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Young people and benefits

Key information

If you are a young person aged under 18 years (or under 20 in some circumstances), you may need to satisfy additional rules that apply to young people as well as the normal entitlement rules for the particular benefit you are claiming.

This section explains the rules relating to benefits for young people, including care leavers.

Applies to: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Please note: This is a complicated area and we recommend that you seek advice from an expert benefits adviser about your particular circumstances. You can use our Find an Adviser tool to find a local adviser.

 

Index

You can read through this information sheet, or go directly to the sections you want to read by clicking on these links:

Age

Most benefits cannot be claimed before you reach the age of 16 (apart from some exceptions which are discussed in this section). 

If you cannot qualify for benefits in your own right, someone else, such as a parent or guardian, may be able to claim amounts for you within the benefits they get.

If you are a young person aged under 18 years (or under 20 in some circumstances), you may need to satisfy additional rules that apply to young people as well as the normal entitlement rules for the particular benefit you are claiming.

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Special rules for care leavers

There are special rules if you are aged 16 or 17 and one of the following applies to your situation:

  • You have been looked after by a local authority for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14 and you left care on or after your 16th birthday. The 13 weeks do not have to be continual (but short-term, pre-planned placements in care may not count towards the 13 weeks)
  • You were in hospital, a remand centre or a young offenders (or similar) institution when you became 16, and immediately before then you had been looked after by a local authority for at least 13 weeks since your 14th birthday.

If you fall under these special rules, even if you would otherwise meet all the qualifying conditions for the benefit, you will not be able to claim:

No one else (e.g. a parent/guardian) can receive any extra money in their means-tested benefits for you either.

This is because social services have the responsibility for meeting your needs for maintenance, accommodation and support and so you are excluded from receiving benefits which cover the same things. However, you are not prevented from claiming any other benefits which may apply to you.

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Exceptions

Even if you fall under these special rules, you are not excluded from claiming Income Support or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance if you are a lone parent or, in some circumstances, if you are sick/have disabilities. You cannot however claim Housing Benefit.

You are also not excluded from claiming Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance and Housing Benefit if you have lived for a continuous period of six months or more with:

  • your parent, or
  • Someone who has parental responsibility for you, or
  • Someone who has a residence order for you, if that order was in place immediately before a care order was made for you.

If you are in education

Advanced education

If you are attending a course of advanced education, see Benefits and students section for information about the rules relating to benefits while studying.

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Relevant education

Most young people who are in relevant education are prevented from claiming benefits. However, you may be able to claim Income Support if your income is low enough and you:

  • Have a child for whom you receive Child Benefit
  • Are a student from abroad whose funds from abroad are temporarily disrupted (you’ll only get benefit for a maximum of six weeks)
  • Are a refugee learning English
  • Are an orphan and have no-one acting for you in place of your parents
  • You have left local authority care and live away from your parents or any person acting in their place (but see the special rules for care leavers)
  • You have to live away from your parents and any person acting in their place and either:
    • you are estranged from them or would be in danger if you lived with them
    • they cannot support you because they are in prison or unable to come to the UK
    • they are sick or have disabilities

If you cannot claim benefit for yourself while you are in relevant education because you do not fall into one of the groups described above, your parents/guardian may be able to continue getting Child Benefit for you. They may also qualify for Child Tax Credit  and Housing Benefit (HB England, Scotland and Wales) (HB Northern Ireland)/ Council Tax Support as you can still be included as their child in those claims.

In some limited situations, you may have entitlement to benefits in your own right and your parent/guardian may also have entitlement to benefits such as Child Benefit for you at the same time. What you claim can have an effect on the benefits that your parent/guardian can claim.

For example, Maria claims Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit for her daughter Louise, who is aged 16 and in relevant education. Louise gives birth to a son, Charlie. If Louise claims Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit for Charlie, Maria could still get Child Benefit for Louise, but will lose Child Tax Credit for her. If Louise claims Income Support, then Maria will also lose her Child Benefit.

If you are in this situation, you should seek advice about what would be the best choice from a local benefits adviser. You can use our Find an Adviser tool to find a local one.

