Universal credit: Digital (full) service
This page explains the digital service and what this means for new tax credit claims as well as for existing tax credit claimants
- What is a digital service area?
- Where are the current digital service areas?
- What are the current plans for further digital roll-out?
- What happens to live service claimants who live in areas that become digital?
- Digital service legislation and guidance
- Who can make a claim for UC in digital service areas?
- What UC rules are different in digital service areas?
- Claims for tax credits in digital service areas
- Existing tax credit claimants in digital service areas
A digital service area is one where the UC digital service has been rolled out.
In February 2013, the Major Projects Authority expressed concerns about the UC programme. This led to a ‘reset’ of UC and new plans to be formulated. This included a proposal to operate a ‘twin-track’ approach by running a live service system alongside a new digital system.
When UC began in April 2013, it used IT assets developed by private contract suppliers. These areas are known as live service areas and will continue to be rolled out to April 2016 in order to test and learn about processes and policy.
Alongside the live service areas, DWP have built their own digital service system which started in a small number of areas in November 2014. Between November 2014 and April 2016 DWP introduced further digital test areas (see the table below for a list of digital areas). From May 2016, the digital full service will expand so that eventually all live service areas become digital areas. Existing live service claimants will eventually be transferred to the digital service.
The current digital service areas are shown below. To find out the history of each of the postcodes listed you can use our roll-out PDF table.
|Postcode||Go live date||District||Details|
26 November 201428 January 2015
|No.28 relevant district||
The first digital area in Sutton was trialled between 26 November and 19 December 2014. It resumed taking claims under the digital service from 28 January 2015.
|SM6 7, SM6 8||18 March 2015||No.50 relevant district|
|10 June 2015||No.51 relevant district|
CR0 2SE1 5
4 November 2015
|No.52 relevant district|
SM5 1, SM5 3, SM5 9
2 December 2015
Further digital test roll-out
These postcodes were previously due to launch as part of the live service in April 2016.
TW3 1, TW3 4, TW4 6, TW4 7, TW5 0, TW7 4, TW7 5, TW7 6, TW7 9, TW8 0, TW8 1, TW8 8, TW8 9, TW13 4, TW13 5, TW13 7, TW13 9, TW14 0, TW14 9
SE1 0, SE1 1, SE1 2, SE1 3, SE1 4, SE1 6, SM1, SM2 6, SM4, TW3 2, TW3 3, TW4 5, TW5 9, TW7 7, TW13 6
|27 January 2016||Further digital test roll-out||The postcodes in bold were previously part of the live service. The other postcodes were due to launch as live service in April 2016.|
CRO 1, CR0 3, SM2 5, SM2 7, SM3 8, SM5 4, SM7 3
CR0 0, CR0 5, CR0 6, CR0 7, CR0 8, CR0 9, CR9, SE1 7, SE1 8, SE1 9, SE16 2, SE16 4, SE16 5, SE16 6, SE16 7, SE25 4, SE25 5, TW14 8
EH21, EH31, EH32, EH33, EH34, EH35, EH36, EH39, EH40, EH41, EH42
|23 March 2016.||Further digital test roll-out||
The postcodes in bold were previously due to launch as part of the live service in April 2016 but instead were changed to digital test areas from 23 March 2016.The postcodes in italics were previously part of the live service in district 37.
