Universal Credit (UC)

Universal Credit (UC) has replaced 6 main means-tested benefits for most people. We refer to these benefits as the ‘legacy benefits’. 

If you’re receiving a severe disability premium (SDP) or within the past month have been entitled to a benefit which includes SDP, you cannot apply for Universal Credit. Instead you will be able to claim a legacy benefit. 

Universal Credit replaces these ‘legacy benefits’:

Contributory benefits and most non-contributory benefits will exist alongside Universal Credit and are not affected by it.

You might be offered new style ESA or new style JSA. These are the original contributory benefits but you can apply for a top-up of Universal Credit if you are eligible.

Working families on Universal Credit can get help with up to 85% of their childcare costs. There is a monthly limit of £646.34p for 1 child and £1,108.04p for 2 or more children.

If you claim Universal Credit, you’re likely to get free school meals for your children. If you apply on or after 1 April 2018, your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get). If your child is currently eligible for free school meals, they’ll remain eligible until they finish the phase of schooling (primary or secondary) they’re in on 31 March 2022.

Universal Credit does not automatically entitle you to free prescriptions and dental fees. It’s important to check before you claim free health costs that you meet the eligibility criteria.

What will change with Universal Credit

  • Payments are monthly and paid in arrears. Alternative Payment Arrangements (APA) might be available.
  • Your Universal Credit award includes housing costs. You will be responsible for paying your rent to your landlord.
  • No premiums in Universal Credit. You will not be entitled to a higher rate of Universal Credit because you get PIP, DLA or AA. You will get extra money if you have a limited capability for work (if you claimed before 3 April 2017) or limited capability for work-related activities, or you’re a carer.
  • There is no permitted work in Universal Credit as there is in ESA. Unless you’re receiving the Limited Capability for Work-Related Activities element, you will be encouraged to do some work and will be allowed to keep more of your earnings before Universal Credit is tapered off. These are known as Work Allowances. Work allowances are higher if you do not have any housing costs paid.

Child Tax Credits and Working Tax Credits have no capital limits, so your savings or capital are not considered. Eligibility is based on income you receive. Universal Credit is fully means-tested. You will not qualify for any help with Universal Credit if you have savings of £16,000 or more.

If you’re part of the managed migration onto Universal Credit and you have capital above £16,000, any excess will be disregarded for 12 months. This only applies to claimants who are part of the managed migration process and not those who move onto Universal Credit following a change in circumstances.

Under ESA, disabled students in receipt of DLA or PIP who applied for income-related ESA had an automatic limited capability for work. Under Universal Credit, there is no automatic limited capability for work for disabled students. You cannot qualify for Universal Credit if you’re in education, unless you have limited capability for work and PIP daily living component. 

The rules are very complex. You can get further advice about your situation from the Disabled Students Helpline.

Timetable for Universal Credit

If you’re receiving any of the legacy benefits, Universal Credit will not affect you until at least 2019, unless you have a ‘change in circumstances’.

Read more about Universal Credit rollout (Turn2Us).  

Changes in circumstances

  • Changes in employment status
  • Changes in family circumstances
  • Becoming a carer or stop being a carer if income support is involved
  • Moving area or taking up a new tenancy
  • Other

Read this pdf on what can trigger a new claim for Universal Credit.

Eligibility criteria

To qualify, you must:

  • be at least 18 years old (or aged 16 to 17 in certain cases)
  • have not reached the qualifying age for Pension Credit. From May 2019, if you’re a mixed age couple with a person over the state pension age and the other under, you'll need to claim Universal Credit.
  • live in Great Britain
  • not be subject to immigration control
  • not be in education, with some exceptions, such as you’re responsible for a child or you’re disabled and entitled to DLA or PIP and have limited capability for work
  • have accepted a ‘claimant commitment’
  • meet the financial conditions

For joint claims, both people are claimants and must both meet the criteria.

You will only receive Universal Credit if your income and capital are low enough. If you have capital between £6,000 and £16,000, your Universal Credit will reduce by £4.35 per calendar month for every £250 you have above £6,000. If you have capital of £16,000 or more, you will not get Universal Credit.

Claimant commitment

At an early stage in your Universal Credit claim, your work coach will ask you to attend a meeting. This is to discuss what you and your partner must do to qualify and continue qualifying for Universal Credit.

These requirements are based on your caring responsibilities, and on your own work capability (considering disability and illness). If you’re the lead carer of your children, your claimant commitment will be based on the age of your youngest child.

