The conditions for claiming Universal Credit are set out in a "claimant commitment" that most people will have to accept at the beginning of their claim. If you are part of a couple, you will each have a separate claimant commitment that may be different from each other's.
People who may not need to accept a commitment include those who lack capacity, those who have exceptional circumstances where it would be unreasonable to expect them to agree a commitment (this is decided by the work coach on a case by case basis). From 15 February 2022 people with a terminal illness and less than 6 months to live were also excluded, and from 4 April 2023 this was extended to 12 months.
There are 4 conditionality groups:
- Group 1. No work related requirements
- Group 2. Work-focused interview requirement
- Group 3. Work preparation requirement
- Group 4. All work-related requirements
Group 1. No work related requirements
- People who have a limited capability for work related activity because of health or disability (the equivalent in Universal Credit of the support group for ESA)
- Lone parents with a child under one
- The lead carer of a child in couple with a child under one (the other member of the couple will be placed into their own group)
- Adopters who have had a child placed with them within the last 12 months (you can ask that the 12 months begin up to 14 days before the placement)
- Foster carers responsible for a child aged under one
- Carers with regular and substantial caring responsibilities, ie 35 hours or more a week, for a severely disabled person
- Those who are earning above their individual earnings threshold (which will be if your gross earnings exceed your appropriate national minimum/living wage rate times 35, or the number of hours agreed as appropriate for you). If you are self-employed and have the minimum income floor imposed you will treated as meeting your individual earnings threshold.
Group 2. Work-focused interview only requirement
- Lone parents whose youngest child is aged 1
- The lead carer in a couple whose youngest child is aged 1. The other member of the couple will also be placed in to their own group.
- Foster carer responsible for a child aged 1 (or over 1 in some cases if the child has care needs)
- Foster carer who has been in this group within the last 8 weeks, is not currently caring for a child but intends to again
- Became a friend or family carer within the last 12 months
This group will be expected to attend appointments to discuss their plans for returning to work.
A sanction may be applied to your UC award if you fail to attend an appointment. This sanction may be imposed for a period until you meet the compliance condition that you failed, or for up to 26 weeks.
Group 3. Work preparation requirement
- Those who because of health or disability have a limited capacity for work, ie the equivalent of the work related group for ESA
- Lone parents whose youngest child is aged 2
- The lead carer in a couple whose youngest child is aged 2. The other member of the couple will be placed in to their own group.
This group will be expected to take reasonable steps to prepare for work, such as attending a skills assessment, preparing a CV, participating in training or an employment programme, and undertaking work experience or a work placement.
A sanction may be applied to your Universal Credit award if you fail to undertake work-related activity. This sanction may be imposed for a period until you meet the compliance condition that you failed, or for up to 26 weeks.
Group 4. All work-related requirements
Anyone not mentioned above is included in this group.
This group will be subject to a work search requirement and work availability requirement, as they would under Jobseeker's Allowance.
Personal advisers will be able to order "Mandatory Work Activity" - a full-time work placement for four weeks. A severe sanction can be imposed if this is not attended without good cause.
A higher level sanction may be applied to the Universal Credit award for failure (with no good reason) to comply with the requirement to prepare or apply for work; take up an offer of paid work; or ceasing work voluntarily or through misconduct. This sanction could result in a reduction of your Universal Credit award, for up to a maximum of 26 weeks (this timeframe dropped to 26 weeks from 3 years for new and existing sanctions from 27 November 2019), depending on the number and regularity of such failures.
The expectation is that when in work (as an employee) most people in this group will earn at least the equivalent of 35 hours at National Minimum/Living Wage. This is known as the 'individual earnings threshold'. So if you earn the minimum wage then you will be expected to work for at least 35 hours a week. But note that if you earn above minimum wage you could be lifted above your earnings threshold but work less than 35 hours - the threshold is measured in terms of earnings not hours.
From 25 October 2023, if you are the main carer for a child aged between 3 and 12 your 'individual earnings threshold' will be based on 30 hours a week and not 35 hours.
Prior to this date this group had been able to ask for reasonable adjustments to their claimant commitment, including to the expected number of work hours, which were 16 hours a week for main carers of 3 and 4-year-olds and 25 hours a week for main carers of 5 to 12-year-olds. Discuss the change with your work coach if you are affected.