By Daniel Hunter

A new universal credit payment system comes into place today (Monday) as part of a major shake-up in the UK benefits system.

Universal credit will merge several benefits and tax credits into one monthly payout. To start with it will begin with a very small number of new claimants in Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester, but will eventually affect nearly six million people.

The system relies on a complex computer system, with claims made online. The benefit is for working age people looking for work, and will replace income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit, and housing benefit.

It is the central plank of a benefits overhaul, championed by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, which the government says will mean people are always better off in work than on benefits.

The key features of universal credit include:

- A single, monthly payment which the government says mirrors the world of work, but charities say could create problems for personal money management;

- The inclusion of financial help to pay rent, which is currently paid directly to landlords;

- An online-only claiming process, with accounts also managed online;

- The benefit paid to households, rather than individuals, and put straight into bank accounts;

- Benefits automatically adjusted depending on earnings, which employers enter into a computer system called real-time information.

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