CR2, CR3 0, CR3 5, CR5, CR6, CR7, CR8, NR13 3, NR29, NR 30, NR 31, SE25 6
|27 April 2016||Further digital test roll-out||These postcodes were originally due to be part of the live service but instead became digital areas on 27 April 2016.|
CV21 1, CV21 2, CV21 3, CV21 4, CV21 9, CV22 5, CV22 6, CV22 7
BA1 0, BA1 1, BA1 2, BA1 3, BA1 4, BA1 5, BA1 6, BA1 7, BA2 0, BA2 1, BA2 2, BA2 3, BA2 4, BA2 5, BA2 6, BA2 9, BA3 2, BA3 3, BA3 9, BS31 1, BS31 3, BS31 9,
BS39 4, BS39 5, BS39 7
BA2 7, BA2 8, BA3 4, BS25 9, BS39 6, TA6, TA7 8, TA7 9, TA8, TA9
IP19 1, NR32, NR33, NR34 4
TA5, TA7 0
NE1, NE2, NE3 1, NE3 2, NE3 3, NE3 4, NE5 3, NE5 4, NE13 8, NE13 9
BA1 8, BA1 9, BS31 2, SN14 8
NE3 5, NE13 7, NE18
|25 May 2016||Digital (full) service expansion||These postcodes were previously part of the live service. Existing live service claimants will eventually be transferred to the digital full service.|
W6 0, W6 6, W6 7, W6 8, W6 9
IV1 1, IV1 3, IV1 9, IV2 3, IV2 4, IV2 5, IV2 6, IV2 7, IV3 5, IV3 8, IV4 7, IV5 7, IV8 8, IV9 8, IV10 8, IV11 8, IV12 4, IV12 5, IV12 9, IV13 7, IV21 2, IV22 2, IV26 2, IV54 8, IV63 6, IV63 7, PH19 1, PH20 1, PH21 1, PH22 1, PH23 3, PH24 3, PH25 3, PH26 3, PH26 9, PH32 4
HG1 1, HG1 2, HG1 3, HG1 4, HG1 5, HG1 9, HG2 0, HG2 7, HG2 8, HG2 9, HG3 1, HG3 2, HG3 3, HG3 4, HG4 1, HG4 2, HG4 3, HG4 9, HG5 0, HG5 5, HG5 8, HG5 9 ,LS17 0, Y051 9
HG3 5, HG4 5, Y017, Y018, Y060, Y062
DL9, DL10, DL11 6, HG4 4
|29 June 2016||Digital (full) service expansion||These postcodes were previously part of the live service. Existing live service claimants will eventually be transferred to the digital full service.|
W14 0, W14 4, W14 8, W14 9
WA7, WA8 0, WA8 2, WA8 3, WA8 6, WA8 7, WA8 8, WA8 9
LA1, LA2 0, LA2 6, LA2 9, LA3, LA4, LA5 8, LA5 9
BA3 5, BA4, BA5, BA6, BA11, BA16, BS27, BS28
|27 July 2016||Digital (full) service expansion||These postcodes were previously part of the live service. Existing live service claimants will eventually be transferred to the digital full service.|
WA8 4, WA8 5SE16 3, SE16 9, SE21, SE22
|5 Oct 2016||Digital (full service expansion)|
|BD23, BD24, DL6 1, DL6 3, DL6 2, DL7 0, DL7 7 to DL7 9, DL8 1, DL8 2, DL8 3 to DL8 5, DL8 9, LA2 7 and LA2 8, LA6 3, TS9 5, TS9 7, YO7, TA4 4, TA22, TA23, TA24, BD20 7 and BD20 8||12 October 2016||Digital (full service expansion)||These postcodes are currently part of the live service. Existing live service claimants will eventually be transferred to the digital full service at some point after the digital go live date.|
|SE5 0, SE5 5, SE11 9 and SE17||19 October 2016||Digital (full service expansion)||These postcodes are currently part of the live service. Existing live service claimants will eventually be transferred to the digital full service at some point after the digital go live date.|
|TA1, TA2, TA3 5 and TA3 6, TA3 7, TA4 1, TA4 2, TA4 3, TA10 0 and TA10 1, TA19, TA20 1 and TA20 2, TA20 3, TA20 4, TA20 9, TA21 0, TA21 1, TA21 8 and TA21 9||26 October 2016||Digital (full service expansion)||These postcodes are currently part of the live service. Existing live service claimants will eventually be transferred to the digital full service at some point after the digital go live date.|
|CA18, CA19, CA20, CA21, CA22, CA23, CA24, CA25, CA26, CA27, CA28, NN6 6 to NN6 8, NN11 0 to NN11 2, NN11 4, NN11 7 to NN11 9, NN7 4, NN11 3, NN11 6, G64 4, G64 9 and G66||2 November 2016||Digital (full service expansion)|
|CA7 1 to CA7 4, CA12, CA13, CA14, CA15, LE13, LE14 2, LE14 4, NG32 1, SE5 7 and SE5 8, SE15, LE14 3 and NG13 0||9 November 2016||Digital (full service expansion)|
|W12 2, W12 6 to W12 9, NW10 6, W12 0, PA11, PA13, PA14, PA15 1 to PA15 4, PA15 9, PA16, PA18 and PA19||23 November 2016||Digital (full service expansion)|
|SN1, SN2, SN3, SN5 1, SN5 6 and SN5 7, SN25 1, SN25 6, SN26, SN38, SN99, LE8 0, LE8 8 and LE8 9, LE17 6 and SN25 3 to SN25 5||30 November 2016||Digital (full service expansion)|
|TS24, TS25 1 to TS25 4, TS26, B95 6, B95 8, CV35 0, CV36, CV37 0 and CV37 1, CV37 6 and CV37 7, CV37 9, TS27 3, B95 5, CV35 9. B50, CV37 8, SW6, SW7 1 to SW7 3, SW3, SW5, SW7 4 and SW10||7 December 2016||Digital (full service expansion)|
|SN4, SN5 0, SN5 3 to SN5 5, SN5 8, SN6 7, SN25 2, TN31 6, TN31 9, TN32, TN33 0, TN34, TN35, TN36, TN37, TN38, SN6 6, TN33 3, TN33 9, TN5, TN19, TN31 7 and TN20||14 December 2016||Digital (full service expansion)|
Eventually, all live service areas will be replaced by digital (full) service and existing live service UC claimants will be transferred to the digital (full service) service. This has already started in some areas (see table above) and the digital service will continue to roll-out across Great Britain from May 2016 with a completion date of September 2018. Once that process is complete, from mid 2019, DWP will begin migrating all remaining existing benefit claimants to the full UC digital service with a view to completion in 2022. A separate process will be designed for those over state pension age who will move from tax credits to pension credit. However, until that happens, the two systems will run side by side. To further complicate matters, the UC rules are slightly different for digital claimants than for those who are in live service claimants.
