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Universal Credit (UC)

Universal Credit is a means-tested benefit for people of working-age who are on a low income.

1. What is Universal Credit (UC)?

Universal Credit is a means-tested benefit for people of working-age who are on a low income.

It replaces six existing means-tested benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Housing Benefit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit.

The above six benefits are also known as legacy benefits.

Universal Credit is paid on a monthly basis (or twice-monthly in Scotland). How much money you will get is worked out in two steps. First, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) works out what it thinks you should need to live on, based on your household’s circumstances. Next, it takes away some of the income you have coming in.

You don’t need to do anything if you are already claiming existing legacy benefits and your situation stays the same. 

Applies to: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales

Type  of benefit: Means tested

Taxable: No

Administered by: Department for Work and Pensions

Updated: June 2019

2. Can I get Universal Credit (UC)?

Whether you can claim Universal Credit depends on your personal circumstances.  If you are receiving any legacy benefits, you will lose these if you claim Universal Credit, and will not be able to go back on them.

To claim Universal Credit you must:

If you have a partner you will make a joint claim as a couple. If one of you does not meet any of the above conditions, that person will be ignored for the purposes of calculating the Universal Credit maximum amount - although their savings/capital, income and earnings will still be taken into account.

What if I am disabled?

Most people with illnesses or disabilities can claim Universal Credit. Some people with disabilities or illnesses who get or are entitled to get a Severe Disability Premium cannot claim Universal Credit and are still allowed to make new claims for the benefits Universal Credit replaces.

What if I am aged 16 or 17 years?

You should look at our page on claiming benefits as a young person.

If you are under 18 and want to know more about your benefit entitlement please seek further advice from a professional advice service. You can use our Find an Adviser tool to find a local adviser.

What if I am over Pension Credit age?

Universal Credit is paid to people of working age and is not a benefit for people who have reached Pension Credit age.  You would claim Pension Credit instead of Universal Credit.

If one member of a couple is Pension Age and the other one is working age, you will usually need to claim Universal Credit. There are some exceptions to this. Use our benefits calculator to check which benefits you can claim.

 

Updated: December 2019

3. Do I need to claim Universal Credit?

If you are already claiming any of the benefits that Universal Credit replaces, you can carry on getting your benefits. If you have any change of circumstances that means your existing claims for these benefits ends, you won’t be able to make new claims for any of the benefits Universal Credit replaces.

No one has to make a claim for Universal Credit. However, you might find that a change of circumstances means you need help that is now provided through Universal Credit.

If you have had a change of circumstances, you should speak to an adviser to find out whether this means you should make a claim for Universal Credit.

In the future, everyone will be moved on to Universal Credit through a process called managed migration. At the moment, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) plans to complete managed migration by the end of 2024.

Updated: February 2020

4. How much Universal Credit (UC) will I get?

How much Universal Credit you can get will depend on the income and circumstances of all the household members. To get an estimate of what you may be entitled to when you claim Universal Credit, you can use the Turn2us Benefits Calculator.

In working out your Universal Credit award, firstly your household’s maximum Universal Credit award is calculated. This will be made up of one basic allowance and any additional elements that apply.

Universal Credit Standard Allowance

Your standard allowance will depend on whether you are single or claiming as a couple, and your age. There is one standard allowance for your household:

  • Single claimant aged under 25: £342.72 per month

  • Single claimant aged 25 or over: £409.89 per month

  • Joint claimants both aged under 25: £488.59 per month

  • Joint claimants either aged 25 or over: £594.04 per month

Universal Credit additional elements

There are additional elements that can be added to your basic allowance. Your household may qualify for more than one of these:

  • Child element

  • Childcare costs element

  • Limited capability for work element (abolished for most new claimants from 3 April 2017)

  • Limited capability for work-related activity element (LCWRA element)

  • Carer element

  • Housing costs element

The same person cannot get a LCWRA element as well as a Carer element even if they are eligible for both.

Universal Credit award

If your household has no earnings, other income, capital or savings, the Universal Credit award you receive will be your maximum Universal Credit award (one basic allowance plus any additional elements) unless you are affected by the Benefit Cap ​

If anyone in your household has earnings, other income, savings or capital, these will need to be taken into account to work out the Universal Credit award you may receive.

See our Universal Credit income and capital guide for further details.

What if my Universal Credit entitlement is less than my current entitlement?

Some people find they receive less money under Universal Credit than they would have received under the legacy benefit system. 

