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Universal Credit

Universal Credit (UC) is a means-tested benefit that is being gradually introduced.


This information applies to people living in England, Wales & Scotland.


UC is replacing Income Support, income-based Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit. These are referred to in this information as ‘legacy benefits’.


When will Universal Credit (UC) affect me?

When UC will affect you will depend on your circumstances and where you live.

If you are not already getting a legacy benefit and are thinking of claiming benefits

Some parts of the country are called ‘full (digital) service areas’. In these areas, you can no longer make a new claim for legacy benefits, and will have to claim UC instead. The exception to this is if you are in a full (digital) service area, but have three or more children, you will generally not be able to make a new claim for UC and will still be able to make a claim for legacy benefits.

Example: Ms Bennett resigns from her job to look after her daughter, and claims Carer’s Allowance. Ms Bennett lives in a full (digital) service area and so is unable to claim Income Support as a carer (which is what she would have done prior to the introduction of UC) and has to claim UC instead.

Some parts of the country are called ‘gateway areas’. In these areas, if you don’t meet the ‘gateway conditions’ you cannot claim UC, and so you can still make a new claim for legacy benefits. One of the gateway conditions is that you ‘must not have a responsibility for providing care to a person who has a physical or mental impairment, unless this is as part of paid or voluntary employment’, and therefore most carers who are in gateway areas will not meet the gateway conditions, and so will still be able to make a new claim for legacy benefits. If you are in this situation then you can read more about legacy benefits here.

Example: Ms Bennett resigns from her job to look after her daughter, and claims Carer’s Allowance. Ms Bennett lives in a gateway area and so she is still able to claim Income Support as a carer, because she doesn’t meet the gateway conditions (as she does have a responsibility for providing care to a person who has a physical or mental impairment).

If you want to find out whether your area is a full (digital) service area or a gateway area then you can enter your postcode on a website called Revenue Benefits, and it gives you this information. If you are in a full (digital) service area it will say ‘Universal credit is available in your postcode area and is part of the full (digital) service’; and if you are in a gateway area it will say ‘Whilst universal credit is available in your area, you can only make a claim if you meet certain gateway conditions’.

If you are already getting a legacy benefit

If you are already getting a legacy benefit, and there are no changes in your circumstances, UC won’t affect you until you are migrated over to UC (called ‘managed migration’). At the moment, managed migration isn’t expected to happen until 2019.

Example: Mr White claims Carer’s Allowance and Income Support. If Mr White’s circumstances don’t change, then UC won’t affect him until he is migrated over to UC.

If you are already getting a legacy benefit, and there is a change in your circumstances which would (before UC was introduced) have meant you made a new claim for a legacy benefit, you may now have to claim UC if you live in a full (digital) service area or if you live in a gateway area and meet all of the gateway conditions. It is important to seek advice if you are already getting a legacy benefit and there will be a change in your circumstances, as for some people UC will be less money than legacy benefits.

This information will be useful if you are not able to claim legacy benefits and have to claim UC, or if you are just wanting to find out more about UC for the future. If your situation is more complicated than this we would recommend you seek advice - contact the Carers UK Adviceline for further information.

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Who can claim Universal Credit (UC)?

If you are making a new claim for benefits, and would previously have claimed a legacy benefit, you will have to claim UC instead if:

  • you live in a full (digital) service area
  • you live in a gateway area and meet all of the gateway conditions

As well as meeting one of the above conditions, to be eligible for UC you (and any partner if you are making a joint claim) also have to meet all of the following conditions:

  • you must normally be 18 or over - however there are some groups of people who can claim UC if they are aged 16 or 17, and importantly, one such group of people is those who have ‘regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person’ – see below for definition
  • you must be under state pension credit age - see below for definition
  • you must normally not be in education, although there are some exceptions to this - contact the Carers UK Adviceline for more information
  • you must not have capital (including savings) over £16,000
  • you must not have assessable income which is more than your maximum UC amount - see below section called ‘How much Universal Credit (UC) will I get?’ for more information
  • you must accept a claimant commitment - see below section called ‘What is the claimant commitment?’ for more information
  • you must not be subject to immigration control

Note: You have ‘regular and substantial caring responsibilities’ if you satisfy the eligibility conditions for Carer’s Allowance (even if you don’t make a claim), or would do so but for the fact that your earnings are too high.

