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Preparing for your Universal Credit interview

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

If you want to speak to someone about changes to benefits, you can phone the independent welfare changes helpline for free on 0808 802 0020 or contact your local Citizens Advice.

You'll need to go to an interview at a Jobcentre to finish your application - this is sometimes called a ‘work search interview’ or ‘claimant commitment interview’.

The interview will be with a member of staff who'll become your 'work coach' while you’re getting Universal Credit. You’ll meet your work coach regularly - they should support you and help you find a job.

If you're in a couple you'll do separate interviews.

The purpose of the interview is to:

  • check you are who you say you are
  • help you understand how Universal Credit works and what will happen next
  • come up with a plan to improve your work situation - eg to get training or find a job
  • arrange what you have to do in return for getting Universal Credit - eg how many hours you need to spend looking for work - this is called your ‘Commitment’ and you'll have to sign it
  • find out if you need any support with budgeting

The interview isn’t an interrogation and you’re not on trial - it’s a two-way conversation between you and your work coach.

Arranging the interview

When you make your online claim, you’ll be told to ring the Universal Credit Service Centre to book an interview. When you call you’ll be asked for your user name - you created this when you set up your online account. 

You'll be offered the first available interview. Book the interview for as soon as you can as you’ll need to attend it to complete your claim. 

Contact the Universal Credit helpline straight away if you can't make the interview. You'll only be able to rearrange your interview in the case of an emergency, for example if you have to go to hospital. Otherwise, you'll be expected to go.

Universal Credit helpline
Telephone: 0800 012 1331
Textphone: 0800 012 1441

Monday to Friday 8.00am to 6.00pm
Calls to this number are free from a mobile or landline within the United Kingdom.

You'll  be told exactly what you need to bring to the interview. You must take all the right evidence to the interview, otherwise you’ll have to wait longer for your UC payment.

If you have an illness or disability

Contact the Universal Credit helpline if the claim or interview process will be difficult for you because of a long-term illness or disability. You can ask for something to be changed to make it easier - this is called a ‘reasonable adjustment’. Eg you can ask for a British Sign Language interpreter, or for your interview to be at a place where you can travel to easily.

If you ask for a reasonable adjustment to be made and it doesn't happen, this could be discrimination and you may be able to complain. If you need help with a discrimination issue, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

Taking someone with you for support

If you feel particularly vulnerable or unconfident, you can take a friend or relative with you to your interview for moral support. If you can, contact the Jobcentre in advance to let them know and explain your reasons to them. The Jobcentre can't refuse to allow you to be accompanied.

What you need to bring

You’ll have to take documents that prove the details in your online application are correct. These will be copied and given back to you.

You’ll need to provide evidence of:

  • your identity, eg passport, driving licence or EEA national identity card. If you don’t have photo ID, the Jobcentre might ask you security questions about yourself and use other evidence to identify you - this may delay your claim as they might reschedule the interview while they carry out checks to confirm your identity
  • your address, eg an official letter from a bank or energy company
  • your NI number - you can find this on a payslip or a letter from HMRC - call the helpline on 0300 200 3500 (textphone 0300 200 3519) if you can’t find your NI number
  • your bank, building society, credit union or Post Office card account, eg a bank statement or bank card - ask your bank for a copy of a statement if you don’t have one (you might have to pay for an extra copy)
  • how much rent you pay - this can be found on your rent agreement, ask your landlord or letting agent for a copy if you don’t have one
  • your landlord’s address - this can be found on your tenancy agreement. Ask your landlord or letting agent for a copy if you don’t have one
  • any savings you have and any other ‘capital’ investments, eg shares or property - you’ll need a bank statement to show your savings or details of property you own
  • any income you get that's not from work, eg from a pension or insurance plan
  • details of how much you earn from work, eg recent payslips
  • how much you pay for childcare (if you want to claim for childcare costs), eg an invoice or receipt
  • a P45 if you’ve left work
  • any other benefits you’re getting, eg benefits letters or a bank statement
  • birth certificates of your children - if you’ve lost a birth certificate you can order a new one
  • child benefit reference numbers for any children you have if you get child benefit - this can be found on letters to you about child benefit, it will start with 'CHB' and is made up of 8 numbers and 2 letters, eg CHB12345678 AB - phone the Child Benefit Office on 0300 200 3100 (textphone 0300 200 3103) if you need help

If you're claiming with a partner, you'll both need to take evidence.

If you can’t provide the right evidence, you should contact the Universal Credit helpline and explain why. You might be able to get more time to get the documents together.

Universal Credit helpline
Telephone: 0800 012 1331
Textphone: 0800 012 1441

Monday to Friday 8.00am to 6.00pm
Calls to this number are free from a mobile or landline within the United Kingdom.

If you don’t take the right documents to the interview

If you don't take all the documents to the interview, you'll need to take all the remaining documents to your Jobcentre or post them in (you'll be given a postal address) within one month of your interview. Your claim might be cancelled if you don't provide them.

You won’t get your Universal Credit payment until you’ve given in all the documents you need to. So it’s important to get all the documents to them as quickly as possible.