DWP have published details of the Jobcentre areas that will become digital between May 2016 and March 2017 covering Phases 1 to 3 of the full digital service roll-out, and between April 2017 and September 2018 covering Phases 4 to 6.
The following postcodes will move from live service into digital full service from the dates shown below:
According to the latest publication from DWP, when a current live service area becomes a digital (full) service area, anyone currently claiming UC through the live service will eventually be migrated over into the digital full service. Originally, DWP announced that this would take place within the first 3 months of the area becoming digital, but our current understanding is that they are only testing the process in a small number of areas. We will update as soon as more information is available.
We will update this page when further information is known about the process that will be used to transfer claimants from live to digital service.
The conditions for claiming UC in digital areas were introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.20 and Transitory provisions and commencement No.9 and transitional and transitory provisions) (Amendment) Order 2014. This covered the first phase of digital claims in SM5 2 between 26 November 2014 and 20 December 2014.
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.21 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions) Order 2015 took effect for claims in SM5 2 from 28 January 2015.
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.23 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions) Order 2015 extended the number of digital areas starting from 18 March 2015 (See table above).
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.25 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions) Order 2015 extended the digital areas once again from 2 December 2015 (See table above).
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.26 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions and Commencement No.22, 23 and 24 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Modification)) Order 2016 extended the digital areas once again from 27 January 2016 and 24 February 2016.
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.27 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions and Commencement No.22, 23 and 24 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Modification)) Order 2016 extended the digital areas from 23 March 2016 and 27 April 2016
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.13,14,16,19,22,23 and 24 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Modification)) Order 2016 starts the digital full expansion for 25 May 2016, 29 June and 27 July 2016
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.19,22,23 and 24 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Modification)) Order 2016 sets out the digital full expansion for 5, 12, 19 and 26 October 2016, 2, 9 and 23 November 2016 and 7 and 14 December 2016.
Two other key pieces of legislation amended the existing UC rules for digital areas:
- Universal Credit (Digital Service) Amendment Regulations 2014
- Universal Credit (Surpluses and Self-employed Losses) (Digital Service) Amendment Regulations 2015 (Note: These regulations were due to come into force in 6 April 2016 but have now been postponed by SI 215/2016 to April 2017and again to April 2018 following a DWP announcement in July 2016)
DWP guidance – Memo ADM 26/14 sets out the changes made by the Digital Service Amendment Regulations.
See also ADM’s 2/15, 8/15, 22/15 1/16, 10/16 and 14/16 available on GOV.UK.
Any person who resides in a digital service area postcode is eligible to make a claim for UC (however they may not necessarily be entitled to UC). If UC is then awarded they become known as a ‘digital service claimant’.
There is an exception to this where a person has provided incorrect information about their postcode. Broadly this means that if the UC claim has been decided and a payment made, the claimant stays in UC.
Note that on 20 July 2016, DWP announced that in order to help the implementation of the new two child policy for tax credits and universal credit, all direct new claims from families with more than two children would be to tax credits rather than UC until November 2018. No further detail is available, but it is possible that the rules for digital service areas may be amended to accommodate this change. We will update as soon as further information is available.
