Working parents on Universal Credit can get reimbursement for over £13,000 of childcare costs, up to 85% of your overall childcare costs, he explains.

Expecting parents can also get a £500 one-off payment for childcare costs through the Sure Start Maternity Grant. 

"This has all made a huge difference to a lot of people I’ve worked with, and really showed them that childcare doesn’t have to be an impossible obstacle to work," he said.

To get the support you will have to pay your childcare costs yourself up front and then claim the money back through Universal Credit.

The Sun has been calling on the government to change rules and pay parents up-front for childcare costs, as part of our Make Universal Credit Work campaign.

In January, Sun columnist Nichola Salvato won a case at the high court paving the way for an overhaul of the rules.

The Department of Work and Pensions has now appealed the decision leaving thousands of parents still paying upfront.

Half price travel

"This is one of the lesser-known benefits of Universal Credit, but can come in so handy when you’re travelling to the Jobcentre or for a job interview," said Mr Tanfield.

The Jobcentre Plus travel card is available for free and cuts the cost of travelling on public transport, including buses and trains, by 50%.

You're entitled to one if you've been claiming Universal Credit for three to nine months and are aged between 18 and 24.

You'll need to have been claiming benefits for three to 12 months before getting the card if you're 25 and older.

Claimants may be eligible for a Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card if they have been claiming for 3-9 months (aged 18-24) or 3-12 months (over 25s).

Ms Davies, who is a work coach in Haverfordwest in Wales, said: "The card can be used for any journey, getting you 50% off on selected tickets. Just speak to your work coach to see how you can claim yours."

Get paid to save

Ms Davies also says that Help to Save is "a really great scheme" but many people have not heard of it.

"Saving is such an important habit to get into, and there’s never a bad time to start," she said.

"Essentially, customers can put away anything from £1 to £50 a month, and after two years of saving, the Government will give you 50p for every £1 you’ve saved.

"It’s a great incentive to get you into a really important habit."

Millions of people claiming benefits are eligible for Help to Save, but just 284,050 are currently taking advantage of the saving scheme.

If you save the maximum amount each year, you could earn a bonus of £1,200 over the four years you can save into it.

Find out who's eligible for one of these saving accounts and how to apply.

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.

Get CV advice

Mr Tanfield, who became a work coach when the government went on a Covid hiring spree, said that polishing your CV is one of the first things he helps people do – and can make it much easier to get an interview.

Ms Davies, who focuses on helping younger people aged 18-24 into work and also has a son around the same age, said: "Your CV is so important. It’s the first thing employers will see about you, so it’s vital that it shows off your best qualities and the skills you have in your locker."

"It’s really important you have the structure nailed down, clearly highlighting that you have what this employer is after," she added.

Get help practicing interviews

Once you've got your CV sorted and landed that interview, you can ask for help so you nail that too.

Ms Milner, a work coach from Blyth in Northumberland, said: "Interviews can be nerve-wracking."

"Some of the customers I’ve worked with came in with very low confidence, and really struggled to articulate skills and experience that I know they have when they were under pressure.

"We can suggest plenty of tips on techniques to stay calm and focused, and will do practice sessions where we run through the types of questions to expect. It’s all about feeling comfortable and confident."

Support for starting a new job

Once you've landed your next job, you can continue getting help, Mr Tanfield explains.

He said: "The Flexible Support Fund has been a real help for some of my customers.

"It can pay for things that people need to get them over the line, like travel costs, or a new uniform."

The Universal Credit Flexible Support Fund can provide extra cash and though it's been around for many years, it's still not widely known about.

It can be issued if all other help has been exhausted – but that's not to say that you're not entitled to it.

You can get up to £150 to train for a job, get cash to cover the cost of going to an interview or childcare, as well as other money support.

You can ask your work coach about accessing the Flexible Support Fund.

Help with training

Ms Davies said that if you don't have the skills needed for the job you're looking for your work coach can help with that.

She said: "There are so many training courses available to boost skills in all kinds of areas, usually designed so people can complete them around other commitments like childcare or part-time work."

"People don’t realise how much is actually available. There’s so much out there, but it’s a question of finding it.

"That’s where we come in – the jobcentre is the perfect hub for finding relevant courses and opportunities for people looking to boost their skills."

Unemployed Brits on Universal Credit can now continue to receive benefits for up to 16 weeks while they re-train to help get them a job.

Meanwhile, millions of adults, including furloughed workers, are being offered free online courses to spruce up their CVs since the pandemic hit.

Consider new possibilities

Skills picked up in one job can also be relevant in different positions and industries.

Though this might not always be obvious from a job advert, identifying your transferable skills can help broaden your search and increase the odds of it being successful.

Ms Milner, who previously worked for the Home Office supporting Asylum Seekers and Visa applications, said: "Some people come in and are open to working in loads of different places.

"Others have very specific goals, and we try to support people like that, but I’ve worked with many customers who thought they could only work in one area before later realising their skills could transfer across to a range of different professions."

Mr Tanfield warns jobseekers not to sell themselves short. He said: "It’s easy to think that you’re suited to one role or profession.

"But, now more than ever, there’s actually so many new and emerging opportunities for people, many of whom don’t even realise they have transferable skills that would suit so many different things."

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