Keep all your documents in a safe place in case you’re asked to provide them more than once. This shouldn’t happen but it can do in certain circumstances.

Plan how to get work - the 'Commitment'

You'll have to agree to meet certain 'work-related requirements' while getting Universal Credit. These are tasks such as applying for jobs, attending skills assessments, updating your CV or preparing a business plan. Depending on your personal circumstances, you may have to do none, some or all of these things. Even if you currently work, you may have to look for more hours or a better paid job.

You'll discuss your personal circumstances with your work coach, and be placed into a particular 'group'. Each group has different tasks you'll need to do in order to prepare for work. You'll be told what group you're in and what tasks you'll need to do.

You should find out what group you should be in before the interview so that you don’t get put into the wrong group. This is important because if you get put into the wrong group and struggle with the activities, you could end up getting sanctioned (ie having your Universal Credit temporarily reduced).

These tasks will form part of an agreement called your ‘Commitment’, which you’ll agree to stick to in return for getting Universal Credit. You'll need to sign this, but you should also make sure it's right for you.

Deciding what goes into your Commitment should be a two-way conversation between you and your work coach. Speak honestly with your work coach about what work-related activities are realistic and achievable for you. For example, you might want to limit the hours you look for work because you have to pick your children up from school every day.

Don’t be afraid to say if you think something they've suggested won’t work for you. You’ll get money taken away from you if you don't stick to the agreement, so take time to make sure it works for you.

Tell your work coach about your personal circumstances

You’ll talk about your personal circumstances and how these might affect your ability to look for work. Some of these things might be hard to talk about, but it's important to tell your work coach as they could mean you have to do less work-related activities. In particular, you should mention any of the following if they apply to you:

  • you look after children
  • you have a disability or health condition
  • you don’t have good reading or writing skills
  • you have a learning disability
  • you look after someone with a disability
  • you’ve been a victim of domestic violence within the last 6 months
  • you have to do jury service
  • you're homeless
  • you're undergoing treatment for a drug or alcohol problem

If you have children and you’re part of a couple, you’ll need to nominate a main carer. If you’re a single parent, you’ll automatically be the main carer. If you’re the main carer, you’ll be expected to do fewer work-related activities, depending on the age of your youngest child who lives with you.

The type of work you can do

Before your interview, think about your skills and what kind of job you’re looking for. You’ll have to talk to your work coach about these things at the interview. If you already have a job, you may still have to talk about these things - you'll probably be expected to look for a better paid job or increase your hours of work. Think about the following:

  • what are your skills? These don’t have to have been developed in a job. They could be skills you’ve got from other life experiences, eg working around the home, being a parent, involvement with community or voluntary activities, support you’ve provided for friends or family members etc.
  • what qualifications and work experience do you have? If you have a CV or any training or qualification certificates, take them along to the interview
  • what kind of job would you like?
  • what level of salary would you be looking for?
  • how many hours could you work per week? Most full time jobs are around 36 hours per week. If you don’t feel you can work full-time, give your work coach a good reason. For example, you might have to pick up children from school or have health concerns.
  • where could you work? Your work coach may expect you to travel up to 90 minutes to work. If you feel you couldn’t cope with a long commute, be prepared to explain why. For example, you might not own a car or have health concerns, childcare or caring responsibilities.
  • what could get in your way of looking for work? For example, you might have difficulties with reading or writing, making it hard for you to complete job applications.

Read through your claimant commitment carefully before you sign, and don’t sign it until you’re happy with it. If you can’t read the Commitment yourself, ask your work coach to read it to you. If you’re really unhappy with it, you could get some advice from your nearest Citizens Advice before signing.

You'll be told how long you have to sign the Commitment. If you don't sign it within the timescale they give you, your claim will be refused. Also keep in mind that if you delay signing the Commitment, your Universal Credit payment will also be delayed.

Your Commitment should be regularly reviewed by your work coach while you're getting Universal Credit. If your circumstances change, you may be able to get your Commitment changed. It is important to tell your work coach if you’re having difficulty meeting your Commitment. They may be able to change it.

Help and support finding work

Your work coach should help you to find work and to carry out the activities in your Commitment. However, in practice the quality of help offered can vary so you'll need to take the initiative yourself in finding the best ways to meet your Commitment.

Careers advice and help looking for work

Help with costs of training and travel

If you’re unemployed, the Travel to Interview Scheme can help you with the cost of travel to an interview within the UK or the Republic of Ireland. You can pick up an application form from your local Jobcentre.

Travel to Interview Scheme

If you need money before your first payment

It will take at least 5 or 6 weeks before you get your first payment. You can ask about getting an advance payment, if you think you need money before then.

Get paid in a way that will help you

Ask your work coach about:

  • getting your payments weekly if you can’t manage being paid twice a month
  • if you’re a couple, getting your payments split between you and your partner, if it would make it easier for you 

Print a checklist [ 61 kb]

Print this checklist to remind you of:

  • what evidence to take
  • how to prepare for the conversation about your Commitment
  • what questions to ask your work coach.
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