The 4 groups are:

  • No work requirements if you are caring for a disabled person for 35 hours per week or you are the lead carer of a child under 1. This is like ESA support group.
  • Work interview requirements only if you are responsible for a child who is age between 1 and 16 (18 if they have extra care needs)
  • Work preparation requirement for people with limited capability for work. In this group, you must get ready for work, additional work or better paid work. You may have to attend training courses, prepare a CV or take part in the Work Programme. This is like ESA work-related activity group.
  • Work search requirement means you must look for work and apply for jobs 35 hours per week, unless disability, illness or caring responsibilities mean that your hours of work search should be less than this. This is like Jobseeker's Allowance.

Even if you are in full-time work, the DWP work coach may think that you could earn more. They will compare your earnings with your personal earnings threshold. This is often the National Minimum Wage times 35 hours or a reduced number of hours if you have caring responsibilities or disability issues.

How Universal Credit is calculated

The DWP calculates the maximum amount of Universal Credit by adding together a standard list of allowances and elements. These are the basic amounts which the law says you need to live on. These are:

  • standard allowance for you and, if applicable, your partner
  • child element (including an extra amount if the child is disabled)
  • childcare costs
  • work capability element
  • carer element
  • housing costs amount

You add these together to get your maximum amount. You then deduct the following:

  • If you’re entitled to a work allowance, deduct this from your earnings.
  • 63p of each £1 of your earnings in the past month during your assessment period.
  • Deduct other income during the assessment period. Rules are similar to legacy benefits.
  • As your earnings rise, your Universal Credit reduces at a constant rate. So, for each £10 earned, you keep £3.70 and £6.30 will be taken off your Universal Credit.

Payment of Universal Credit

Payments are monthly and in arrears. This will be a week after the end of each assessment period. You will be assessed from the day you claim. You will get your first payment roughly 5 weeks after you claim (monthly assessment period plus a week's processing time).

You can request an Advanced Payment of 100% of your Universal Credit allowance within 5 days of your claim. You will usually pay your advance back over 12 months.

Remember, you will receive all your eligible rent costs in your Universal Credit award. You must pay this money to your landlord to avoid rent arrears. If you do not think you will be able to manage this, you can ask for an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA).

Alternative Payment Arrangements can be:

  • Universal Credit housing costs paid straight to your landlord
  • more frequent payments, such as twice a month
  • payments split and paid into 2 bank accounts

You can ask for an Alternative Payment Arrangement at your new claim interview.


How to claim Universal Credit

  • You claim online and you will manage your Universal Credit account online.
  • After making a claim, you’ll have to attend an interview.
  • You can get help making your claim online at local Jobcentre Plus offices, councils or by calling the helpline on 0800 328 5644.
  • If you are unable to claim Universal Credit online, you must contact the Universal Credit helpline. You can claim over the phone if you have good reasons for not being able to claim online.


If you do not meet your claimant commitment, you could face a range of penalties known as sanctions from 40%-100% of your standard allowance. In rare cases, these can last for up to 3 years. Sanctions should not affect your housing costs. If you receive less than the standard allowance in addition to your housing costs, some of your entitlement to housing costs will be withheld to cover the sanction amount. For example, this could be because:

  • you have other income that reduces your entitlement
  • or the DWP is making deductions from your benefit such as for advance payments or utility arrears payments

This cannot be covered by what is left of your standard allowance.

Universal Credit sanctions (GOV.UK)

Important: If you are claiming benefits and your circumstances are due to change, find out how this could affect your benefits. Talk to a local advice service.

If you need help or something goes wrong with your UC claim

Consent and representatives

You can ask another person or organisation to deal with your claim if:
  • you feel unable to find the information you need
  • understand things about your claim.
You can do this at any point during your claim. You must give your permission to:
  • allow another person or organisation to act for you
  • have access to relevant information about you

This permission is explicit consent.


Another person or organisation can apply for the right to deal with the Universal Credit claim of someone who cannot manage their own affairs. This may be, for example, they may be mentally incapable or severely disabled. Unlike a representative, this is a legal appointment. An appointee can be:

  • individual appointees, such as a friend or relative
  • corporate appointees, such as a solicitor or local council

You may prefer to have corporate appointees, as any staff member from that organisation can act on your behalf.

Power of Attorney

A lasting power of attorney (LPA) is a legal document. It lets someone appoint one or more people (known as ‘attorneys’) to help make decisions. This gives control to the attorney if someone cannot make decisions because of illness or they 'lack mental capacity’. You must be 18 or over and have mental capacity (the ability to make your own decisions) when you make your LPA. Find more information about explicit consent and representatives on the government website.

Universal Credit websites

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