Calculate what you're entitled to
It's a common misconception that benefits are only for those who are out of work. As a result, millions of people are missing out on money they're entitled to.
This guide gives an overview of most of the different benefits available and our free calculator will tell you how much you would get in means-tested benefits, so make sure you put in all accurate info.
Check what you can claim with this free universal credit and benefits calculator. It calculates the amount you'd get in 2019/20 means-tested benefits and while it doesn't show every benefit, it mentions others you may be due.
We hope it's accurate, but see it as a ready reckoner.
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Who's eligible for benefits?
The main thing to remember is benefits are NOT just for the unemployed. Even someone earning a high salary could be eligible for some help. Even if your circumstances haven't changed, many rules have – so check out our universal credit and benefits calculator to see what you're entitled to.
Up to eight million households are missing out on £21 billion a year of means-tested benefits, the latest Government figures show. That's without adding on non means-tested benefits such as those for disabilities – so it's well worth a 10-minute check.
Six of the big means-tested working-age benefits have merged into universal credit. This is being phased in and should be fully in place by 2023.
If you're making a new claim or your circumstances have changed, and you're due means-tested benefits, chances are you'll have to apply for universal credit. For more details, see our Universal Credit guide.
If nothing's changed in your circumstances and you're carrying on with an existing claim for means-tested benefits, we've listed them under their old names as these continue... for now. (We've pointed out the six that'll eventually be swallowed up into universal credit.)
For parents with dependent children. It's paid until the 31 August following your child's 16th birthday, or until the age of 20 if they're in full-time education or approved training.
You may have to pay tax on child benefit if you or your partner individually earn more than £50,000.
2019/20 weekly amount: Your eldest child will get £20.70 and other children £13.70.
How to apply: You will usually get an application form in the Bounty pack from your midwife or you can download one from HMRC.
Child tax credits are part of the legacy system designed as state support for those with children. They are also available for those in work with a low income – see the Work section for more details.
These credits are no longer available to most new claimants as it has been replaced by universal credit. Only those who are receiving the Severe Disability Premium, or have received it in the past month and are still eligible, can still get it.
For full information, see the Tax Credits guide.
2019/20 weekly amount: The child tax credit is made up of several elements. How much you get depends on a number of factors, including when your children were born. It's best to use the Government's tax credit calculator, or our full universal credit and benefits calculator, to see how much you can get.
How to apply: Apply online or call 0345 300 3900 (Mon-Fri 8am-8pm, Sat 8am-4pm, Sun 9am-5pm).
Guardian's allowance is for those bringing up a child because one or both of their parents have died. You must be receiving child benefit for the child.
2019/20 weekly amount: £17.60 per child.
How to apply: Download a form from HMRC.
If you've worked for the same firm for six months or longer and then take time off work when your baby is born, your employer will help.
The statutory level is the minimum that should be provided, but your individual contract may provide more.
Statutory maternity pay is for those who are pregnant and employed (adoption pay has similar rules for those adopting). These payments are made for up to 39 weeks while you are on leave from work. You must have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks by your qualifying week (the 15th week before the week in which your baby is due) and earn on average at least £116 per week.
Paternity pay is paid by an employer once the child has been born for up to two weeks and usually goes to the child's father. It has the same 'qualifying rules' as maternity pay although you don't get the same initial six-week entitlement.
You may be eligible for shared parental leave and shared parental pay if your baby is due or your child is adopted on or after 5 April 2015. Pay is the same as maternity pay, although you don't get the same initial six-week entitlement and eligibility rules are different.
2019/20 weekly amount: 90% of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks (maternity pay and adoption pay only). Then £148.68 or 90% of average earnings, whichever is lower, for the next 33 weeks.
How to apply: Payments are made via your employer, so speak to your manager or human resources department. For more info on each, see the Gov.uk pages for statutory maternity pay, statutory adoption pay, statutory paternity pay and shared parental pay.
Marriage allowance lets married couples or civil partners transfer up to £1,250 of their personal allowance between them in the 2019/20 tax year.
