Many thousands of households across the UK will be affected by changes to the benefits system from April 2013, all part of government plans for the biggest shake-up of the welfare system for decades.
Government ministers argued that the changes were necessary to tackle the rising cost to the taxpayer and cut the budget deficit. They also said it would simplify the system and provide greater incentives for people to work.
However, charities and opposition politicians say the moves will force families into rent arrears and increase homelessness, amongst other side effects.
Universal credit – which applies to England, Scotland and Wales – will replace such existing benefits as Income Support, Tax Credits, Housing Benefit and Jobseekers Allowance.
The Government estimates that 3.1 million households will be entitled to more benefits as a result of universal credit. Some 2.8 million households will be entitled to less, but will receive a top-up payment to protect them from a drop in income. New claimants will receive the lower payment.
Across all households, ministers say there will be an average gain of £16 per month.
The transition to Universal Credit will take place in three phases over four years, between 2013 and 2017.