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If you are ill/have disabilities

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

If you are ill/have disabilities and have limited capability for work, see our Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) section which gives general information on this benefit.

ESA 'in youth'

It is no longer possible to claim contributory ESA without paying national insurance contributions if you are aged between 16 and 20 (or 25 if you are in education or training for at least three months before turning 20).

If you were claiming contributory ESA, the time limit for which you can claim this benefit will be reduced to 365 days from the date when you made the claim.

Young people will still be able to claim income-related ESA if you are entitled to do so but see information provided below about rules for this benefit for students.

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Income-related ESA

You cannot usually get income-related ESA if you are studying in relevant education or if you are a full-time student – see our Benefits and Students section for more information.

However, you can still qualify for this benefit if you receive Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment.

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Disability Living Allowance

You may be able to claim Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) if you have care and/or mobility needs

If you are under 16, an adult must claim on your behalf (see Disability Living Allowance: claiming for children), but from your 16th birthday, you can make a claim for DLA or PIP in your own name (instead of a parent/guardian). It can be paid on top of any other benefits you receive.

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If you are caring for someone

If you are aged 16+ and are caring at least 35 hours a week for a person who is ill or has disabilities, you may qualify for Carer’s Allowance and/or Income Support. There are certain other conditions you must fulfil, such as not being in full-time work or education, so you should check the rules of entitlement for each benefit to see if you qualify. You may also be eligible for other forms of help as well – see help from the local council for carers.

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If you are looking for work

If you are unemployed, you may qualify for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) if you can show that you are available for and actively seeking work.

If you are under 18, you will probably not have paid sufficient national insurance contributions to qualify for contribution-based JSA, but you may qualify for income-based JSA if your income is low enough.

However, if you are aged 16 or 17, in addition to satisfying the normal rules of entitlement you must also fall within one of the following groups:

  • You are one of a couple and you have a child who is aged under 16
  • You are within a 20-week period of having left education/training (and sometimes for up to eight weeks afterwards) and one of the following conditions applies
    • you are married/in a civil partnership. Your partner must either be aged over 18 or aged under 18 and satisfy certain conditions (Seek further advice from a benefits adviser if this applies to you. You can use our Find an Adviser tool to find a local one.)
    • you are an orphan with no-one acting for you in place of your parent
    • you are living away from your parents and anyone acting in their place and certain other conditions apply (seek further advice)
  • You are within the first 13 weeks of being laid off or on short time work
  • You are waiting to be enlisted into the armed forces.

If you do not fall within any of the above groups, while you are under 18 you can only qualify for income-based JSA if you can show you are in ‘severe hardship’.

Remember that if you are a care leaver, you may not qualify for income-based JSA at all, even if you would otherwise meet the entitlement conditions. See special rules for care leavers.

For all types of JSA, if you are claiming while you are under 18 you will normally have to register for work and training in order to be eligible.

You cannot normally qualify for JSA if you are studying in relevant education, or if you are a full-time student – see our Benefits and Students section for further details.

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If you are in work

If you are 16 or over and are working, you may qualify for Working Tax Credit (WTC) if you:

  • work 16 hours or more a week, and
  • are on a low income, and
  • are responsible for a child, or
  • have a disability that puts you at a disadvantage in getting a job and be getting certain disability benefits (or did so before you started work).

If you're in a couple and you are responsible for a child, you usually have to work 24 hours a week between you, with one of you working at least 16 hours a week, to get WTC.

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If you have a child

You should qualify for Child Benefit as there is no minimum age limit to claim this. You may also qualify for Child Tax Credit if you are aged at least 16 and your income is low. There are a range of other benefits and assistance available for people with children which you may qualify for depending on your circumstances – see our Expecting or bringing up a child section for more information.

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If you need help with housing costs

Rent

If you are renting accommodation and are finding it difficult to pay your rent, you may qualify for Housing Benefit (HB England, Scotland and Wales) (HB Northern Ireland).

You must be paying rent under a commercial agreement. You cannot get Housing Benefit if you live with your landlord and they are a close relative, e.g. your parents.