One partner needs to not be using their full personal allowance, while the other must be a basic-rate taxpayer, and you must both have been born on or after 6 April 1935.
Use the marriage allowance calculator to see how much you could save per year. You should definitely check before applying if the person giving away some of their allowance is earning close to the income threshold.
2019/20 amount: Up to £250 tax savings per year.
How to apply: You first need to register with HMRC. See our Marriage Tax Allowance guide for more information.
A one-off payment if you've had a baby, or adopted, to help towards the cost of having a baby.
You'll qualify if you're expecting your first child, or are having a multiple birth if you have kids already. You or your partner must also claim certain benefits.
You must claim within three months of your baby's due date or within six months after the baby's birth.
2019/20 amount: £500 (£1,000 for triplets).
How to apply: You should get the claim form from your midwife, or you can download it from Gov.uk.
If you're on maternity leave but are not entitled to statutory maternity pay – eg you were self-employed – then you get maternity allowance for 39 weeks. You can claim it when you've been pregnant for 26 weeks, but your payments won't start until 11 weeks before your baby's due.
2019/20 weekly amount: There are some exceptions, but it's usually 90% of your average weekly earnings or £148.68, whichever is less, for the full 39 weeks.
How to apply: Get a form from your midwife or download it from Gov.uk.
To qualify, you must:
- Be under State Pension age
- Be entitled to Child Benefit for at least one child, and your late spouse or civil partner was their parent
- Your spouse or civil partner paid national insurance contributions, or they died as a result of a work-related accident or disease
If your partner died on or after 6 April 2017, you may be eligible for Bereavement Support Payment instead.
You're not eligible if you:
- Were divorced from your spouse or civil partner when they died
- Have remarried or you are living with another partner as if married or in a civil partnership
- Were over State Pension age when your partner died - you may be able to get extra state pension
- Are in prison.
2019/20 weekly amount: A maximum of £119.90.
If you're in work (on a low income or paying for childcare) or looking for work, one of the benefits below may be available.
If you're applying for one of these benefits and need help before the first payment is made, ask your Jobcentre Plus about getting a short-term advance. This is where money you'll be due is paid early (but obviously you don't then get it again later).
Working tax credits – available under the legacy benefit system to workers with a low income – now comes under universal credit if you're a new applicant.
As with child tax credits, what you get is made up of different elements, but there is a basic element of up to £1,960 per year. It's always best to use the Government's tax credits calculator or our full universal credit and benefits calculator to see how much you can get.
This is the benefit given to those who are looking for work. You need to be not working or working less than 16 hours when you claim.
You must have worked as an employee and have paid class 1 national insurance contributions in the last two to three years to qualify, although some exceptions apply.
You can only get contribution-based JSA for up to six months.
To be eligible for contribution-based JSA, you need to either:
- Have three or more children.
- Get the severe disability premium.
- Have received the severe disability premium in the last month and still be eligible for it.
There is also other criteria that you will need to fulfil to get contribution-based JSA.
There are three types of JSA:
- Contribution-based JSA.
- Income-based JSA, which doesn't take your employment in the last two to three years into consideration.
- 'New style JSA', which you can apply for if you've up to two children and you don't have a disability. It also takes national insurance credits into consideration.
If you're looking for work and are on a low income, look at income-based JSA in the low income section below.
2019/20 weekly amount: Up to £57.90 if aged 24 or under, up to £73.10 if aged 25 or over, up to £114.85 for couples (both over 18).
How to apply: Phone 0800 055 6688 or claim online via Gov.uk.
These are benefits if you are on a low income (your household income determines if you're eligible) to help pay for day-to-day costs if you do not have money from elsewhere. Most are not paid if you have savings above £16,000.
If you're applying for one of these benefits and need help before the first payment is made, ask your Jobcentre Plus about getting a short-term advance. This is where money you'll be due is paid early (but obviously you won't get it later).
Also see the Low Income Grants guide for other free cash you may be eligible for.
Low income benefits
This is paid to people who are not expected to look for work, for example, carers or lone parents with children under the age of five. It is one of six benefits from the legacy system that is now part of universal credit.
