What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is a benefit to help provide extra financial support if you are on a low income or not in work at this time. You may also be eligible if you are unable to work due to illness or a disability. Universal Credit has replaced the following benefits in most circumstances:
- Income Support
- income-related Employment Support Allowance (ESA)
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Housing Benefit
- Child Tax Credit
- Working Tax Credit.
In general, it's not possible to claim Universal Credit at the same time as any of these benefits. (You may be able to claim Housing Benefit and Universal Credit if you are living in specified accommodation.)
If you need to make a new claim for any of these benefits and you’re below State Pension age, you will most likely need to apply for Universal Credit instead.
Guidance on Universal Credit
You may be entitled to Universal Credit if:
- you’re on a low income or not in work
- you’re 18 or over (there are several exceptions if you’re 16 or 17)
- you are under State Pension age
- you have less than £16,000 in savings (combined if you have a partner)
- you are not in education, although there are some exceptions to this
- you are happy to accept a claimant commitment – see below section called ‘What is the claimant commitment?’ for more information
- you meet residence and presence conditions
If you live with a partner
You would need to make a joint claim with a partner you live with. Their savings and income will be taken into account even if they’re not applying for Universal Credit. See ‘How does Universal Credit affect couples?’ for more details.
Still not sure?
To find out if you are eligible for Universal Credit (or other benefits), contact our Helpline at firstname.lastname@example.org for a benefit check or contact the benefits charity Turn2us. As a starting point, you could also try using this benefits calculator.
If you are already receiving one of the benefits that Universal Credit is replacing, you don’t need to do anything unless:
- you need to report a change in circumstances
- the Department of Work and Pensions (Department for Communities in Northern Ireland) contacts you about moving to Universal Credit.
You can move over to Universal Credit any time if you’re eligible, but you won’t be able to go back to any benefits you were receiving before. Think carefully before making a switch and take advice from a benefits adviser.
If you’re entitled to a Severe Disability Premium (SDP)
You can receive a top-up payment called an ‘SDP transitional element’ if you are moving to Universal Credit, due to a change of circumstances, and you already receive a Severe Disability Premium.
This only applies if you have been receiving an award of Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance that included an SDP in the month prior to the date you claimed Universal Credit (but not if you have had an SDP in your Housing Benefit). You can find out more details on the ‘entitled to’ website.
If you’re eligible, you can apply for Universal Credit online via Gov.uk. If you need help with applying, you can contact the Universal Credit helpline from Monday to Friday (8am to 6pm):
- Call 0800 328 5644
- Welsh language: 0800 328 1744
- NGT text relay – if you cannot hear or speak on the phone: 18001 then 0800 328 5644
- Textphone: 0800 328 1344
Alternatively you could contact Citizens Advice’s Help to Claim service.
Before making a claim, you will need a bank account, your National Insurance number and an email address. Citizens Advice has helpful information on other ways to get support and what to expect when applying.
This page on GOV.UK contains some useful step-by-step guidelines. For further assistance with applying, you could contact your local carers’ support group using our local directory.
It is important that you tell the Universal Credit office that you are a carer using your online journal or by phone if you are a telephone claimant. This is because they will not automatically know this and apply the element, even if you are getting Carer’s Allowance. You can inform them of your caring role even if you are yet to claim, or not going to claim Carer’s Allowance.
Another 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 Universal Credit includes a carer element (regardless of whether or not you are also claiming Carer’s Allowance).
See our benefit adviser's video tips for further excellent guidance on how to complete the claim form.
Every month you’re paid is referred to as an assessment period. At the end of each assessment period, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will work out how much Universal Credit you will get based on your circumstances during that particular period.
It is therefore important to tell the Universal Credit office about any changes in your circumstances as soon as they occur – see below, ‘What do I do if my circumstances change?’
To work out how much Universal Credit you will get, the DWP will:
- work out the maximum amount of Universal Credit for your circumstances
- work out the amount of your household assessable income
- deduct your household assessable income from your maximum Universal Credit amount.
Your monthly Universal Credit payment is the total of your maximum UC amount minus your household assessable income.
