Universal Credit (UC) - Switching from other benefits to Universal Credit
Universal Credit is a means-tested benefit for people of working-age who are on a low income.
- Last reviewed 29 November 2023
Switching from other benefits to Universal Credit
Whether you have had a change in circumstances that has meant your old benefits have stopped or you have decided you would like to choose to move onto Universal Credit, there are a few things to think about and some common questions people have.
Make sure you use our Benefits Calculator to check what benefits you can claim and how much you should get.
- What will happen to my other benefits?
- If I don't like Universal Credit, can I switch back?
- Will I be better off on Universal Credit?
- If I claim Universal Credit, will I have to look for work?
- I'm self employed. Is there anything extra for me to think about?
- Will I get paid my benefit in the same way I am used to?
- I'm paid from work weekly, four weekly, or fortnightly. Is there anything for me to think about?
- Where can I get more advice?
If you're receiving Working Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit, they will stop as soon as you make your Universal Credit claim. Sometimes the tax credits department of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are slow to cancel claims. This can mean you receive an overpayment of tax credits which you have to pay back.
If you're getting Tax-free Childcare, your account will be closed as soon as you claim Universal Credit.
If you are receiving any of these benefits, they will stop two weeks after you make your Universal Credit claim:
- Housing Benefit (England, Scotland, Wales) or Housing Benefit (Northern Ireland)
- income-related Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)
- income-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Income Support
Any other benefits you're getting should carry on being paid the same as usual.
No. Once you have started a Universal Credit claim, you won't be able to move back onto your old benefits.
There is an exception to this for people who have been victims of identity fraud and had claims made for Universal Credit in their name but without them knowing about it.
If this has happened to you, you should get advice on how to have your old benefits claim restarted.
Use our Benefits Calculator
Some people do find they are better off on Universal Credit and some do not. The best way to check is to use our Benefits Calculator to see what you're able to get under the two systems.
Although everyone will be moved onto Universal Credit eventually, this will be done through a process of getting a notice. People who get this notice to move onto Universal Credit will get transitional protection payments to make sure they are not worse off on Universal Credit than on their old benefits. You won't get the transitional protection if you decide for yourself to move to Universal Credit. You can read more about Universal Credit Migration Notice.
How the five-week wait affects your payments
Even if your results do show you will be better off on Universal Credit, it is important to remember that you won't get any payment for the first five weeks after you make your claim. Most people find they need to take an advance to get them through this first period. An advance is a loan which has to be paid back over 24 months. This means that for the two years of your Universal Credit claim you will receive less money.
Advances are generally taken back at 25% of your standard allowance.
- For a single person under 25, this is £66 per month
- For a single person 25 or over, this is £84 per month
- For a couple where both are under 25, this is £104 per month
- For a couple where one or both are 25 or over, this is £131.43 per month.
Julia is a single mum with one child aged four and rent of £180 per week. She gets Carer's Allowance and has one non-dependant. She can see that on her old benefits she is entitled to £1,495 per month but on Universal Credit she is entitled to £1,552 per month.
She decides to claim Universal Credit and takes a £1000 advance for the first five weeks. This means that for the first year of her claim she is paying back her advance at £84 per month, so she only receives Universal Credit payments of £1,468 per month. This means that though she changed benefits thinking she'd be better off on Universal Credit, for the first year she is actually getting less money than she did on her old benefits.
Under Universal Credit, more people are expected to look for work than in the old benefits system.
If you have been claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Income Support as a couple, neither of you would have been expected to look for work. Once you move onto Universal Credit, you might find that one or both of you will be expected to look for work.
Whether you have to look for work when you're claiming Universal Credit depends on each individual's circumstances. Find out more about what you have to do to receive Universal Credit.
Self-employed people can often find they are much worse off on Universal Credit than on the old benefits system. This is because of a rule called the Minimum Income Floor.
If you usually earn less than someone working full time on minimum wage would earn, you're likely to find that Universal Credit in the long term is less generous than the benefits it replaces.
Universal Credit is usually paid monthly.
If you're used to managing your budget weekly or fortnightly, or you're used to getting payments every four weeks, this might come as a bit of a change.
You might need to look again at how you manage your budget.
If you're struggling badly with managing your budget monthly, you can ask to switch to be paid twice a month. However, make sure you fully understand what this will mean for your budget before you decide to ask for this. Especially, think about how you will pay your rent if the money you get for your housing costs is split over two payments rather than being paid in one go.
Whereas tax credits are usually paid at the same amount every time, Universal Credit payments go up and down depending on how much your childcare costs that month are, and how much you have earned. You will need to pay childcare costs up front then reclaim the money from Universal Credit after the childcare costs have been used. This can be a problem - especially if you're paying very high childcare costs during school holidays. You need to make sure you budget for it.
Universal Credit is assessed and paid monthly.
This means that if your pay from work is not monthly (for example, if you are paid weekly, fortnightly, or four-weekly), some months it will look to Universal Credit like you have had extra pay.
For example, someone who is paid four-weekly gets 13 payments a year. This then has to be squeezed into twelve monthly Assessment Periods. This means that one month a year, Universal Credit will think that person got paid twice.
Universal Credit will not help you with this problem. The DWP says you need to plan for and budget to account for this.
We cannot tell you which month will have extra pay taken into account - you will need to use a calendar to mark all your Assessment Periods against all your paydays to check which months will be affected.
Citizens Advice operates a helpline for people in England, Scotland and Wales where you can get advice on whether Universal Credit is right for you.
- England: 0800 144 8 444 (Relay UK: 18001 0800 144 8 444)
- Scotland: 0800 023 2581
- Wales: 08000 241 220 (Relay UK: 18001 08000 241 220)
In Northern Ireland, contact Advice NI on 0800 915 4604