However, you can make a new claim if you receive the Severe Disability Premium, or you received it in the last month and you're still eligible for it.
2019/20 weekly amount: £57.90 for single people aged 24 or under, £73.10 for single people aged 25 or over, £114.85 for couples and civil partners (both aged 18 or over). There are extra amounts if you are disabled, a carer or a pensioner.
How to apply: Phone 0800 055 6688 or go to Gov.uk.
Jobseeker's allowance is given to those who are looking for work. There are three types (income based, contribution based and new style) but they all give the same amount.
The income-based one now comes under universal credit for new applicants. However, you can make a new claim if you receive the Severe Disability Premium, or if you received it in the last month and you're still eligible for it.
You need to be not working or working on average less than 16 hours when you apply. It's paid for as long as you show you are trying to find a job. Any savings between £6,000 and £16,000 will reduce the amount you could claim. It doesn't take into account any work you've done in the last two to three years.
(The contribution-based jobseeker's allowance in the work section above is for those who have made class 1 national insurance contributions.)
2019/20 weekly amount: Up to £57.90 for single people aged 24 or under, up to £73.10 for single people aged 25 or over, £114.85 for couples and civil partners (both aged 18 or over). There are extra amounts if you are disabled, a carer or a pensioner.
How to apply: Phone 0800 055 6688 or claim online via Gov.uk.
This is paid if you are sick/disabled, your household is on a low income and you are unable to work, or you have limited capacity to work.
A separate allowance under the legacy system, this benefit is now part of universal credit for most new claimants. From 1 February, you'll be able to make a new claim if you received the severe disability premium in the last month and you're still eligible for it.
Eligibility: In order to be able to apply for income-based ESA, you must either:
- Have three or more children.
- Get the severe disability premium.
- Got the severe disability premium in the last month and still be eligible.
You must also not have paid enough national insurance contributions.
You will need to pass a capability for work assessment. This is a political hot potato. A large number of people claim, but there are accusations that some abuse the system. Don't let this put you off claiming if you think you're entitled to this allowance.
The assessment looks at a series of activities and you are given points. If your total reaches at least 15, then you are assessed as having a limited capability for work. (There are some people who do not need to take this, for example, if you are terminally ill.)
If you are unable to work but have made national insurance contributions, check contribution-based employment support allowance in the health section below.
2019/20 weekly amount: Up to £57.90 if aged 24 or under, up to £73.10 if aged 25 or over.
How to apply: Phone 0800 055 6688 or go to Gov.uk.
Pension credit is an extra payment that guarantees most people over 60 a minimum income, yet over a million low income pensioners are failing to collect over £3 billion in pension credit according to Government figures.
WARNING: New rules coming in this May will change which couples are eligible for pension credit, so act now if you're eligible. Some couples could lose £7,000 a year.
Until 14 May 2019, you can apply as a couple if one of you has reached pension credit qualifying age.
From 15 May, for couples you will both need to be over state pension age to apply for pension credit. For more details, see our MSE news story.
Your existing claim won't be affected, as long as you received pension credit on or before 14 May and you continue to be eligible. Use our universal credit and benefits calculator to see what you're entitled to.
There are two types of pension credit. Guaranteed credit tops up income for those on low amounts (savings over £10,000 may reduce the amounts), while savings credit is only for those who reached state pension age on or before 5 April 2016 and who have put aside some savings.
For more info, see the State Pension guide.
2019/20 weekly amount: Guaranteed credit will top up any pension to £167.25 for a single person and £255.25 for a couple. Savings credit pays an extra £13.72 (single) or £15.35 (couples). There are extra amounts if you are disabled or a carer.
How to apply: Call the Pension Service on 0800 99 1234 or download an application form from Gov.uk.
Housing benefit is help under the legacy benefit system for those on a low income who struggle to pay their rent. It will now form part of universal credit for new applicants or people whose circumstances change.
If you are in social housing (from a council or housing association), under housing benefit, your rent will be lowered.
But your housing benefit might be reduced if you have a spare bedroom. How much your benefit's cut depends on how many spare bedrooms you have, it's lowered by 14% of the 'eligible rent' for one spare bedroom and 25% of the 'eligible rent' for two or more bedrooms.