Housing Benefit is means tested so whether you qualify for it will depend on your income and circumstances. You can still claim even if you are working full time.

If you are aged under 35, you will probably find that your Housing Benefit is restricted to the cost of living in accommodation with shared facilities.

There is no minimum age limit to claim Housing Benefit, but you must be able to show you have a legal liability to pay rent, which may be difficult if you are under 16.

Remember that if you are a care leaver, you may not qualify for  Housing Benefit at all, even if you would otherwise meet all entitlement rules. See special rules for care leavers.

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Council Tax

If you are on a low income and liable to pay Council Tax you may be able to claim help with your Council Tax through Council Tax Support. However, if you are aged under 18 you will not be liable for Council Tax.

If you are a full-time student in advanced education, you may not be able to claim Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support unless you fall within a certain category – see Benefits and Students section. There are no rules preventing you from claiming Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support if you are in relevant education or if you are under 21 and studying on a course below degree level which you started before you were 19.

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Further information

Citizens Advice information on Young people and benefits (link opens in a new window) - Make sure you look at the information relevant to the country of the UK you are living in.

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Frequently asked questions

1. I have a disability and my parents have been claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for me. I am about to turn 16.  Should they continue to claim for me or should I be claiming myself?

While you are aged under 16, you cannot claim DLA for yourself – normally, your parents will have been appointed to deal with your claim on your behalf (see Disability Living Allowance - Claiming for Children). Once you reach the age of 16, you can start claiming in your own right if you wish to do so and are capable of managing your own affairs (see Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment). Otherwise, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can ‘appoint’ someone (e.g. your parents) to continue to deal with your claim on your behalf. 

2. I am 16 and pregnant.  I live with my widowed mother who is supportive but will struggle financially to help me and the baby when it is born. Can we get benefits to help with childcare and other costs?

When your baby is born, you can claim Child Benefit and also Child Tax Credit to help with the costs of the baby. You may also qualify for Income Support if you are a lone parent. You cannot get Child Benefit or Child Tax Credit before the baby is born, but you may be able to claim Income Support once there are 11 weeks or less before your baby is due. Once you are receiving Income Support or Child Tax Credit, you should also qualify for a Sure Start Maternity Grant of £500 but you need to make sure you claim this no later than three months after the date the baby is born.

You can only get help with childcare costs if you are working 16 hours or more per week, in which case you may qualify for Working Tax Credit (instead of Income Support) which includes extra amounts to help with the costs of childcare. However, if your mum is claiming any benefits herself which include amounts for you, she may find that her benefits reduce or stop once you start claiming benefits in your own right, so she may need to seek advice about the effect on her benefits.

3. I am 17 and have been unemployed since leaving school. I currently live with my parents but they are always rowing and I can’t stand it any more. Can I get benefits to move into a place of my own?

If you have only recently left full-time education, you may be able to claim Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance for a limited time if you are ‘estranged’ from your parents. This usually only applies for a period of 20 weeks from the date you left education. If you are outside this period, you may still be able to claim Jobseeker's Allowance but only if you can show you are in ‘severe hardship’ (and you are available for and actively seeking work).

If you move into a property of your own, you may be able to claim Housing Benefit (HB England, Scotland and Wales) (HB Northern Ireland), but you will probably find that this is restricted to the cost of living in accommodation with shared facilities because you are aged under 35. 

4. I am 16. My parents have thrown me out of the house and I have nowhere to go. What benefits help is available to me?

This depends on your current circumstances and income. If you are still in education (or have only recently left education) you may be able to claim Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance if your income is low enough and you can show that you are ‘estranged’ from your parents. Otherwise, you may still be able to claim Jobseeker's Allowance but only if you can show you are in ‘severe hardship’ (and you are available for and actively seeking work).

If you move into a property of your own, you may be able to claim Housing Benefit (HB England, Scotland and Wales) (HB Northern Ireland), but you will probably find that this is restricted to the cost of living in accommodation with shared facilities, because you are aged under 35. 