People who were receiving the Severe Disability Premium before they moved on to Universal Credit should be entitled to money to compensate for the difference. If you think this applies to you, you should speak to an adviser.

People who are part of the managed migration on to Universal Credit will not be worse off when they move over to Universal Credit, if they are entitled to less under Universal Credit than under the benefits that are being replaced by it. They will receive a ‘transitional amount’ to top up their Universal Credit to the same amount they were getting on legacy benefits.

People who make a new claim for Universal Credit, including people who need to claim Universal Credit because of a change of circumstances, will not receive any transitional amount if their Universal Credit entitlement is less than they would get under the benefits it replaces. Only people transferred by managed migration from July 2019 onwards will get the transitional amount.  

See our Universal Credit Transitional Protection guide for further details

Updated: April 2020

 

5. Additional Elements of Universal Credit (UC)

All of these elements are means tested. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) adds up all the elements you are entitled to. This is called your maximum amount of Universal Credit. After that your income is taken away from your maximum amount to work out the amount of Universal Credit you are entitled to. 

Carer's Element

You can get this addition of £162.92 per month if you are caring for a severely disabled person for at least 35 hours a week. You do not have to claim Carer's Allowance to get this element. 

Unlike Carer's Allowance where you are prevented from claiming if you are earning above a certain level (£128pw for 2020/21), for the Carer's Element your level of earnings does not prevent you from claiming. However, as the Carer's Element is a part of Universal Credit (UC), which is means tested, your earnings and other income will affect whether you can get this and how much Universal Credit you are entitled to.

If you are making a joint claim, you can get a Carer's Element each if you both qualify for it. However, you cannot be caring for the same severely disabled person.

Getting the Carer’s Element of Universal Credit might affect the benefits of the person you care for. It might mean they lose their entitlement to the Severe Disability Premium.

Child Element

Your Universal Credit will include a child element if you are responsible for a child or qualifying young person who normally lives with you. You usually receive a child element of £235.83 per child per month. If your first or only child was born before 6 April 2017, you will receive a slightly higher amount for that child of £281.25 per month. 

You will not be paid a child element for a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017, unless an exception applies. This is called the Two Child Limit. If you have three or more children, check if you qualify for an exception to the Two Child Limit. You should still report all the children who live with you when you claim Universal Credit.

There are also two disabled child additions. 

  • Disabled child addition of £128.25 per month for each child or qualifying young person that is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP), or

  • Severely disabled child addition of £400.29 per month if your child or qualifying young person gets the highest rate of the care component of DLA, the enhanced rate for daily living of PIP or is registered blind.

You can still receive a disabled child addition for a third or subsequent child, even if you cannot get the child element for that child.

Childcare Costs Element

Some childcare facilities are asking parents to continue to pay to keep their place. Universal Credit will not help with fees to retain a place. The Consumer and Markets Authority has said that providers should not be charging fees for a service they cannot provide. If your childcare provider is asking you to pay a fee, you can report them to the Consumer and Markets Authority. 

You can receive a childcare costs element if you pay for registered childcare when you go to work. There is no set number of hours you need to work. If you are part of a couple, then both of you must be in work unless the non-working partner:

  • Has limited capability for work or limited capability for work related activity, or

  • Has regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person, or

  • Is temporarily absent from your household (for example, they are in prison/hospital/or residential care).

If you live with a partner and one or both of you are furloughed and not going in to work, the DWP will expect the person who is at home to provide childcare and will not pay for childcare costs.

You will get 85% of your childcare costs met, up to a maximum of £646.35 per month for one child and £1,108.04 per month for two or more children.

Housing Costs Element

For details about the housing costs element, please see our Universal Credit housing costs guide

Limited Capability for Work Element

You will get one of these if you satisfy the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). See our Universal Credit - Work Capability Assessment information.

You might get either the:

  • Limited capability for work element (LCW) £128.25 per month (From 3 April 2017, the limited capability for work element will not be available to claimants who claim Universal Credit (UC) on or after this date, unless they were in receipt of a work-related activity component in Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) immediately before they claimed UC), or

  • Limited capability for work-related activity element (LCWRA) £341.92 per month 

If you are making a joint claim and you both have LCW or LCWRA, your award will only include one element:

  • If one or both of you have LCWRA, you will receive that element
  • If you both have LCW, you will receive that element.

You may have to wait three months for your LCWRA element to be added on. Although there are some instances where it can be added on straight away, such as if you are terminally ill or you were entitled to one of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) components immediately prior to your Universal Credit claim.

