Does the payment of any Universal Credit - even just the housing costs element - count as a passported benefit for Legal Aid eligibility purposes?

This is an important question because if someone can demonstrate that they are in receipt of a "passported benefit" when completing a Legal Help form they do not have to give details of their income and outgoings. They can just tick the box saying that they are in receipt of a passported benefit.

Before Universal Credit was introduced there were a number of passported benefits including Income Support, income based Jobseeker's Allowance and income related Employment & Support Allowance. The last two benefits also had "contribution based" versions which were not passported. It was very often difficult to see whether the client was receiving the passported or non passported version of Employment & Support Allowance or Jobseeker's Allowance. It was common for the Legal Aid Agency to "nil assess" a claim for payment because the provider had not completed the full income section of the Legal Aid form and had not provided proof that the client was receiving the passported version of Employment & Support Allowance and Jobseeker's Allowance.

If you are still with me....it gets a bit more complex before we get to the answer...

Also in the old days people's housing costs were not paid through their main DWP benefit (Income Support, Employment & Support Allowance etc) but by the local authority via Housing Benefit.

Universal Credit replaced the above old benefits and also Housing Benefit for most applicants - see Moving to Universal Credit from other benefits for more details. This means that where you might once have received Employment & Support Allowance and Housing Benefit you now just get Universal Credit.

Where people are working and their income fluctuates their may be months where they themselves are paid zero by way of Universal Credit but their landlord still receives a payment from the DWP for the Universal Credit housing costs. This raises the question for Legal Aid case workers of whether the client is "in receipt of a passported benefit". Alarm bells as to a possible future nil assessment by the Legal Aid Agency start to ring when the client's bank statement shows no Universal Credit payment into their account during the one month assessment period. The good news is that as long as something is being paid, including by way of Universal Credit including payments of housing costs to the landlord the client is "in receipt of Universal Credit" and can be treated as receiving a passported benefit.

The Legal Aid guidance is not very clear on this but I have recently seen a response to a question from the Legal Aid Agency about this confirming that the payment of housing costs to the landlord will count as establishing that the client is in receipt of Universal Credit. The screenshot from the client's phone confirming what is being paid to the landlord will be sufficient proof.

This means that Universal Credit entitles a lot more people to be treated as receiving a passported benefit and means that Legal Aid case workers can spend less time worrying about carrying out income assessments for them.

I would recommend that Legal Aid suppliers ask their contract managers to confirm in writing that they agreement with the above and keep the response in a safe place if it is positive or leave a comment here if they get a negative response.

 

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