MILLIONS of Brits rely on the benefits system to cover essential costs, but simple mistakes could result in their payments being stopped.
A failure to update the benefits office of a change in circumstances – such as name, gender, job or address – could put payments on pause.
As well as alterations to basic personal information such as your name or address, there are a whole range of other changes that need to be reported.
Your benefits could be stopped if you forget to update your doctor's details when you switch surgeries.
Claimants also need to let the government know if they start or stop education, have a baby, or get married or divorced.
Another simple mistake you could make includes failing to inform the benefit office if you're planning to go abroad for any length of time.
You need to update them if you go into hospital, a care home or sheltered accommodation and any changes to your medical conditions.
To check all the changes you need to report to avoid your benefits payments being paused, reduced or overpaid, visit the government website.
As well as the threat of your benefits being stopped, there is also a risk that you could be paid too much – which you will then have to repay.
If the government thinks you failed to notify them of a change on purpose, resulting in an overpayment,you could be investigated for benefit fraud.
If you're suspected of benefit fraud you'll be contacted by a government body.
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.
This could be the Department for Work and Pensions, HMRC, the Service and Personnel and Veterans Agency or your local authority.
Some of your benefits could be stopped while you're investigated, and you'll get a letter informing you if this happens.
Only sanctionable benefits can be docked or paused if you're accused of benefit fraud.
These include Universal Credit, Income Support, Housing Benefit and Job Seeker's Allowance.
Benefits that cannot be reduced or stopped include State Pension, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit.
For the full list of sanctionable benefits, check the government website.
How to update your personal details
To avoid running into difficulties with your benefit payments, you should keep on top of updating any changes to your personal details.
In most cases you can report a change in your circumstances online to make sure you keep getting the right amount of benefits.
It's important to report the change straight away to avoid your payments being stopped or reduced.
Who to tell about the changes is dependent on which benefits you get.
If you claim more than one benefit, you'll need to report your new circumstances to each different organisation.
Universal Credit claimaints should report changes using their online account or by ringing the helpline.
People who claim Pension Credit should contact the Pension Service helpline or report changes by post.
The Disability Service Centre is the organisation that you should report changes to if you get Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance or Personal Independence Payment.
If you get housing benefit you should contact your local council.
Child Benefit claiments can report changes online or write to the Child Benefit office.
Contact Jobcentre Plus to report changes for all other benefits. You'll need your national insurance number when you call.
To report the death of a benefit claiment, you can use the government's Tell Us Once system.
What to do if your benefits are stopped
If your benefits are stopped you could contact your nearest Citizens Advice branch for advice.
You might be able to get a reduced benefit called a "hardship payment" to cover essential costs such as rent, heating, food or hygiene.
However, you will have to pay this emergency loan back.
You could also be referred to a food bank to help you with meals.
If you think you've been sanctioned unfairly, or disagree with a decision about your payment, you can ask for a mandatory reconsideration.
On the other hand, if you've been overpaid because of a failure to inform the benefit office of a change in circumstances, you will have to return the cash.
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