5. I am 18. Can I get Housing Benefit? I live on my own in a two bedroom flat.

You may qualify for Housing Benefit (HB England, Scotland and Wales) (HB Northern Ireland), if your income is low enough. However, as you are aged under 35, if you are living in privately rented accommodation you will probably find that your Housing Benefit is restricted to the cost of living in accommodation with shared facilities. This is likely to be significantly less than the rent you are paying on a two bedroom flat, so you will probably not get all of your rent covered by Housing Benefit. You could apply to the council for Discretionary Housing Payments to make up the difference, but there is no legal right to these and so no guarantee that they will be paid.

6. I am the sole carer for my disabled grandfather. I have to do everything for him. Is there any help available to help me? I am 16.

If your grandfather receives either Attendance Allowance, the middle or highest rate care component of Disability Living Allowance, or either rate of the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment, you may be able to claim Carer's Allowance if you care for him for at least 35 hours per week. However, if you work and earn over £100 per week, or if you are in full-time education for more than 21 hours per week, you will not be entitled. If your income is low, you may also qualify for Income Support as well.

Be aware, however, that if you start receiving Carer’s Allowance, this could affect any means-tested benefits which your grandfather is receiving, so he should seek advice about any effect on his benefit entitlement.

7. I am about to leave care. Can I claim Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support?  I am 18.

There are normally special rules which prevent some care leavers from being able to claim certain benefits, but as you are 18 these rules will not apply to you. You should therefore be able to claim Housing Benefit (HB England, Scotland and Wales) (HB Northern Ireland) and Council Tax Support in the normal way, if your income is low enough and you meet the normal conditions of entitlement. As you are under 35 you may find that the amount of Housing Benefit you qualify for is only paid at a reduced rate (if you live in privately rented accommodation), although you may be exempt from this rule if you have been in social services care under a court order.

8. I am 19 and I left care a year ago. I am now homeless.  What help is available to me?

This depends on your circumstances. If you are unemployed and looking for work you may qualify for Jobseeker's Allowance, but you need to show that you are available for and actively seeking work. This normally means you must be contactable should a job opportunity arise. If you are unable to work due to sickness/disability you may qualify for Employment and Support Allowance, but if you are without accommodation (e.g. a house, tent, caravan etc.) you may not receive the full amount of benefit. In the meantime, you may be able to apply to your local authority's Local Welfare Provision scheme for help with immediate expenses. What help you receive will depend on your local scheme. You should also contact your local authority (link opens in a new window) to see what assistance they can offer with finding accommodation.

9. I am 15 and in care but I want to leave. Can I get benefits?

Unfortunately, most social security benefits are not payable to people aged under 16. Even when you reach 16, there are rules which prevent some care leavers from claiming certain benefits (Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance and Housing Benefit (HB England, Scotland and Wales) (HB Northern Ireland)). This is because social services have the responsibility for meeting your needs for maintenance, accommodation and support and so you are excluded from receiving benefits which cover the same things.

10. I get some financial help from social services because I have recently left care.  Will this be taken into account if I claim benefits?

If you are aged 16 or 17 and have recently left care, you may find that you cannot claim certain social security benefits (Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance and Housing Benefit (HB England, Scotland and Wales) (HB Northern Ireland)) as there are rules which prevent some care leavers from claiming those benefits. Otherwise, payments made by social services to support care leavers are usually ignored when assessing means-tested benefits, although this depends on exactly what the payments are for and you should seek further advice.

11. I am a care leaver and I am about to move into a flat.  Can I get help to help me with a deposit and to pay for furniture and other essential items?

You may be able to apply to your local authority's Local Welfare Provision scheme for help with getting furniture if you are setting up home following a stay in care. They may also be able to help you pay for the deposit. The help provided will depend on the scheme in your local area. You are likely to need to show that you are without sufficient resources to meet your immediate short term needs.

If you do not meet the criteria for your local scheme, you could claim a Budgeting Advance / Loan instead, but you must have been in receipt of a means-tested benefit for at least 26 weeks when you claim (and the Budgeting Advance / Loan will then be recovered directly from your ongoing benefit).

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Last updated: 8 April 2013

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