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Universal credit changes: Claimants must now seek 18 hours work

People claiming universal credit and working fewer than 18 hours a week will be expected to look for more work, after a change to the welfare system that starts on Monday.

Before now, claimants only had to work 15 hours.

The new rule is part of broader reforms to the welfare system that the government announced last month.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the rule change meant 180,000 people would have to work more.

The government was also “radically expanding” the support available to help people “on their journey off benefits”, said Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride.

But the charity Turn2Us urged the government to reconsider the policy, which it said could have a “drastic impact” on people with long-term health conditions, caring responsibilities or with irregular incomes.

The 18 hours a week – which is around half a full-time working week – applies to people earning the minimum wage. Someone earning more per hour can work fewer hours, as long as their total earnings meet the Administrative Earnings Threshold (AET) set by the government.

From Monday the AET will be £892, which is what you would earn in a month if you worked for 18 hours a week at the minimum wage.

If a claimant is earning less than the threshold they will be asked to look for more, or better paid, work.

If a couple is earning less than £1,437 between them, they will be expected to try to increase their earnings.

Claimants who earn less than the threshold will be given more “intensive” Jobcentre support, the DWP said, including more frequent meetings with a work coach.

If someone does not engage with the process, or take work that is available, they could lose some of their benefits.

The prime minister said the changes to the minimum hours requirement would help people on universal credit “progress towards financial independence, which is better for them and for economic growth”.

However, Michael Clarke, from Turn2Us, a charity which supports people in financial difficulty, expressed “serious concern” over the change.

“It’s vital that the support system truly supports, rather than penalises those it’s meant to help,” he said.

“These changes severely challenge those managing jobs with irregular or fluctuating incomes and carefully balanced responsibilities like childcare.

He said the system failed to allow for “the reality of those on the financial edge”.

“For single mothers and others on razor-thin margins, these adjustments risk tipping them into crisis, exacerbating financial instability and mental stress as they struggle to meet these new demands,” he said.

Last month Mr Sunak outlined his plans to reform the welfare system further, if the Conservatives win the next election.

He said welfare should not be “a lifestyle choice”. He plans to change the rules so that welfare recipients who do not take work, or try to meet the conditions set out, for a year would lose all of their benefits.

Mr Sunak also wants to tackle what he called the “sick note culture”, by changing the process for being certified as too ill to work. He plans to reform the payments system for people unable to work due to long-term physical or mental illness or disability.

Disability charities described the plans as “a full-on assault on disabled people”.