A 'mixed age couple' is where one member of the couple is working age and their partner is Pension Credit age.
The Government wants 'mixed age' couples to claim Universal Credit.
However at the moment 'mixed age' couples living in a 'Full'/Digital Service area have a choice: they can claim Universal Credit or they can claim Pension Credit / HB etc instead.
This is because the Government has not yet 'closed off' Pension Credit/Housing Benefit to 'mixed age' couples.
However, the DWP announced in August 2017 that there would be changes to the Regulations to come into force in September 2019 - which means that from that date mixed age couples will not be able to claim Pension Credit or Housing Benefit and will have to claim Universal Credit.
If they have a choice which should a mixed age couple claim - Pension Credit/Housing Benefit or Universal Credit?
Generally, a 'mixed age' couple will be better off on the legacy benefit system ie claiming Pension Credit, Housing Benefit etc.
This is because:
- When working out how much a mixed age couple needs to live on - it is over £100 per week less under Universal Credit.
- The younger member may be subject to work search conditions under Universal Credit.
- Unlike the legacy benefit rules - which work from the older member's age, these 'mixed age' couples on Universal Credit will be subject to the Universal Credit rules - therefore subject to the social housing Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap when their Universal Credit claim is assessed.
- On Pension Credit and / or HB, they may be entitled to premiums they are not entitled to under UC eh the severe disability premium.
- They may lose support linked to Pension Credit such as cheaper utilities, maximum Council Tax Support (for people on Guarantee Pension Credit) etc.
However, some 'mixed age' couples may be better off on Universal Credit, so 'better off' calculations need to be done.
Jill and Ben are a couple, aged 61 and 66 respectively. They are married and live in a two bedroom property which they own outright i.e. no mortgage outstanding. Jill finishes work and goes to the local Jobcentre where she claims UC as they have no income other than Ben’s £90 a week State Pension. Their Maximum UC is £498.89 per month and they are awarded around £114 a month in UC (their Max UC is reduced by Ben's state pension and as unearned income is calculated on a daily rate, their award fluctuates). Jill is also having to seek work as a condition of their claim.
Ben is later on advised that he another option would be to claim Pension Credit (PC)instead. He gets a better off calculation done, and decides to close down his UC award and he submits a claim for PC and HB instead (because Ben is already PC age – PC can be backdated so ideally they need to end UC claim ASAP rather than wait until the end of their MAP).
On Pension Credit their applicable amount is £248.80 a week meaning that, after taking Ben's state pension into account, they are entitled to £158.80 a week Pension Credit – the equivalent of £688.13 a month (not to mention no conditionality for Jill, and that they are likely to get more Council Tax Support and cold weather payments etc)
Is there anything we can do now?
Couples already on Pension Credit will not be moved onto Universal Credit - they will be able to stay on Pension Credit. We have designed a leaflet to encourage the take up of Pension Credit for mixed age couples.
For the leaflet click here. A couple like Cathy and John in the leaflet could lose over £150+ a week if they believe that they have to claim Universal Credit instead of Pension Credit/Housing Benefit.
What if they come off Pension Credit?
If they claim Pension Credit but their claim comes to an end for some reason - for example they might inherit some money, and then they need to claim financial assistance again sometime in the future after claims for Pension Credit from mixed aged couples have been closed ie after Sept 2019 - then if the younger member of the couple is still of working age, the new claim would be for Universal Credit.
What if they decided on UC and the younger member becomes Pension Credit Age?
They are then no longer eligible for Universal Credit and will have to claim Pension Credit (and Housing Benefit) as a couple and the Universal Credit claim will come to an end - to avoid any gap in benefits they should make an advance claim for Pension Credit.
What happens if a Universal Credit claimant becomes a couple with someone of Pension Credit Age?
If a Universal Credit claimant becomes a member of a couple with someone on Pension Credit, or who is Pension Credit age, they will have a choice between claiming Universal Credit or Pension Credit as a couple. In most cases, Pension Credit will be the better option, but they should seek specialist advice about this, ideally before they move in together.
If they decide to claim Universal Credit, the single UC award will convert to a couple claim from the beginning of the Monthly Assessment Period during which they moved in together. So, if they moved in together part-way through the Monthly Assessment Period, they will become joint UC claimants from the start of that Monthly Assessment Period - ie from before they actually moved in together. If the older member was claiming Pension Credit, their entitlement to PC would end on the day before they became a UC claimant. This means there is likely to be an overpayment of Pension Credit. If the older member of the couple is leaving their rented property to move in with the younger member, their Housing Benefit will come to an end on the Sunday after they move out. If the younger member is moving in with the older member, any HB paid for any days covered by their first UC Monthly Assessment Period as a couple will be taken into account as unearned income when their UC is calculated.
However, it is likely that the better option would be to add the younger partner onto the Pension Credit claim instead, or make a new claim for Pension Credit as a couple. It is important that they time carefully when they move in together – ie when to withdraw the UC claim. This is because if the UC claimant notifies the DWP that they wish to withdraw their UC claim part way through their Monthly Assessment Period, they will lose the whole month’s award. See here for more information. If the Pension Credit age partner has moved in with the partner who has been claiming UC, then a claim for Housing Benefit will also be needed.
If a mixed age couple are already claiming UC as a couple, but want to swap to Pension Credit instead, it is still possible to withdraw their UC claim, ie. escape the lobster pot.
NOTE: The DWP have indicated that from September 2019 mixed age couples will need to claim Universal Credit if they are not already getting Pension Credit – whether this restriction will just apply to new claims or will also prevent Pension Credit claimants from adding a working age partner to their Pension Credit claim we do not know yet.