In private rented properties you'll be given the cash to pay your rent yourself. Here it's possible to receive weekly amounts up to £268.46 for a one-bed property, £311.40 for a two-bed, £365.09 for a three-bed and £429.53 for four or more beds.
If you're eligible, you may also be able to apply for a discretionary housing payment. Each council has a set budget for further help with housing costs, although guidelines vary from place to place.
2019/20 weekly amount: Depends on your rent, your income, where you live, how many bedrooms you have and how many people live in your home.
How to apply: Either claim alongside one of the other income-based benefits above, get a claim form from your local council (search for contact details for your local council on Gov.uk or just Google "www.yourarea.gov.uk") or download a form from Gov.uk.
Provides help to pay your council tax if you're on a low income.
From April 2013, the national council tax benefit has been replaced with localised council tax support, where each local authority decides how much help to give.
Most councils now ask residents to pay something towards their bill, even if they haven't paid before.
If you're eligible for support you may also be able to apply for a discretionary housing payment. Each council has a set budget but guidelines vary from place to place.
Check if your council gives discounts, eg, full-time students are free, single occupants get 25% off, and there's help for those with disabilities or 'severe mental impairment'.
Also see the Council Tax reclaiming guide to see if you're in the right band.
2019/20 weekly amount: Depends on your council tax, but the average for 2018/19 was around £25. You could receive all or part of your bill depending on your income and where you live.
How to apply: Contact your local council or just Google "www.yourarea.gov.uk" to find out its procedure.
Households earning under £16,190 or on income-related benefits could get cash to help with sending their kids to school as well as free prescriptions, eye tests and dentist fees.
Meals and milk: You could get help for each child to pay for school lunches. If your council provides free milk, getting free meals makes you eligible for this too.
Uniforms: Some local councils also help with the cost of school clothing and footwear (maybe offering around £30 for primary and £80 for secondary school gear).
Fruit and veg: Healthy start is a scheme which gives £3.10/week in vouchers if you're pregnant or have kids under four (£6.20/week for babies under 1) to buy milk and fresh or frozen fruit and veg. The vouchers can be redeemed at most big supermarkets as well as some corner shops, greengrocers and market stalls. See more info on Healthy Start.
Health costs: Help is available to pay for prescriptions, dental treatment, wigs, eye tests and glasses or contact lenses plus travel to hospital.
2019/20 amount: Varies, see above.
How to apply: You apply for meals/uniforms via your local school or council. Search for contact details for your local council on Gov.uk or just Google "www.yourarea.gov.uk". Healthy Start applications can be made online or by calling 0345 607 6823.
To get help with healthcare, complete form HC1 to get a HC2 (full help) or HC3 (partial help) certificate.
If you're struggling to pay your mortgage, the support for mortgage interest scheme could pay the mortgage interest for you.
If you're eligible and claiming certain benefits, the Government steps in and makes the interest payments on the first £200,000 of your outstanding mortgage for the time you can't afford them. The level of interest is set by the Government – it's currently 2.61%. Your specific rate isn't used.
As this only pays the interest, you'll need to cover the rest of the money yourself or temporarily see if you can switch to an interest-only mortgage.
The money is usually paid directly to your lender.
Since April 2018, this has changed from a benefit to a loan (repayable upon returning to work or selling your home). This means that any claims made after April 2018 will need to be paid back.
See the Mortgage Arrears help guide for more info.
2019/20 amount: Depends on your mortgage.
How to apply: Depending on your circumstances, either via Jobcentre Plus or the Pensions Service if you're getting pension credit, or the universal credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 if you're claiming universal credit.
This is a Government scheme providing interest-free loans to help if you need essential items for your home or other things that you cannot pay for in a lump sum, such as clothes and furnishings.
You can only apply if you've been on an income-based benefit for at least six months. Demand can be high, so there isn't a bottomless pit of money.
Savings over £1,000 (or £2,000 if over 63) will affect any payments. The money needs to be paid back within two years, usually directly from your benefits. Repayments range from 5%-20% of your available income depending on your circumstances.
