Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a new means-tested benefit for people of working age. It's currently being phased in across the UK.

Universal Credit will replace 6 existing benefits with a single payment for those who are out of work or on a low income.

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Universal Credit is a new means-tested benefit for people of working age. It replaces 6 existing benefits with a single payment for those who are out of work or on a low income.

Universal Credit is currently being phased in across the UK. It will replace the following benefits:

  • Housing Benefit
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit

Since January 2019, anyone making a new claim for a working-age means-tested benefit will usually claim Universal Credit rather than the older benefits listed above.

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To claim Universal Credit, you need to meet the following basic conditions. You must:

  • be aged 18 or over (or 16 to 17 in certain cases)
  • be under Pension Credit qualifying age (now State Pension age) be in Great Britain and not be subject to immigration control
  • not be in education (unless you're claiming a disability benefit, see below), and
  • have accepted a claimant commitment (see 'Your responsibilities' section below)

In addition, you must meet the financial conditions:

  • You (and your partner, if you're making a joint claim) must not have capital of more than £16,000, and
  • Your earnings or other income (and that of your partner, if making a joint claim) must not be too high for Universal Credit to be payable (see section 'How much is Universal Credit?').

Joint claims

If you live with a partner, you'll need to make a joint claim for Universal Credit. In a joint claim, you and your partner must usually meet all the basic conditions above.

In education

You can still qualify for Universal Credit when you're in full-time education, if you get a disability benefit such as Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, and you have been assessed as having a limited capability for work. This is tested under the Work Capability Assessment.

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You should normally claim Universal Credit online.

If you're unable to apply online or need help, contact the Universal Credit Helpline on 0800 328 5644 (textphone 0800 328 1344).

You should have the following information available when you begin your claim:

  • your postcode
  • your (and your partner's) National Insurance number
  • details of your bank or building society account
  • any rent agreement you may have
  • details of your (and your partner's) income, savings or capital
  • details of your (and your partner's) earnings
  • details of any other benefits that you (or your partner) receive
  • if you have children, their Child Benefit reference

The initial interview

Once you've made your claim, you'll need to attend an interview at your local Jobcentre Plus office. This is to confirm the information you gave when you made the claim and to discuss what you'll need to do to receive the benefit.

Due to the pandemic most interviews are currently being done on the phone. The Department for Work and Pensions intends to return to face-to-face interviews during 2021-2022.

If you have a disability or health condition that means you'll find it hard to attend or take part in the interview, you can ask the Jobcentre to make 'reasonable adjustments'.

For example, it may be possible to hold the interview somewhere you can get to more easily, or do the interview over the phone.

You may also want someone with you at the interview for support or assistance, such as a friend, relative or a professional.

At the interview a work coach will discuss your work prospects with you, and the support you may need to help you find work, or agree an exemption from looking for a job.

The work coach will draw up a 'claimant commitment' outlining the responsibilities and work-related requirements that you must meet
to keep getting the benefit in full (see 'What conditions do I have to meet?' section below).

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If you have a health condition or disability that prevents you from working, or limits the amount of work you can do, you may be able to get Universal Credit without needing to meet the work-related requirements. You may also be eligible for an extra amount in your benefit.

You'll be assessed under the 'Work Capability Assessment'. You'll need to provide details of your health condition or disability when you apply online and you may need to complete a 'capability for work' questionnaire.

The Department for Work and Pensions decision-maker will use this to assess whether:

  • you have a 'limited capability for work' – in this case you won't be expected to search for work, but you may have to fulfil some work related requirements to do with getting ready for work
  • you have a 'limited capability for work-related activity' – in this case you won't have to meet any work-related requirements and you'll be eligible for the 'limited capability for work-related activity' amount of Universal Credit

For more details about the points system used to make this assessment, including advice on completing the capability for work questionnaire, read our supplementary guidance on the Work Capability Assessment (PDF, 107KB).

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To qualify for Universal Credit, you may need to meet certain work-related conditions. These are known as 'requirements' and are recorded in the claimant commitment drawn up by the work coach at your work search interview.

Your benefit is likely to be reduced ('sanctioned') if you fail to meet a requirement.

The tasks you agree will depend on your personal situation. In some circumstances, none of the work-related requirements will apply to you.

You're exempt if you:

  • are responsible for a child under the age of 1
  • have regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person, or
  • have a limited capability for work-related activity. This is tested under the Work Capability Assessment (see above)
  • are a carer, not necessarily in receipt of Carer's Allowance, but entitled to the Carer's Element in the calculation
  • are a couple where one is over pension age. The person over pension age will be exempt from all the 'work-related requirements'
  • fit the student exemption criteria
  • have been threatened with or experienced domestic violence (in the last 6 months)
  • can show exceptional circumstances

If work-related requirements do apply, there are 4 different types of requirement that may be included in your claimant commitment, depending on your situation.