Between 26 November 2014 and 9 June 2015, there was also a requirement to meet the ‘specified condition’ in digital service areas. The specified condition was that the claimant was a British Citizen who:
- Had lived in the UK throughout the period of 2 years ending with the date the UC claim was made and
- had not during that period left the UK for a continuous period of 4 or more weeks
Claims for UC based on incorrect information
Where a claimant gives incorrect information about living in a digital postcode and this is not discovered until after a decision has been made about their UC claim and at least one payment is made then they will remain entitled to UC.
If this incorrect information is discovered before the award of UC is made, the claimant will be informed they are not entitled to UC. If they then make a claim for WTC or CTC within one month of being told they are not entitled to UC, their tax credit claim will be treated as made on the date that the claim for UC was made. Similar rules apply where an award of UC is made but no payment is made. In that case the UC claim ceases to have effect immediately.
As well as having different conditions about who is eligible to claim, the main UC rules are also slightly different to those in live service areas.
The differences outlined here apply to anyone who is designated a ‘digital service claimant’. This is defined by DWP as a person who has become entitled to an award of UC
(a) By reference to residence in a digital area postcode (see table above)
(b) By forming a couple with a claimant who was previously awarded UC when they lived in a relevant district
(c) By forming a couple with a claimant who was awarded UC as in paragraph (b) or
(d) By forming a couple with a claimant who was awarded UC as in paragraph (c)
The differences also apply to any Live Service awards of UC made to:
- Joint claimants where a previous award of UC ended on formation of the couple or a single claimant, where a previous award of UC ended when a couple separated AND
- Either member of the couple is a digital service claimant
DWP guidance (ADM 26/14) gives the following example of how this works in practice:
Moira lives in relevant district No.28 (a digital area). She is awarded UC as a single claimant when she becomes unemployed. Moira joins her partner Alex, who is also unemployed and entitled to UC, and lives in relevant district No.20 (a live service area). They are awarded UC as joint claimants. Later, Moira leaves the household and is entitled to UC as a single claimant. Alex is joined by a new partner, Laura, and they are entitled to UC as joint claimants. Moira, Alex and Laura are all digital service claimants.
This means that Alex and Laura become digital service claimants even though they live in a live service area. Alex becomes a digital claimant because of his relationship with Moira (under (b) above). Laura becomes a digital claimant because of her relationship with Alex (under (c). This is likely to cause a great deal of confusion.
There are differences in relation to childcare costs, assessment periods, re-claims and calculation of unearned income. ADM 26/14 explains these differences in more detail. From April 2018 (postponed from April 2016), new rules in relation to surplus earnings and self-employed losses will also apply to digital service claimants as outlined above.
For claimants who move from or to a digital service area see our moving area section.
The general rule is that a person may not make a claim for tax credits (whether or not as part of a couple for tax credits purposes) on any date if, had they made a claim for UC on the same date, they would have been eligible to claim UC. This means that people living in a digital area postcode will no longer be able to make a claim for tax credits (unless one of the exceptions below applies).
In this context, a claim for tax credits is made on the date on which the claimant takes action under specified legislation which results in a claim being required. It is irrelevant that under TC legislation the claim is made or treated as made on an earlier date.
This means it is the date that HMRC receive the tax credit claim form that is relevant when considering whether the person would have been entitled to UC on that same date. It takes no account of potential backdating which means the normal one month backdating as well as longer backdating for refugees and those who qualify for the disability element (in some cases).
Exceptions to the general rule
There are some exceptions to the general rule:
1. For those who have reached state pension credit age and who live in a digital area, tax credit claims can still be made by:
(a) A person who has reached the qualifying age for state pension credit
(b) A tax credits act couple where both members or one member has reach state pension credit age
(c) Where (a) does not apply, a person who is a member of a State Pension Credit Act couple where the other member of the couple has reached state pension credit age
2. Where a person (or couple) makes a claim for CTC or WTC and on the date that they claim he or she (or they) is or are already entitled to WTC or CTC respectively. This protects existing tax credit claimants, for example a couple who are claiming CTC and want to start work can add WTC to their claim. (See our section on treating people as entitled to tax credits to find out the meaning of the term ‘entitled’ for this purpose.
3. Where a person (or couple) was entitled to tax credits in respect of a tax year and that person (or couple) makes or is treated as making a claim for tax credits for the next tax year. Tax credit claims only last a maximum of one tax year. This exception protects people who renew their claims, which in effect is the same as making a brand new tax credit claim. See our section on treating people as entitled to tax credits to find out the meaning of the term ‘entitled’ for this purpose.