If you have already been assessed as having limited capability for work or for work-related activity as part of your UC claim, you can work while still being treated as having limited capability for work. If you are doing a lot of work, this might mean the DWP will want to do another Work Capability Assessment to check whether your condition has changed.

If you haven’t had a work capability assessment yet and are earning more than £140.00 per week, you won’t be able to have a Work Capability Assessment unless you are also getting PIP, DLA or Attendance Allowance.

Updated July 2020

6. How will I be paid Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a single payment made monthly. It is paid after the end of each month when you were entitled to Universal Credit.

It will take at least five weeks for you to receive your first payment. Once you make your claim, there is a one-month assessment period and then payments are made seven days after the assessment period.  

If you are going to struggle to wait five weeks for your money, you can request a Universal Credit Advance payment, which you will then need to pay back through deductions from your Universal Credit. If you think that you might struggle to manage your money, you can ask for Personal Budgeting Support from Citizens Advice’s Help to Claim service.

Universal Credit will be paid into one bank account or other account (such as a post office card system account) nominated by each household.

For most people, your Universal Credit payment will include money for your rent and it is up to you to make sure you pay that rent to your landlord. If you are worried you might struggle to do this, you can ask for the money to be paid direct to your landlord instead.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can pay more frequently or split payment in exceptional circumstances. If you live in Scotland, you can ask for your Universal Credit to be paid twice monthly.

Updated: June 2019

7. How do I claim Universal Credit (UC)?

Online

You can start a claim for Universal Credit on the Apply for Universal Credit page of the Gov.UK website

In most cases, you have to claim Universal Credit online.

For more information about making an online claim, read our guide on how to claim Universal Credit

Phone

If you have a reason for not being able to apply online, you may be able to claim by phone instead. You can claim by phone if, for example, you can't use a computer or you have problems reading or writing.

To start a claim by phone, call the Universal Credit helpline: 
Telephone: 0800 328 5644 
Welsh language: 0800 012 1888
Textphone: 0800 328 1344

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also provides a British Sign Language (BSL) video translation service

Backdating

A claim for Universal Credit can be backdated for a maximum of one month if you or your partner could not have reasonably been expected to make a claim from an earlier date and one of the following circumstances apply to you: 

  • You were previously in receipt of Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) or Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and were not notified that your entitlement was going to end
  • You have a disability 
  • You were unwell and this prevented you from claiming earlier (you will need to provide medical evidence showing this) 
  •  You could not claim earlier due to a system failure or planned system maintenance, and have made a claim on the first day following this 
  • You had a joint claim for Universal Credit which stopped due to a breakdown in a relationship and you are now claiming as a single person
  • You made a joint claim for Universal Credit which was either stopped or turned down because your partner did not accept the claimant commitment and you have now ceased to be a couple and are now claiming as a single person.

For a practical guide to claim online, please read our guide on how to claim Universal Credit.

Updated: April 2020

8. What activities will I have to do when claiming Universal Credit?

Claimant commitments and the coronavirus pandemic

From March, the usual requirement to look for work was temporarily suspended due to coronavirus. This suspension has now been lifted and you will be expected to look for work.

If you claimed Universal Credit recently, you might not have a claimant commitment in place. A work coach will phone you in the next few weeks and agree one with you.

If you had a claimant commitment in place before coronavirus, you should have a think about whether coronavirus means that you shouldn't be expected to comply with your claimant commitment. If this is the case, you should leave a message on your journal asking for your claimant commitment to be reviewed.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) say that claimant commitments will be sensitive to people's additional needs during the coronavirus outbreak, such as people who have additional childcare responsibilities at the moment or people who are shielding. If your work coach sets a claimant commitment which you don't feel you can comply with, you should get advice. This is because failing to comply with a claimant commitment means you can be sanctioned.

What is a claimant commitment?

The Jobcentre might expect you to do certain things in order to receive Universal Credit. This is called your ‘claimant commitment’.

What you are expected to do will depend on your circumstances, such as your health, your caring responsibilities and whether or not you are working at the moment.

If you are claiming Universal Credit as a couple, you will each have your own claimant commitment based on your own circumstances.    

If you fail to meet your claimant commitment, you might be sanctioned.  

Situations and claimant commitment rules

Click on the links below that relate to your situation(s) to find out more about claimant commitment rules under Universal Credit.