Note: A person is ‘severely disabled' if they receive the middle or the higher rate of the care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Attendance Allowance, Armed Forces Independence Payment or Constant Attendance Allowance.

Note: State pension credit age for a woman is the age she would reach state pension age and for a man is the age he would reach state pension age if he was a woman. You can see whether you or your partner are state pension credit age here.

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How much Universal Credit (UC) will I get?

UC is a monthly benefit, and each month is called an assessment period. At the end of each assessment period the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will work out how much UC you will get based on your circumstances during that particular assessment period. It is therefore important to tell the UC office about any changes in your circumstances as soon as they occur. - see below section for 'what happens if your circumstances change'

To work out how much UC you will get the DWP will:

  • work out the maximum amount of UC for your circumstances
  • work out the amount of your household assessable income
  • deduct your household assessable income from your maximum UC amount

Your monthly UC payment is the total of your maximum UC amount minus your household assessable income.

The maximum amount of UC for your circumstances

The maximum amount of UC for your circumstances is made up of a standard allowance which depends on your age and whether you are single or in a couple, and various ‘elements’.

The standard allowance amounts are:

  • £251.77 a month if you are single and aged under 25
  • £317.82 a month if you are single and aged 25+
  • £395.20 a month if you are in a couple and both aged under 25
  • £498.89 a month if you are in a couple and both aged 25+

The elements include:

  • child elements (plus additional amounts for disabled or severely disabled children);
  • a carer element (see below for further information on this);
  • a limited capability for work element (which was abolished for most new claims made after 3rd April 2017) or a limited capability for work-related activity element;
  • a housing costs element;
  • a childcare costs element.

You can get the carer element of UC if you have ‘regular and substantial caring responsibilities’ for a ‘severely disabled person’ (see above for definition). The carer element is £151.89 a month.

One important thing to note is that if the person you are looking after receives a severe disability premium (or addition) within their means-tested legacy benefits, they will lose this if your UC includes a carer element (regardless of whether or not you are also claiming Carer’s Allowance).

The amount of your household assessable income

Earnings are taken into account as income however certain claimants can deduct a work allowance. Other income taken into account includes some benefits (including Carer’s Allowance); pensions, income from capital etc.

Some income is disregarded including Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Attendance Allowance, Child Benefit and any Child Maintenance you receive.

Note: If you are claiming legacy benefits and are migrated onto UC but your circumstances have not changed, you may be entitled to transitional protection.

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What is the claimant commitment?

Universal Credit (UC) involves a ‘claimant commitment’ which is an agreement that you will meet certain work related requirements. If you claim UC as a couple you will each have your own claimant commitment. 

There are four types of work related requirements which may be included: work focused interviews, work preparation, work search and work availability.

Which work related requirements will apply to your claimant commitment will depend on which group you fit into:

  • the ‘no work related requirements group’ means you will not have to undertake any work related requirements
  • the ‘work focused interview group’ means you will have to attend work focused interviews to prepare for work in the future - but you will not need to prepare for work, look for work or be available for work
  • the ‘work preparation group’ means you will have to attend work focused interviews and you will have to prepare for work, which could include writing a CV, work experience, training etc. - but you will not have to look for work or be available for work
  • the ‘all work related requirements group’ means you will likely have to attend work focused interviews and prepare for work - and you will definitely have to look for work by submitting job applications and attending interviews and be available for work

As a carer you will fit into the ‘no work related requirements group’ if:

  • you have ‘regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person’ – see above for definition or
  • you have caring responsibilities for one or more ‘severely disabled people’ (see above for definition) for at least 35 hours a week, but do not satisfy the qualifying conditions for Carer’s Allowance – however you will need to satisfy your work coach that that it would be unreasonable for you to meet a work search and work availability requirement

Whilst this is good news for those carers that meet the above conditions, carers who fall outside of these conditions (such as those caring for less than 35 hours a week and those caring for someone who is not considered to be ‘severely disabled’) will have some work related requirements.