If you're claiming universal credit, you'll have to apply for a budgeting advance rather than a budgeting loan. The maximum you can get is the amount of your first estimated payment.
We haven't been able to confirm if the rates will change for 2019/20 so we have left the amounts for this current year.
2019/20 amount: You can apply to borrow from £100 to £812 depending on your circumstances, the urgency of your situation and funds available in your region.
From April 2013, each local authority is responsible for providing help to its residents struggling with an emergency.
Emergency situations include you or your family's health being at risk, not being able to afford to buy food, needing help to stay in your own home and coming out of care, hospital or prison.
Sadly this is a postcode lottery. Each council can choose whether to offer financial help or not or who is eligible. For example, some may give furniture or food grants while others may give cash.
You don't have to pay the money back, but demand can be high and there isn't a bottomless pit of money, so your circumstances may mean you're not eligible.
2019/20 amount: Depends on the help offered by your local council.
How to apply: Contact your local council or search the internet for your local government's facilities to find out its procedure.
Cold weather payments are made to those receiving certain benefits to help with gas and electricity costs during cold weather.
They are automatically paid if the average temperature where you live is recorded as, or is forecast to be, zero degrees Celsius or below for more than seven consecutive days between November and March.
Around four million people are potentially eligible, more than two million of whom are pensioners who receive the pension credit.
2019/20 weekly amount: £25 for each week of cold weather.
How to apply: If you are eligible, you'll be paid automatically. More info on Gov.uk.
There are a few specific benefits to help those who are ill, disabled or elderly. They can be claimed on top of some of the benefits above.
You'll need to provide full details of how you need help, eg, dressing, eating, toileting, washing or supervision to avoid harm to yourself and others. It is to provide support for people with physical difficulties (including sensory ones such as blindness) or mental issues (including learning difficulties and dementia) or both.
Some will be asked to attend a medical examination to show what help you need.
2019/20 weekly amount: There are two rates, low at £58.70 and high at £87.65.
How to apply: You can claim by phoning 0345 605 6055 or by downloading a form from Gov.uk.
If you're between 16 and 64 years old you could get personal independence payment (PIP) to help with extra costs caused by a long-term illness or disability.
PIP has replaced the disability living allowance (DLA). You can only continue to get DLA if you were born on or before 8 April 1948 and you have an existing claim.
If you were born after 8 April 1948 and are on DLA, you'll be invited to apply for PIP. You don't have to do anything until the Department for Work and Pensions writes to you, unless you have a change of circumstance.
To be eligible, you must be aged 16 to 64 and have a health condition or disability that affects your daily life or makes it hard for you to move around. It must have been going on for three months and be expected to continue for at least nine months (unless you're terminally ill and have less than six months to live).
The amount you get depends on how your condition affects you, not the condition itself. You will be assessed by a healthcare professional to work out what level of help you need.
2019/20 weekly amount: You can get £58.70 or £87.65 per week for the daily living part of PIP, and £23.20 or £61.20 for the mobility part.
How to apply: You have to claim by telephone on 0800 917 2222 or by sending a letter via the post (though this can cause delays).
This is available if you're caring for someone for more than 35 hours a week, and they receive attendance allowance, disability living allowance care component at either the middle or higher rate, or the daily living component of personal independence payment.
You can continue to work, as long as you don't earn more than £120 a week after tax and expenses (eg, part of your pensions contributions or childcare costs). You can also study, as long as it's under 21 hours a week.
2019/20 weekly amount: £66.15.
This is paid if you are sick/disabled and unable, or have limited capacity, to work, although you will need to pass a 'capability for work' assessment.
This replaced incapacity benefit in 2008, which some people will still be getting. Both are political hot potatoes, as a large number of people claim and there are accusations that some abuse the system. Don't let this put you off claiming if you think you're entitled.
The assessment looks at a series of activities and you are given points. (There are some groups that do not need to take this, eg, if you are terminally ill.) If your total reaches at least 15, then you are assessed as having a limited capability for work.