I'm ill or disabled

If your illness or disability makes it harder for you to work, it is important to make sure the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) knows about it. When you first apply for Universal Credit, you can declare any health conditions on the application form. If you become ill or disabled while claiming Universal Credit, you should report it as a change of circumstances.

Your work coach should arrange for you to have an assessment of how your illness or disability affects your ability to work. This is called a ‘limited capability for work’ assessment.

This has three possible results: 

Limited capacity for work and work-related activity

If you are found to have limited capability for work and work-related activity, you will be placed in the ‘no work-related requirements’ group. You won’t be expected to do any activities through the Jobcentre and you won’t have a work coach.

Limited capacity for work

If you are found to have limited capacity for work, you will be placed in the ‘work preparation’ group. You won’t be expected to look for jobs or move into work. However, you might be expected to do things to prepare to be ready to move into work, like taking part in a training course or updating your CV.

Fit for work

If you are found fit for work, your work coach should still adapt your claimant commitment to suit your needs. If you do not think your claimant commitment has taken into account the impact of your health conditions, you should get advice.

I'm caring for someone sick or disabled

If you are providing 35 or more hours per week of care for someone who gets the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), the middle or high rate care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Attendance Allowance or Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP), you will be placed in the ‘no work-related requirements’ group. You won’t be expected to do any activities through the Jobcentre and you won’t have a work coach. You won’t be expected to look for work. This applies even if you are working too much to be able to claim Carer’s Allowance.

If you are providing less than 35 hours per week of care or the person you care for doesn’t receive the right benefits, you should tell your work coach about your caring responsibilities and ask that your claimant commitment is adapted to take them into account. If you do not feel your claimant commitment has taken into account your caring responsibilities, you should get advice.

I'm looking after a child

If you are claiming Universal Credit as a couple, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will ask you to choose one of you as the ‘main carer’ for your children. The children will only affect the claimant commitment of the main carer.

Your claimant commitment depends on the age of your youngest child.

My child is under 1

If your child is under 1 year old, you will be placed in the ‘no work-related requirements’ group. You won’t be expected to do any activities through the Jobcentre and you won’t have a work coach. You won’t be expected to look for work. 

My child is aged 1

If your child is aged 1, you will be placed in the ‘work-focused interviews’ group. You won’t be expected to look for work. However, you might be asked to have interviews with a work coach about the kind of work you would like to do in the future.

My child is aged 2

If your child is aged 2, you will be placed in the ‘work preparation’ group. You won’t be expected to look for work but you might be expected to take part in activities to improve your chances of getting a job in the future.

My child is aged 3 - school age

If your child is aged between 3 and school age, you will be placed in the ‘all work-related requirements’ group. You will be expected to look for work and to be available to take up a job if one is offered to you. You won’t be expected to take a job that would mean working more than 16 hours per week and you won’t need to spend more than 16 hours per week looking for work.

My child is aged school age - 12

If your child is aged between school age and 13, you will be placed in the ‘all work-related requirements’ group. You will be expected to look for work and to be available to take up a job if one is offered to you. You won’t be expected to take a job that would mean working more than 25 hours per week and you won’t need to spend more than 25 hours per week looking for work. If working 25 hours per week doesn’t fit with your child’s normal school hours, you could ask your work coach to adapt this.

My child is aged 13 or over

If your child is aged 13 or over, you will be placed in the ‘all work-related requirements’ group. You will be expected to look for work and to be available to take up a job if one is offered to you. You won’t be expected to take a job that would mean working more than 48 hours per week and you will need to spend 35 hours per week looking for work.

I'm working

You won’t be expected to do any activities at the Jobcentre if you are working and earning more per month than someone would earn working at minimum wage for the number of hours you are expected to work. This is called your ‘earnings threshold’.

Example

Alice is 29. Her son is aged 3, so she would be expected to work 16 hours per week. Because of her age, her minimum wage rate is £8.72 per hour. This means Alice’s earnings threshold is 16 x 8.21 = £139.52 per week or £604.58 per month. Alice works 10 hours per week and earns £15 per hour (£150 per week), so she is earning more than her earnings threshold and won’t have to do any activities at the Jobcentre.

If you are self employed

If you are self-employed, the earnings threshold won’t apply to you. You won’t be expected to do any activities at the Jobcentre or to look for work. However, you might be affected by the minimum income floor, which is also calculated based on what your claimant commitment would have been if you weren’t self employed.

