Universal credit: Live service areas

This page explains the live service and what it means for new tax credit claims as well as for existing tax credit claimants.

What is a live service area?
Who can claim in live service areas?
Current gateway conditions
Claims for UC based on incorrect information
Claims for tax credits in live service areas
Existing tax credit claimants in live service areas
Transferring from live service to digital service

What is a live service area?

When UC started in April 2013, the IT system used was developed by private contractors. Following a programme ‘reset’, DWP decided to build their own digital IT system that would run alongside the existing system. Areas using the original system are known as ‘live service areas’.

All UC areas will be live service areas unless they are a designated digital area. Live service areas continued to roll-out until April 2016 in order to test and learn processes and policy. From May 2016, live service areas will gradually become digital (full) service areas and all existing live service claimants will be transferred to the digital IT system. 

It is important to understand whether an area is a live service area or digital service area because the main UC rules are different between the two. In addition, some areas that are currently live service will be changed to digital service at some point in the future and advisers will need to understand the process for transferring between the two systems.

Who can claim in live service areas?

Only claimants who meet the ‘gateway conditions’ in place for that area are eligible to make a claim for UC. If the person meets the gateway conditions and lives in a postcode that is accepting UC claims, then they are able to submit a claim. However the gateway conditions should not be confused with the entitlement conditions of UC. Even if a person meets the gateway conditions, it does not mean they will necessarily be entitled to UC. We explain the main entitlement conditions for UC in our Universal Credit section.

Gateway conditions were introduced from 16 June 2014 (prior to that date pathfinder conditions applied). However, they have changed a number of times since that date. To add further complexity, the gateway conditions vary from postcode to postcode.

In the majority of live service areas, claims can only be made by single, childless jobseekers who meet other strict conditions. However in some live service areas, claims can be made by couples and families with children who meet other strict conditions.

We have produced a PDF roll-out document that explains which gateway conditions apply to each postcode.

As with the digital service area, there is a general power that states 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 ensure the effective testing of systems for the administration of UC.

Current gateway conditions

If a claimant lives in relevant districts No.1 to No.28, then the gateway conditions in this document will apply at the date of claim. These districts accept claims from couples and families with children (subject to some exceptions).

If the claimant lives in any other relevant district (except those designated as digital areas) then the gateway conditions in this document will apply at the date of claim.

The date of claim for UC is normally the date it is received or if later, the first day for which the claim is made. Where a couple is treated as having made a claim for UC, the date on which the claim is treated as having been made is the date they form the couple. More information can be found in DWP ADM Chapter A2.

You can read more detail about the gateway conditions in ADM Chapter M3.

Claims for UC based on incorrect information

Where a claimant gives incorrect information about living in one of the relevant districts or meeting the gateway conditions and this is not discovered until after a decision has be made 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.

Claims for tax credits in live service areas

If a person meets the gateway conditions in a live service area that is accepting UC claims, then they can claim UC.

Our understanding of the current rules is that there is an element of choice, so that if someone meets the gateway conditions but would rather claim tax credits then they can do so. There is nothing stopping HMRC from accepting a tax credit claim from someone living in a live service area who meets the gateway conditions. That same choice does not exist with all legacy benefits – for example where the gateway conditions are satisfied a claim for UC or Jobseekers Allowance or Employment and Support allowance results in the abolition of income-based JSA and income-related ESA for that claimant so they can’t be claimed instead of UC.

The general rule is that a claimant is not entitled to tax credits for any period where they are entitled to UC. 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.

Existing tax credit claimants in live service areas

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. Existing claimants will only be affected if they either choose to move to UC or they have a change that ends their tax credit award:

Choosing to move to UC

There is nothing stopping a tax credits claimant from choosing to claim UC providing they meet the relevant gateway conditions. Entitlement to WTC or CTC is not listed as one of the restrictions in the gateway conditions.

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. 

However, 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 the all awards of tax credits for which there is entitlement (on the date of the UC claim) will terminate on:

This will be the case even if under Tax Credits legislation the award would terminate on a later day.

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.

Moving due to a change of circumstances

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 if the gateway conditions are met the person can claim UC.

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:

Transferring from live service to digital service

According to a publication from DWP, when a current live service area becomes a digital (full) service area, anyone currently claiming UC through the live service will be migrated onto the full digital service over the first three months.

A few live service areas became digital areas between January and April 2016 in order to test the transfer process. From May 2016 to mid 2018 the remaining live service areas will become digital areas.

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. 

Updated 6 March 2017