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Work and claiming benefits

How much you earn and how many hours you work can affect your benefits. You can claim some benefits if you work. Work can include:

  • full-time or part-time work
  • a zero-hour contract
  • permitted work

If you claim benefits and want to start working, check the rules for your benefits. You can use a benefits calculator to see if you could get more money by working.

Benefits calculator (Turn2us)

Warning If you’re self-employed

Some benefits, such as Universal Credit, work differently if you’re self-employed.

Self-employment and benefits

Allowed work while claiming benefits

Some types of work will not count. These can include:

  • care of a relative
  • domestic tasks in your own home
  • a Department of Work and Pension (DWP) approved unpaid work trial or work placement
  • work the DWP regards as trivial or very small
  • self-employed work for up to 26 weeks with support from a DWP provider
  • work as a councillor
  • any emergency activity to protect another person or to prevent serious damage to property or livestock
  • duties as an appeal tribunal disability member for 1 day or 2 half days a week
  • fostering a child or providing respite care to someone who is not normally a member of your household. A health body, voluntary organisation or local authority can pay you if you are on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

If you are unsure, ask DWP or a benefits adviser.

Find a local benefits adviser (Turn2us)

Benefits not affected by working

Some benefits cover some of the extra costs of living if you’re sick or disabled. They are not affected by your income. These include:

  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

It's important to make sure your job does not contradict your PIP or DLA claim. It could trigger a re-assessment. Talk to your manager if your job suggests you can do more than you can.

Keep a record of any adjustments or support at work you need. This could be useful if there are problems.

Claiming benefits and working

If you are working or want to start working, knowing how this affects your benefits can help.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

You can work whilst claiming any type of ESA, if all the following apply:

  • you work less than 16 hours a week
  • you do not earn more than £152 a week
  • your Work Coach agrees that it is permitted work

You must first complete a permitted work form. 

If you are claiming ESA, working for 16 hours or more a week can leave you worse off depending on how much you earn.

Working while you claim ESA (GOV.UK)

If you go over these permitted work limits, your ESA will stop. You may be able to claim other benefits. Use a benefits calculator to find out what you can claim.

Benefits calculator (Turn2us)

Warning Accepting a job when you claim ESA

If you work 16 hours or more, you might be able to claim Universal Credit. You will not be able to claim income-related or contribution-based ESA again. You might be able to claim New-Style ESA if you meet the permitted work conditions. Consider carefully if it is worth working 16 hours or more.

Universal Credit (UC)

If you claim Universal Credit, the DWP will get information from the tax office (HMRC) about what you earn. If this varies, your Universal Credit will change.

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.

Universal Credit: What you’ll get (GOV.UK)

As your earnings rise, your Universal Credit reduces at a constant rate once you earn more than your work allowance.

Work out if you are eligible for a work allowance (entitledto)

If you qualify, for each £10 you earn above your work allowance, your Universal Credit reduces by £5.50. In other words, for each £10 you earn above your work allowance, you will be better off by £4.50.

Always tell the DWP if you stop work. Your Universal Credit claim is live 6 months after your last payment. This makes it easier to re-claim.

Housing Benefit

Housing Benefit (HB) may help pay your rent if you are on a low income. Depending on your circumstances, you can receive this by getting:

You might be able to stay on Housing Benefit when you start working. The rules are complex. Eligibility will depend on your local council. You also could be eligible for Council Tax Reduction.

Council Tax Reduction (GOV.UK)

If your income changes, tell your local council you have had a change of circumstances. They will need to see your pay slips.

Contact your local council (GOV.UK)

If you do not tell your council that your income changes, this could mean that you get the wrong amount of Housing Benefit.

If you are overpaid Housing Benefit, you must repay this to the council.

If you are underpaid Housing Benefit, this could mean you do not have enough to cover your rent.

Carer's Allowance

You can earn less than £132 a week and claim Carer's Allowance if you are caring for someone for 35 hours a week or more.

Carer’s Allowance

Tell DWP about employment changes

If you claim benefits, always tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) if your employment changes. This includes if:

  • you start working
  • your working hours or earnings change
  • you stop working

Contact the Department for Work and Pensions (GOV.UK)

You should also contact your local council if you claim Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction.

Find your local council (GOV.UK)

You may need to contact HMRC if you receive tax credits.

Contact HMRC (GOV.UK)

Zero-hour contracts and unpredictable work

Zero-hours contracts do not guarantee you any work. Sometimes, they can be useful. You have the freedom to work flexibly, without fixed hours. But your income may change from week to week. This can make it hard to plan and more difficult to claim benefits like ESA.

Zero-hours contracts

The number of hours you work can affect:

  • Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)
  • Income Support
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Universal Credit

Use a benefits calculator to find out what you can claim.

Benefits calculator (Turn2us)

Permitted work and benefits

Permitted work is work or volunteering you may do when claiming benefits. These can include:

  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA)
  • National Insurance credits
  • Income Support because of incapacity for work

Warning Get permission

You do not need a doctor's permission to do permitted work, but you must tell Jobcentre Plus.

Permitted Work form (GOV.UK)

Send the form to the Jobcentre Plus office that deals with your benefit. They will tell you if the work you want to do meets the permitted work conditions. If you are unsure what your conditions are, speak to your Work Coach.

Permitted work lower limit

This allows you to earn up to £20 a week for an unlimited period. Any earnings over £20 will be deducted from your Income Support.

Permitted work higher limit

This allows you to earn up to £152 a week, after tax and National Insurance deductions, without affecting your benefits. The work must be less than 16 hours a week. It can be for an unlimited period.

Supported permitted work

This is work where you have a supervisor from:

  • a public body or local authority
  • a voluntary or community group which provides or finds work for disabled people

Supported permitted work has no restriction on the hours you work. It can be for an unlimited period. You can earn up to £152 a week after tax and National Insurance deductions without affecting your benefit.

If this is something you might be interested in, speak to your Work Coach.

Universal Credit and permitted work

There is no ‘permitted work’ under Universal Credit. Instead, you can do some work, even for a few hours a week, if you can manage it. There is no time limit to how many weeks you can work. You can keep some of the earnings if you have a work allowance.

Universal Credit: Work allowance (GOV.UK)

Housing Benefit and permitted work

When calculating your Housing Benefit, permitted work earnings are not included if you receive:

  • ESA
  • Incapacity Benefit or
  • Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA)

You can keep up to £20 a week of permitted work earnings, if you are getting Income Support. Permitted work can include paid employment or self-employment.

Work probation and benefits

Earnings normally affect the benefits you can claim. This is also true when you are in the trial period. This is often known as probation and will be agreed when you start a job. If you are unsure, ask to see your contract. When you start working, the benefits you can claim could be affected by:

  • which benefits you were claiming before you started work
  • how many hours you work
  • how much money you have
  • how much you earn

If you stop working, you may need to start a new claim for benefits. This depends on how long you were working for and where you live. The reason why you stop working is also important. In some cases, your Work Coach can decide to cut (sanction) your benefits.

Avoiding cuts to benefits (sanctions)

You may be sanctioned if you’re claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit if you:

  • choose to leave your job by resigning
  • are dismissed during or after your probation period

If you have a good reason for leaving, you can avoid sanctions. For example, if:

  • you are made redundant
  • you take voluntary redundancy
  • the job you are doing or where you are working makes you unwell

If your job is affecting your health, get advice from your doctor and send evidence about this to your Work Coach.

If there are reasonable adjustments which would allow you to carry on working, ask for them. If you’re employed, you have the right to reasonable adjustments, even when you’re in your probation period.

Reasonable adjustments at work

Last reviewed by Scope on: 04/05/2022

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