Earning less than your earnings threshold

If you are working but are earning less than your earnings threshold, you might be expected to do some activities at the Jobcentre. As long as you are earning more than £343 per month (if you are single) or £549 per month joint income (if you are a member of a couple), you won’t be expected to look for work or be available for work. However, you might be asked to take part in activities to increase your chances of getting a job.

If you are working but are earning less than £343 per month (if you are single) or £549 per month joint income (if you are a member of a couple), you will be expected to look for more work and be available for work.

I'm over Pension age

If you are over Pension age, you won’t be expected to take part in any activity at the Jobcentre and you won’t be expected to look for work.

None of these apply to me

If none of these situations apply to you, you are likely to be put in the ‘all work-related activities’ group. You will be expected to spend 35 hours per week looking for work and will usually be expected to be available for work of up to 48 hours per week. 

If you have recently experienced domestic violence, bereavement or have some other good reason why you can’t do what your work coach expects you to do, you should tell your work coach. If you don't feel your claimant commitment takes your needs into account, you should get advice.

Several of these apply to me

If several of the situations apply to you, you will be placed in the lowest activity group you satisfy. You should look at the claimant commitment rules for situations you fall into.

Example

For example, Elis is working, has a disability, and has a 1 year old daughter. Elis earns £200 per month from work, so on this basis Elis would be expected to look for work. Elis’s disability means he has limited capacity for work, so on this basis he would be expected to do work preparation. Elis is the main carer for his daughter, so on this basis Elis would be expected to take part in work focused interviews. Work focused interviews are the lowest activity group Elis satisfies, so he will only have to take part in work focused interviews and he will not have to do work preparation or look for work. 
 

9. How do I challenge a Universal Credit (UC) decision?

Mandatory reconsideration

If you think a decision made about your Universal Credit (UC) entitlement is wrong, you can contact Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and ask them to look at the decision again, explaining why you think it is wrong. This is called 'mandatory reconsideration'. Each monthly statement is a decision and can be challenged through mandatory reconsideration and appeal if you think the decision on how much UC to award you is wrong

The best way to request mandatory reconsideration of a decision is to write a message in your journal saying that you want a mandatory reconsideration of the decision and explaining why you think the decision is wrong. It can take a long time for messages in the journal to be read, so you should also phone the Universal Credit helpline to tell them that you are asking for a mandatory reconsideration.

If your claim has been closed, you will not be able to leave messages in your journal. If you want to challenge a decision on a closed claim (including the decision to close the claim), you will need to call the DWP helpline 0800 328 5644 and ask for the address to which to send your written request for mandatory reconsideration. You can use the Challenge a decision made by the Department for Work and Pensions form to complete your request. Make sure you keep a copy of the form you send.

You should ask for mandatory reconsideration within a month of the original decision. If you have missed this deadline, you should still ask for mandatory reconsideration. If the DWP say you have missed the deadline and they will not reconsider their decision, you should speak to an adviser.

You will receive a 'mandatory reconsideration notice' in response. The decision may be changed or you may receive an explanation of why it remains the same.

If you still think the decision is wrong after receiving the mandatory reconsideration notice, you can make an appeal to a tribunal. This means that someone independent of the DWP will look at the decision and if they think it is wrong they can change it.

Appeal

You can make an appeal to the tribunal by completing a 'Notice of appeal against a decision of the Department for Work and Pensions' form. You will be expected to have followed the mandatory reconsideration process before appealing. You will be asked for the mandatory reconsideration notice.

You have one month from the date of the mandatory reconsideration notice to submit your appeal. If you have missed this deadline, you can still appeal but you will need to explain why your appeal is late. There is a risk that it might not be allowed to go ahead.

Your mandatory reconsideration notice will be uploaded on to your journal. To send it with your appeal, you will need to print it off. If you don’t have a printer, you might be able to use one at a library. If you manage your claim over the phone, you will need to call and ask for a copy of the mandatory reconsideration notice to be posted to you.

Some mandatory reconsideration notices for decisions on Universal Credit aren’t dated and this can cause problems with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) (the organisation that manages appeals). If you have problems with this, you should speak to an adviser or to your MP.

If your Universal Credit account has been closed, you might have difficulty getting a copy of your mandatory reconsideration notice. You should ask your local Jobcentre to give you a copy of the mandatory reconsideration notice. If your Jobcentre can’t help, you should speak to an adviser or complain to your MP.

If you do want to challenge a decision, you can get help with this by contacting a benefits adviser. Use our Find an Adviser tool to locate one in your area.

 

Updated June 2019