The application process

The earlier description of the digital account focused on how Universal Credit operates day-to-day, week-to-week, once a successful claim has been made. However, new claimants must first create an account and submit a claim. In most circumstances, this is done online.1 Creating an account requires an email address and mobile phone number. Once created, the to-do list is used for completing a claim, with claimants completing approximately ten to-do list items, including:

  • Nationality
  • Housing
  • Who lives with you?
  • Work and earnings
  • Savings and investments
  • Income other than earnings
  • Are you in education or training?
  • Health
  • Caring for someone
  • Bank account details

Behind each item, there are one or more forms, with the exact number depending on the circumstances of a claimant. Completing these forms requires claimants to collate a range of different information and documents together. These include Child Benefit reference numbers, the exact amount of savings and investments, and descriptions of any health conditions. Once all the sections have been completed, claimants have to make a ‘final declaration’ that the information they have entered is correct and agree to a high-level version of the ‘claimant commitment’ before submitting the claim. They must then prove their identity, either online using GOV.UK Verify or in person at a jobcentre.

If the claimant is living with a partner, their partner will also have to complete their details to become a co-claimant. The first claimant is given a unique code to share with their partner to create the joint claim.

Claimants have 28 days to complete their claim from the creation date of their account. 2 While DWP states that the process of completing the application should take 20 minutes for an individual, or an hour for a couple, it does not give guidance on how long the process normally takes people to complete end-to-end. Presumably for people attempting to claim with complex situations, limited paperwork, poor record-keeping or limited digital skills, the end-to-end process will take longer. This will, in turn, delay the date of their first payment. There is also a privacy angle to the amount of information required by the application process. Much of the information required is highly personal, and many claimants will complete the application process in a public space and on public computers, for example, in a library.

Support and guidance

To support people applying for Universal Credit, DWP maintains various online guides scattered across multiple websites. On the GOV.UK website there is some guidance that is concise and clearly organised, such as “How to claim Universal Credit: step-by-step”.3 But there are also more complex and specific guides such as “Universal Credit: support for a maximum of 2 children: information for claimants”4 and “Universal Credit: further information for couples”5. The complexity of this content is, in part, a product of the hyper-means-tested nature of Universal Credit.

In addition to GOV.UK, DWP maintains, which duplicates much of the content held on GOV.UK. There is also a Youtube channel “Universal Credit in Action”6 that hosts videos explaining how the digital account works and some advice on how to search for jobs online.

In addition to this online guidance, since April 2019, DWP has paid Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland to provide personal support under the “Help to Claim” scheme.7 Citizens Advice advisors help people submit their initial claim and then deal with any issues before the first payment is made.8 9

What’s missing?

As with the example of the offline-only appeals process in the previous section, it is interesting to examine which parts of the onboarding process DWP have chosen to digitise and which parts they have not. For example, Citizens Advice recommend that claimants ask about the following at their first interview: fortnightly payments, direct payments to landlords, funding for training and travel, travel discount cards and budgeting support.10 However, (as far as it is possible to tell) these additional benefits are not given as options during the application process and claimants must ask for them in person. Similarly, for claimants in Scotland wanting to take advantage of the right to direct payments to landlords and fortnightly payments, these options are only available after the first month has passed and appears as a message in a user’s journal, rather than being designed into the application process.11 12

A further example is advance payments. Rather than wait five weeks for the first monthly payment, claimants can apply for an advance of up to one month’s payment.13 These advances are treated as debt to be repaid from future payments and, unlike the seven day wait for the monthly payments, advance payments are made the same day using the Faster Payments system. 14 15 In 2016/2017 half of claimants took this option, and by 2018 it had risen to 60%. 16 17. This means that for the majority of claimants, their first experience of Universal Credit is one of being put into debt.18

While the option to apply for an advance does appear on the homepage after a claim has been submitted, it does not appear to have been designed as a core part of the application process or added to the to-do list as an explicit choice.19

Jobcentre interview

Once a successful claim has been submitted, an item is added to a claimant’s to-do list to book an appointment at a jobcentre and meet with a “work coach”. Among other things, at this interview, claimants have to agree to a ‘claimant commitment’ which will determine what types of activity are required of them. 20 21 For claimants in some conditionality groups, this will be the beginning of a set of interactions with a work coach who will set them activities to complete via their to-do list with the aim of helping them find work or increase the amount of work they are already doing. The nature of this support is covered in the next section.

  1. While it is possible to make a claim over the phone, DWP actively discourages this. 

  2. “New claims”, 

  3. HM Government, “How to claim Universal Credit: step by step”, GOV.UK,, retrieved 29th October 2019 

  4. Department for Work and Pensions, “Universal Credit: support for a maximum of 2 children: information for claimants”, GOV.UK, 6th April 2017, 

  5. Department for Work and Pensions, “Universal Credit: further information for couples”, 25th July 2019, GOV.UK 

  6. “Universal Credit In Action”, Youtube,, retrieved 27th October 2019 



  9. This replaced the earlier Help to “Universal Support” scheme. Department for Work & Pensions, “Universal Support 2018/19 Guidance (withdrawn)”, GOV.UK, 7th March 2019,, retrieved 4th December 2019 

  10. Citizens Advice, “Preparing for your Universal Credit interview”, 

  11. Scottish Government, “Universal Credit: new choices for people living in Scotland”,, 31st January 2018,, retrieved 27th October 2019 

  12. “Money Guidance and APA”, 

  13. Other types of advances are available to claimants too, for example if their circumstances significantly change once the claim has been submitted. 

  14. Advances - New Claims, 


  16. Department for Work and Pensions, “Universal Credit Statistical Ad Hoc: Payment Advances”,, retrieved 23rd October 2019 

  17. National Audit Office, “Rolling out Universal Credit”, p40, 11th June 2018,, retrieved 4th October 2019 

  18. Department for Work and Pensions, “Universal Credit advances”, GOV.UK, 23rd October 2017,, retrieved 20th September 2019 

  19. This option appears to have been added at some point in 2018. See: “YouTube”, How to claim a Universal Credit advance online - YouTube, 5th July 2018, 

  20. Citizens Advice, “Going to your Universal Credit interview”, Citizens Advice website, 

  21. HM Government, “Universal Credit and your claimant commitment”, GOV.UK, 27th November 2019,