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8 ways to get discounts and freebies if you’re on Universal Credit or benefits

7 min read

FAMILIES on benefits or Universal Credit struggling to make their cash stretch until payday may be able to get extra discounts on things like travel, broadband and access to their local leisure centre.

Millions of people relying on the welfare state will be claiming Universal Credit but it’s not just those on the new system that are entitled to more help.

If you’re claiming benefits then you might be entitled to extra discounts

Universal Credit is the Government’s new benefits scheme which rolls six payments, including Housing Benefit and Child Tax Credit, into one.

But it’s leaving thousands worse off, partly because of a five-week wait for their first payment which is why The Sun is calling for it to be slashed to two weeks as part of the Make Universal Credit Work campaign.

But some people may not have been rolled onto the new scheme yet and instead will still be applying for payments separately.

The same goes for disability benefits such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Disability Living Allowance which aren’t covered by Universal Credit.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the old or new system you are entitled to extra discounts to help your money go further. Here’s what you can get and how to apply:

Half price rail fare

Unemployed workers can get up to 50 per cent off train travel with a specialised railcard.

People on benefits who are looking for a job can get half price rail fare

The Job Centre Plus Travel Discount card halves railfares for Anytime Day tickets, Off Peak Day tickets and three-month season tickets acrsoss all operating services for those who are actively looking for work.

There are two cards available – one for those aged between 18 and 24 and another for those who are 25-years-old and older – and you must have been claiming JSA or Universal Credit for at least three months.

If you’re claiming other benefits too such as Incapacity Benefit or Income Support and are making an effort to look for work then you might also be entitled to the railcard.

To apply, you’ll need to speak to your work adviser at your local Job Centre Plus.

Discounted BT phone and broadband

If you are claiming Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Pension Credit, ESA or Universal Credit, you might be entitled to a BT Basic low-cost phone and broadband package.

It comes with a price cap to help you budget and a set amount of internet access for web browsing and downloads.

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 pay out.

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 to help with 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 or be entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments if your payments aren’t enough to 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 Trussel Trust website.

You must be a BT customer. If you are not, you can get connected for free, and the phone and broadband package costs around £9.95 per month.

The next cheapest package is £25 so you could slash your bills by more than £15.

Up to 75 per cent off a pass 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, Midlothian council offers up to 75 per cent off an annual membership card, while Brighton and Hove slashes prices by 40 per cent on a six-monthly pass.

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.

Get a discount on your bus pass or travelcard

Your bus operator may offer a discount for those claiming benefits and looking for work.

For example, Transport for London lets you buy an adult seven day, monthly or longer (up to three months) bus pass or Travelcard for a child rate.

Normally, a weekly bus pass for an adult costs £21.20 whereas a pass for a 16-year-old costs £14.80 a week.

The Sun wants to Make Universal Credit Work

UNIVERSAL Credit replaces six benefits with a single monthly payment.

One million people are already receiving it and by the time the system is fully rolled out in 2023, nearly 7 million will be on it.

But there are big problems with the flagship new system – it takes 5 weeks to get the first payment and it could leave some families worse off by thousands of pounds a year.

And while working families can claim back up to 85 per cent of their childcare costs, they must find the money to pay for childcare upfront – we’ve heard of families waiting up to 6 months for the money.

Working parents across the country told us they’ve been unable to take on more hours – or have even turned down better paid jobs or more hours because of the amount they get their benefits cut.

It’s time to Make Universal Credit work. We want the government to:

  1. Get paid faster: The Government must slash the time Brits wait for their first Universal Credit payments from five to two weeks, helping stop 7 million from being pushed into debt.
  2. Keep more of what you earn: The work allowance should be increased and the taper rate should be slashed from 63p to 50p, helping at least 4 million families.
  3. Don’t get punished for having a family: Parents should get the 85 per cent of the money they can claim for childcare upfront instead of being paid in arrears.

Together, these changes will help Make Universal Credit Work.

Join our Universal Credit Facebook group or email [email protected] to share your story.

Exactly how much you save will vary depending on the bus operator.

Not all services offer reduced fares to people on benefits but it’s worth talking to your local bus company to see what they can offer.

Free school meals

If you’re claiming certain benefits including Universal Credit, JSA and Child Tax Credit then your child might be entitled to free school meals.

You will need to apply through your local authority so that they can apply for extra funding from the Government, while some councils ask you to contact the school directly.

Simply click here and type in your postcode to be redirected to your local council’s website and apply.

Up to £150 free cash for school uniforms

How much you can get towards paying for your children’s school uniforms and footwear depends on where you live, with struggling families in England entitled to up to £150 from their local authorities.

Parents in Scotland get at least £100 per child after the Scottish Government set a standard level to avoid the postcode lottery.

In Wales, the Government provides a one-off school uniform grant up to the value of £125 for pupils who are entering year seven and are claiming free school meals.

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, the education authority pays a uniform grant of between £22 and £56 to pupils on free school meals.

As a general rule, those on Income Support, Universal Credit, JSA, Child Tax Credit, ESA, State Pension and support under Part IV of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 are entitled to help.

You may also be eligible if your annual income is less than £16,190, while some councils only provide grants to children who get free school meals.

To apply, you will need to put in your post code on the GOV.UK website here which will direct you to your council’s website, where you should search for “Uniform grant” in the “Education” section to find out what help is available in your area.

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.

Discount on your council tax

If you claim benefits you may be able to apply for your council tax to be reduced – in some cases, it can be reduced by 100 per cent.

Each council runs it’s own scheme so the exact discount varies depending on your local authority.

You will need to provide details on your income, your household income, the number of children you have, what benefits you receive and your residency status.

The council will also need to know whether your children live with you and how many adults live with you.

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