The maximum amount of Universal Credit for your circumstances
The maximum amount of Universal Credit 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 what are called various ‘elements’.
The standard allowance amounts for 2023/24 are:
- £292.11 a month if you are single and aged under 25
- £368.74 a month if you are single and aged 25+
- £458.51 a month if you are in a couple and both aged under 25
- £578.82 a month if you are in a couple and one or both of you are aged 25+.
The elements include:
- child elements (plus additional amounts for disabled or severely disabled children)
- a carer element*
- a limited capability for work element (which was abolished for most new claims made after 3rd April 2017) and a limited capability for work-related activity element
- a housing costs element
- a childcare costs element
- a severe disability premium (SDP) transitional element.
Note: If you were getting, or recently stopped getting, a benefit which included a severe disability premium, you might also get an extra amount in your Universal Credit called the ‘transitional element’.
*You can get the carer element of Universal Credit if you have ‘regular and substantial caring responsibilities’ for a ‘severely disabled person’. The carer element is £185.86 a month (2023/24).
It will take five weeks before you receive your first payment of Universal Credit. It is normally paid monthly in arrears (or possibly twice a week if you live in Scotland). See this page for more information.
If you need help with your living costs while you wait for your first payment, you can apply for an advance payment. This will be deducted from future payments of your Universal Credit. You can apply for an advance payment through your online Universal Credit account, your Jobcentre Plus work coach or by calling the Universal Credit helpline if you need help.
If you live with your partner, you’ll need to make a joint claim as a couple. Even if your partner isn’t eligible for Universal Credit, their income and savings will be considered when you make a claim. You both make your own claim and ‘link’ them together.
If both you and your partner are of State Pension age, you’ll need to claim for Pension Credit instead. If one of you is of working age and the other is of State Pension age, you will usually need to claim Universal Credit. Contact our Helpline for further guidance: email@example.com.
If you meet the conditions for claiming Carer's Allowance, including caring for at least 35 hours a week, you may be eligible to receive an extra amount of money with Universal Credit called the Carer Element. To see if you’re eligible, you would need to provide this information to the Universal Credit team on 0800 328 9344:
- the name of the person(s) you care for
- their date of birth
- their National Insurance number
- any disability benefits they receive or have applied for
- the number of hours a week you spend caring for them
- if you are getting or are entitled to Carer's Allowance
- the contact details of anyone else caring for the same severely-disabled adult or child and if they are getting Carer's Allowance
- if you receive any income other than Carer's Allowance for looking after someone.
This is the agreement of the responsibilities you will need to fulfil in order to receive Universal Credit. There are four types of work-related requirements that you may need to undertake: work- focused interviews, work preparation, work search and work availability.
However, 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’ or
- you have caring responsibilities for one or more ‘severely disabled people’ 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.
If your role as a carer falls outside of these conditions, you are likely to have some work-related requirements such as a work- focused interview and work preparation. Talk to your work coach about what could or couldn’t be considered reasonable given any caring responsibilities you have. Some tips are below:
- 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 Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment or Attendance Allowance (and if not is there a reason why) or have they made a claim but are waiting on the outcome?
- How might your caring role 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.
If there is a change in your circumstances, you must notify the Department of Work and Pensions as soon as possible or if you live in Northern Ireland, choose from these options.
If you have an online account, you can report the change via your online journal. If you do not have an online account, you can report the change by calling the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644.
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 that means you get more Universal Credit, 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. If you miss this time limit, the change applies from the start of the assessment period in which you reported it. This time limit can only be extended in exceptional circumstances.
There’s an exception to the above rule. If you are entitled to more Universal Credit because you or someone in your household is awarded a qualifying benefit (such as Personal Independence Payment or Attendance Allowance), the change takes effect from the date the qualifying benefit began.
If you disagree with a Universal Credit 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 can lodge an appeal with the Tribunal Service, attaching 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 have a complaint about the way your Universal Credit claim has been processed or handled, you can make a online complaint here: Make a complaint about JSA or UC - DWP or here if you live in Northern Ireland.
You can see further information about challenging a benefit decision here.