Such carers are likely to have both a work focused interview requirement and a work preparation requirement. They might also have a work search requirement and a work availability requirement; however for both of these your work coach can decide that there are temporary circumstances (such as caring) which would mean these would be unreasonable. You should therefore fully discuss your caring role with your work coach, and cover things such as:

  • if the person you are looking after is not considered to be ‘severely disabled’ explain why – for example have they not made a claim for DLA, PIP or Attendance Allowance (and if not is there a reason why) or have they made a claim but are waiting on the outcome
  • why your caring role might impact your ability to fulfil work related requirements – for example you could describe your typical day and why you need to be available for the person you are looking after (ie if you need to attend school to sit with your child as and when required, if the person cannot be left alone, or if the person needs medication throughout the day and you need to help them with it etc.)
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How do I claim Universal Credit (UC)?

Claims for UC must be made online.

If you need help claiming online you can call the UC helpline on 0345 600 0723 – the helpline adviser may be able to complete an online form on your behalf or may suggest you ask for help from a local advice organisation.

The date of your claim is usually the date your online claim is received by the DWP.

Backdating a UC claim

UC can only be backdated for one month, and only if one or more circumstances applied that meant you (and your partner if you are making a joint claim) could not reasonably have claimed earlier.

Advance UC claims

In theory, if you claim UC when you are not yet entitled, but the DWP thinks that you will be entitled within one month of the day you claimed, it can make an advance award. If this applies, your claim is treated as made on the first day on which you are entitled to UC.

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How is Universal Credit (UC) paid?

UC is a monthly benefit (with each month being called an assessment period) and is paid monthly in arrears.

When you first claim UC you won’t get paid straight away.

Generally, if all the work related requirements apply to you (or if you have a limited capability for work and this is the only reason all the work related requirements don’t apply to you), you will have a seven day waiting period when you first claim UC, before your first assessment period will start.

The date your first assessment period starts sets the date for each assessment period going forward.

You should get your first UC payment within seven days of the end of your first monthly assessment period, and this date of payment will continue going forward.

In reality this means that those who have the seven day waiting period will have to wait for one month and two weeks before they get any UC payments; and even those who don’t have the seven day waiting period will have to wait for one month and one week before they get any UC payments. If you do not have enough money to last until your first UC payment you can apply for a ‘short term advance’ of UC.

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What happens if my circumstances change?

If there is a change in your circumstances you must notify the DWP.

If you are in a gateway area you can do this by telephoning the UC helpline on 0345 600 0723.

If you are in a full (digital) service area you can do this via your online account.

Generally, if a change of circumstances happens during an assessment period, it is treated as having happened on the first day of that assessment period

However, a change of circumstances which is advantageous to you (ie which means you will get more UC) it is only treated as having happened on the first day of that assessment period if you report it before the end of that assessment period (unless this time limit is extended which it can be in limited circumstances). If you miss this time limit (and it cannot be extended) the change applies from the start of the assessment period in which you reported it.

One exception to the above rules is that if you are entitled to more UC because you or your partner (or a child or qualifying young person) or a non-dependent are awarded a qualifying benefit, the change takes effect from the first date you/they are entitled to the qualifying benefit.

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What happens if I disagree with a Universal Credit (UC) decision?

If you disagree with a UC decision, you can ask the DWP to look at the decision again. This is called a mandatory reconsideration. You must do this before you can appeal. 

If you disagree with the mandatory reconsideration decision you must lodge an appeal with the Tribunal Service and attach a copy of the mandatory reconsideration notice with the appeal.

It is important to challenge a decision or get advice as quickly as possible because there are time limits that generally mean you must take action within one month. If you fall outside of this time limit then it may still be possible to challenge the decision - contact the Carers UK Adviceline for further information.

You can see further information about challenging a benefit decision here.

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