Universal Credit is a 'top-up benefit' that you may be able to claim if you are of working age and do not have enough money to live on. Whether you can claim it depends on your circumstances and where you live.
Universal Credit replaces these means-tested benefits:
- Income-Based Jobseeker's Allowance
- Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance
- Income Support
- Housing Benefit
- Child Tax Credit
- Working Tax Credit
This means that Universal Credit will eventually replace all means-tested benefits for people who are unemployed, working part time, working full time or unable to work because of illness or disability (temporary or permanent).
Previously, 'means-tested' benefits such as Income Support have been payable for adults, and Child Tax Credit for children. Universal Credit will be a single payment for you as well as your partner and your children. So Universal Credit will apply to:
- single people
- lone parents
- children and young people in your family (up to the September following their 16th birthday, or if a young person is in full-time 'non-advanced' education or approved training, until the September after their 19th birthday)
Universal Credit is not replacing all benefits
Not all benefits are being replaced by Universal Credit.
Other benefits such as Child Benefit, Carers Allowance and both Jobseeker's Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance which are based upon your National Insurance contributions, will stay in place.
What happens to your claim if you get benefits now
If you're already getting one of the benefits that Universal Credit (UC) replaces, you'll stay on that benefit for the time being.
You may be moved over to UC if you have a change in your circumstances which would require you to make a new claim for one of the benefits that UC is replacing.
However, if your circumstances remain the same, you may not be moved to UC until between 2022 and late 2026. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will write to people to ask them to change their claims. At the moment, not much else is known about this 'managed migration' process and the dates for its introduction may change.
Basic conditions for claiming Universal Credit
To claim Universal Credit, you need to meet the following conditions:
- your situation must fit the financial rules for Universal Credit (your income is low enough to qualify, and you must not have over £16,000 in savings)
- you must be in Great Britain (temporary absence will be permitted) - there are also rules relating to your right to reside in the UK and habitual residence
- you must usually not be receiving education
- you must accept a claimant commitment
How old you must be to claim Universal Credit
You must usually be 18 years old in order to claim. There are special rules for 16 to 17-year-olds, who may be able to claim in certain circumstances. If you, or your partner, or both, are under 18, seek advice to make sure of your correct entitlements.
Pension credit age
Unless you have reached the age at which you can claim Pension Credit, you must claim Universal Credit. 'Pension Credit age' is the age at which you may claim State Retirement Pension and other pensioner benefits. Find out more about benefits for pensioners.
Ill or disabled
If you're already claiming benefits due to illness or disability it's likely there will not be changes to your claim until between November 2020 and September 2024 unless you report a change of circumstances.
If you're on Employment and Support Allowance and you are found fit for work and you disagree with this decision, seek advice from Derbyshire Welfare Rights, email: email@example.com or tel: 01629 531531.
UC is only replacing the income-related (means-tested) version of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). It doesn't replace ESA based upon your National Insurance contributions or Personal Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance or Disability Living Allowance.
Find out more about Universal Credit if you're ill or disabled.
How Universal Credit is worked out
Like the previous mean-tested benefits, Universal Credit is only payable if you don't have too much in savings and your income is below what the law says you need to live on.
Recent changes in the rules mean that you may only be allowed a UC 'child element' for the first 2 children for whom you claim. No help may be given with third or subsequent children (born after April 2017). There are exceptions to this policy so get advice if this change affects you.
The majority of Universal Credit Claims will be managed online. The system is responsive to changing circumstances, so for instance, if a claimant does a week's work during the month, they will be able to add this information to their 'account' and their benefits will be adjusted accordingly. This is to make it easier for claimants to take on extra hours, or take a short term job without having to worry about losing their benefits or making a new claim due to change of circumstances.
Housing costs and Council Tax support
When you start to claim Universal Credit any payments for housing costs will be included. You'll not need to a make a separate Housing Benefit claim, it will all be calculated together. You can claim whether you are a social or private housing tenant.
Rent costs will usually not be paid direct to your landlord. You will be expected to manage the payments yourself. Seek advice if this arrangement would cause you difficulty. You may also find information on waiting for a Universal Credit claim to be processed useful.
It may be possible to get mortgage interest help on secured loans under £200,000 if you claim Universal Credit. However, this is help with interest only and it is in the form of an interest bearing loan. Seek advice.
When you claim Universal Credit, you'll no longer need to claim Housing Benefit (except if you are in temporary accommodation or accommodation where support is provided), but you do need to make a separate claim for help with your Council Tax bill. Contact your local borough or district council to do this.
Find out more about help with housing costs and Council Tax.
In order to get Universal Credit, you'll have to agree to certain conditions or work-related requirements and make a claimant commitment.
If you're capable of work and unemployed, conditionality may mean the following (not an exhaustive list):
- you must be available for work of at least 35 hours a week (this may be reduced, depending upon your circumstances)
- you must be able and willing to take up work immediately (this may be varied, for instance if you have part-time caring responsibilities)
- you must be seeking work for up to 35 hours a week (this requirement may be less, for instance if you are disabled, or have caring responsibilities)
- you'll be expected to show proof of your job-searching
- you must be available for and attend interviews and training courses
- you should use the Find A Job website
- take other action as directed by Jobcentre Plus such as attending work schemes
If you are claiming as a couple, you will usually both be affected by conditionality and will both have to sign a claimant commitment.
If you're in work
You may still be required to do further training, gain other skills and look for longer hours and better-paid work. This aspect of UC is still under development.
If you're unable to work owing to illness
You may still be required to attend work-focused interviews and other work-related activity. More severely disabled people will not have to undertake work-related activity.
If you're looking after children
Conditionality for you will vary according how old your children are and when you need to be available for looking after them, for example, being available to take them to and collect them from school.
Who isn't affected by conditionality
You will not have any work-related requirements if you:
- are severely disabled and counted as having 'limited capability for work and work-related activities'
- have regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person (you're a full-time carer) - you may also be exempt if you are not a full-time carer but Jobcentre Plus agrees it would be unreasonable to apply conditions to your claim
- are the responsible carer for a child aged under 1 year
- are a recent victim of domestic violence (for 13 weeks)
- earn over a certain amount weekly - referred to as the 'conditionality threshold' - this threshold is set individually, according to your circumstances, for instance if you are single and you get the equivalent of at least 35 hours a week at the National Minimum Wage, you will be exempt from conditionality
- have reached pension age
- are pregnant and it's 11 weeks or less before your expected week of confinement or you were pregnant and it is 15 weeks or less since the date of confinement
- have adopted a child and it's 52 weeks or less since the date of the placement or you are the responsible foster parent of a child under the age of one
Sanctions are reductions in your Universal Credit imposed by Jobcentre Plus if you don't comply with the conditions.
Universal Credit - childcare element
We have more information about claiming the childcare element of Universal Credit.
You can get more support and advice on Universal Credit if you can't find the information you're looking for.