These are:

  • the work-focused interview requirement
  • the work-preparation requirement
  • the work-search requirement
  • the work-availability requirement

The work-focused interview requirement

Here you need to take part in one or more work-focused interviews. These are designed to assess your prospects and help or encourage you to move into, or stay in, work.

The work-preparation requirement

Here you're expected to take action to improve your chances of getting work. This can include taking part in training, an employment programme or work experience.

The work-search requirement

You're required to take reasonable action to get paid work (or more work if you're already working part-time). This can include searching for work, applying for jobs, creating and maintaining an online profile or registering with employment agencies.

You'll be expected to search for work for a minimum amount of time each week – usually set at 35 hours. The work you're searching for must also amount to at least 35 hours a week.

In each case, the Department for Work and Pensions may agree to less than 35 hours if you have caring responsibilities or a physical or mental impairment.

The work-availability requirement

You're normally required to be able and willing to take up paid work (or more work if you're already working part-time) immediately – you must also be able and willing to attend a job interview immediately.

If you're caring for a child or someone with a physical or mental impairment, the Department for Work and Pensions can allow you up to 1 month to take up paid work, and up to 48 hours to attend a job interview, so that you can make alternative care arrangements.

If you have a 'physical or mental impairment that has a substantial adverse effect' on your ability to carry out work of a particular nature or in a particular place, you're not expected to be available for such work or in such a place.

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The amount of Universal Credit you're paid depends on your circumstances. It's worked out on a monthly basis by comparing your financial needs with financial resources.

Set amounts for different needs are added together to give a 'maximum amount' – the basic amount the law says you need to live on each month.

Your maximum amount is made up of a 'standard allowance' and different 'amounts' (see below). From this figure, deductions are made for any earnings and other income you receive – the resulting figure will be your Universal Credit for that month.

The standard allowance

This is the basic allowance that's always included in your maximum amount. The amount you're entitled to depends on your age, and whether you're claiming as a single person or with a partner.

The standard allowance per month is:

  • single claimant aged under 25 – £344
  • single claimant aged 25 or over – £411.51
  • joint claimants both aged under 25 – £490.60
  • joint claimants where either is 25 or over – £596.58

These rates are currently expected to drop by £20 a week in October 2021.

The 'amounts'

These are paid to cover different needs. Any amounts you're eligible for will be added to the standard allowance to make your maximum amount.

There are 5 types:

  • The limited capability for work-related activity amount – you may be eligible for an amount of £343.63 a month if you're unable to work because of a disability or health condition such as Parkinson's. This is tested under the Work Capability Assessment (see previous section on this).
  • The carer amount – an amount of £163.73 is included if you have regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person.
  • The housing costs amount – this may be included in your award if you pay rent. It can also cover certain service charge payments.
  • The child amount – this is included in your award for each child (or qualifying young person) who lives with you up to a maximum of 2 children (unless you're exempt from this restriction). An additional amount is included for every child who is disabled.
  • The childcare costs amount – this is included in your award if you pay for registered child care in order to stay in work.

Capital and savings

The capital limit for Universal Credit is £16,000, whether you're single or a couple. If you have savings or capital over £16,000, you can't get Universal Credit.

If you have savings or capital under £6,000, this is disregarded (which means you can receive Universal Credit in full).

If your capital is between £6,000 and £16,000, it is treated as generating a monthly income of £4.35 for each £250 (or part of £250) above the lower limit of £6,000. For instance, if you have capital of £6,300, it is treated as generating a monthly income of £8.70.

Earnings and income

If you're employed, your Universal Credit reduces gradually as you earn more. For every pound you earn (after tax and any deductions such as National Insurance or pension contributions) your Universal Credit payment reduces by 63p.

In some situations, you're allowed to keep some of your earnings up to a certain limit before your Universal Credit is affected. This is known as the 'work allowance'.

You may be eligible for a work allowance if you have limited capability for work, or responsibility for children.

If you have income other than earnings, such as other benefits, these will usually be taken into account in full, so that your Universal Credit is reduced pound for pound.

Some benefits are completely ignored, for example Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Personal Independence Payment.

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Universal Credit will automatically be paid monthly in arrears, however you can ask for it to be paid more frequently. In Scotland and Northern Ireland you have an automatic right to be paid bi-monthly.

If you have a partner, you can choose who receives the payment.

It should normally take around 5 weeks to get your first payment of Universal Credit once you have made your claim.

If you have difficulty budgeting at the beginning of your claim, you can ask for an advance payment, which you'll have to repay. To apply for a Universal Credit advance, call 0800 328 5644 (textphone 0800 328 1344), or speak to your job coach.

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Universal Credit (PDF, 338KB)

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Last updated July 2021. We review all our information within 3 years. If you'd like to find out more about how we put our information together, including references and the sources of evidence we use, please contact us at [email protected]