4. From 18 March 2015, the general rule does not apply where the person is prevented from making a claim for Universal Credit. See ADM M3 (M3003). This is where the Secretary of State may determine not to accept any particular claims for UC temporarily in order to safeguard the efficient administration of UC or to ensure the effective testing of systems for the administration of UC. This power was introduced by SI 1626/2014.
The claim process
If a claimant in a digital area makes a claim for tax credits (by sending in a TC600 claim form), HMRC will consider their claim and if they think the person should claim UC instead they will issue a letter TC601U. They will do this where the person lives in a digital area postcode and they (or their partner) have not reached state pension credit age. This letter states that the person does not qualify for tax credits because they live in a postcode where UC must be claimed, however as it is a decision under Section 14 Tax Credits Act 2002, it does carry normal tax credit appeal rights.
Existing tax credit claimants are currently unaffected by the roll-out of UC. Their awards of tax credits will continue at present until DWP introduce rules to migrate those people across to UC. DWP current plans are to migrate remaining tax credit claimants to UC from July 2019 to March 2022.
At present, existing tax credit claimants will only be affected if they either choose to move to UC, they have a change that ends their tax credit award or they need to make a claim for another legacy benefit:
There appears to be nothing stopping an existing tax credits claimant from choosing to claim UC in a digital area. If an existing tax credit claimant makes a claim for UC and DWP believe they meet the basic conditions for UC (except the claimant commitment), their tax credits award will end automatically. It is therefore important that claimants do not make a mistake and try and claim UC – if they do then our understanding is that their tax credits award will be terminated automatically and they will not be able to re-claim tax credits because they live in a digital area. See our tax credits and UC section for more information.
Although the legislation works in such a way as to bring a tax credits award to an end when a UC claim is made, and the process between DWP and HMRC is such that there should be notification to HMRC to end the tax credits claim, we would advise that claimants report the situation to HMRC in case the process breaks down.
Tax credit claimants will need to seek advice from a welfare rights specialist before deciding to make a claim to UC. Some people will be better off under UC than existing legacy benefits, but many people will be worse off financially and UC claimants are subject to conditionality rules that tax credits claimants are not.
As a general rule you cannot be entitled to tax credits and UC at the same time. The only exception to this is during the first assessment period for UC after two people become a couple and the tax credit award of the ‘new claimant partner’ terminates after the first date of entitlement to UC. This is because in such a case UC rules may treat the claim as made at an earlier date than the TC termination date.
In this situation, if a claim for UC is made (or is treated as having been made) and the person (or persons) meet the basic conditions for UC (except for the claimant commitment requirement) then all awards of tax credits for which there is entitlement (on the date of the UC claim) will terminate on:
- The date before the first date on which the claimant is entitled to UC in connection with the claim; or
- If the claimant is not entitled to UC, on the day before the first date on which he or she would have been so entitled, if all of the basic and financial conditions applicable to the claimant had been met
This will be the case even if under Tax Credits legislation the award would terminate on a later day. See our section on treating people as making a tax credits claim for situations where someone would treated as entitled to tax credits under UC legislation.
Where a tax credit claim ends because of a change of circumstances – for example a couple separating or a single person forming a couple or a WTC only claimant who loses their job, then in order to continue receiving support, they will need to claim UC unless one of the exceptions above applies.
Where a single tax credit claimant (the new claimant partner for UC purposes) forms a couple with an existing UC claimant, the new claimant partner will have their tax credit award terminated for the current tax year on:
- The day before the first date on which the joint claim for UC starts OR
- If they are not entitled to UC, the day before the first date on which they would have been entitled if they had met all of the basic and financial conditions applicable to them.
If an existing tax credit claimant in a digital postcode has a change of circumstances that means they need to make a claim for income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support or housing benefit then they will need to claim UC instead because those benefits are no longer available in digital postcode areas. This means that their tax credits award will come to end automatically once they have submitted a claim UC and DWP are satisfied they meet the basic conditions for UC.
Examples of situations where this may happen include:
- Where a WTC and CTC claimant loses their job and needs to claim income based JSA – under the old system, WTC would stop and CTC would continue and the claimant would make a claim for income based JSA. However, under the new digital area rules, the person would need to claim UC to access out of work support and their CTC claim will end as a result.
- Where a tax credit claimant has a fall in income, so that they need to claim housing benefit to get some help with their rent. Under the old system, a claim for housing benefit would be made and the income fall reported to HMRC who would (if the fall was big enough) adjust the tax credit claim. However, under the new digital area rules, the person would need to claim UC to access help with their rent and so their WTC and CTC claim would end as a result.
Updated 16 January 2017