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Mixed age couples: IR-ESA to UC

The changes for mixed age couples - couples where one is working age and the other is pension age - which were introduced back in May 2019 have thrown up a lot of issues and queries.

The changes prevent 'unprotected' mixed age couples from being able to make a new claim for Pension Credit or Housing Benefit under the pension age HB regulations.

There are many different issues to consider - depending on the situation you are dealing with. We have had several queries about.... 

Working age couples who have been claiming Income Related ESA - what happens when the older member turns pension age and they become a mixed age couple?

The answer depends on which of them is the main claimant of ESA... 

Younger member is the main ESA claimant.
If the younger member of the couple is the main ESA claimant, then the fact that their partner has turned pension age does not automatically terminate the ESA award. 
Whilst the older member of the couple will start to receive their State Pension and possibly other pension income too, which would be taken into account when their ESA entitlement is calculated, the ESA calculation should be more generous, as it should now include a Pensioner Premium.
If they remain entitled to Income Related ESA, taking into account their pension income, then their working age Housing Benefit should remain in payment too!
But if the amount of pension income is high enough to mean that they no longer qualify for any ESA, it would terminate, as would any Housing Benefit (they cannot have working age HB without the ESA claim and working age HB cannot turn into pension age HB).
If there is no entitlement to ESA, they could check for possible entitlement to UC - although this would be unlikely if they do not qualify for ESA.
More on this here.

Older member is the main ESA claimant.
If the older member of the couple is the main ESA claimant, then there is some very important advice for claimants before the older one turns pension age....

Their ESA claim will terminate automatically when they turn pension age. Their HB will terminate too - it cannot change from working age to pension age HB. 
Many couples find that this happens unexpectedly. The older member starts to receive their pension, and they might expect their ESA to end, but they were not expecting their HB to stop too!

Their only option as a top-up to any pension (and other) income would be Universal Credit. If they know what their pension and other income will be on reaching pension age, you could use our UC calculator to check if they are likely to be entitled.

Will their Work Related Activity Group / Support Group status transfer over from ESA to UC?
This can only happen if they make their claim for UC before the older member reaches pension age.
And following a recent query - we think that leaving it until a day or two before turning pension age to claim UC could cause problems and delays.

The WRAG / Support Group status can only transfer over to UC where ESA is terminated because a claim for UC has been made, not where ESA has ended for any other reason.
So, if a claimant waits until they reach pension age, their ESA will terminate due to them reaching pension age. If they then claim UC - their WRAG/Support Group status cannot transfer over. That would mean that - if they had been getting paid the Work Related Activity Component in ESA, they would miss out on the Limited Capability for Work Element (£126.11 per month), or if they had been getting the Support Component in ESA, they would have to have a new Work Capability Assessment and even if found to have a Limited Capability for Work Related Activities , they would miss out on the Limited Capability for Work Related Activities Element (£336.20 per month) for the first 4 months of the award - due to them having to serve the 'relevant period'.

If they claim UC just one or two days before they turn pension age, whilst the Regulations state that their WRAG/Support Group status should transfer over to UC... in practice there could be problems. The ESA dept might not be notified of the UC claim having been made until after the claimant has turned pension age. And the ESA computer system will therefore show that the ESA terminated  due to the claimant having reached pension age. The claimant would then need to get the ESA dept to note that ESA terminated earlier - due to the UC claim. So it could take a while to get this matter sorted out.
For this reason (assuming they have checked that they will be entitled to UC) it would perhaps be better for them to make the UC claim a little earlier, perhaps a week or so before reaching pension age. 

More on this here.