After the assessment, you're placed in either the work-related activity group or the support group. If you are in the work-related activity group, this is designed to help you prepare to go back to work and claimants will get the same rate of benefit as those on jobseeker's allowance. If you are in the support group, you are not expected to work but you will get employment support allowance.
If you are unable to work and are on a low income, look at the income-based employment support allowance benefit in the low income section above.
2019/20 weekly amount: During the 13-week assessment period, up to £57.90 if aged 24 or under and £73.10 if aged 25 or over. Thereafter, up to £73.10 if you're in the work-related activity group and up to £111.65 if you're in the support group. Extra may be available if you are disabled.
How to apply: Phone 0800 055 6688 or download form ESA1 from Gov.uk.
This is paid to employees if they are off sick from work for more than four days for a period of up to 28 weeks.
Many employers will have a contractual agreement to pay more, in which case you do not need to claim the benefit, but this is the minimum you will get.
2019/20 weekly amount: £94.25.
How to apply: Speak to your employer or download a form from Gov.uk.
The basic state pension is a Government-administered scheme, funded by national insurance contributions, to give those who have reached the Government-defined retirement age a guaranteed weekly income.
Depending on when you retired you'll either get the old or new state pension. For a full guide on how the pension works, read the State Pension guide.
2019/20 weekly amount: You'll get about £168.60 (£129.20 on the old state pension) for a single person if you have built up the full amount of national insurance contributions (usually between 30 and 44 years depending on your sex and age). However, some people will get more, and some will get less.
How to apply: You should automatically receive a form four months before you reach state pensionable age. If not, call 0800 731 7898 or download a form from Gov.uk.
You may qualify if:
- Your spouse or civil partner passed away before 6 April 2017.
- You're not remarried/formed a new civil partnership or living with a partner as if married/in a civil partnership.
- You're not bringing up children. (You can claim Widowed Parent's Allowance instead.)
2019/20 weekly amount: Up to £119.90, depending on your age.
- Under State Pension age, or
- Above State Pension age and your spouse or civil partner wasn't entitled to a State Pension based on their own national insurance contributions.
Your spouse or civil partner must also have either:
- Paid enough national insurance contributions
- Died because of a work-related accident or illness
You can't get the bereavement partner if you:
- Were divorced from your spouse or civil partner
- Live with another partner as if married or in a civil partner
- Are in prison.
2019/20 amount: The one-off tax-free payment of £2,000 remains the same.
If your spouse or civil partner passed away on or after 6 April 2017, you may be able to get some financial support. In order to eligible, your spouse or civil partner must have either:
- Paid national insurance contributions for a minimum of 25 weeks
- Passed away due to a work accident or a disease caused by work
They must have been under the State Pension age, and based in the UK (or another country that offers bereavement benefits).
You'll get a one-off payment and then monthly payment.
2019/20 amount:There are two different rates:
- Higher rate. A one-off payment of £3,500 and monthly payments of £350.
- Lower rate. A one-off payment of £2,500 and monthly payments of £100.
If you get Child Benefit (or you're entitled to it but not claiming), you'll get the higher rate - otherwise, you'll get the lower rate, unless you were pregnant when your partner died.
The Bereavement Support Payment doesn't affect your other benefits for the first year.
These are one-off payments made each winter to those over pension credit age, regardless of the temperature.
2019/20 amount: Between £100 and £300.
How to apply: If you're in receipt of some benefits you'll get it automatically, otherwise you'll have to claim on Gov.uk or you can call the Winter Fuel Payment Helpline on 03459 15 15 15.
Use the calculator as a ready reckoner
The calculator will work out what you're due in means-tested benefits. It will also flag up some (but not all) relevant non means-based benefits that depend on things such as your health. See above for a full list of what's available.
While we hope the tool is accurate, it is complex as what you're entitled to depends on your exact circumstances. Make sure the info you put in is correct, so you can use the calculator as a ready reckoner and a prompt to investigate further by calling the relevant Government office.
Where to get free help
If you're struggling for cash, go to a Citizens Advice bureau or one of the network of independent advice centres for a one-on-one detailed benefits check-up.
Further resources not to miss
A further huge info resource is the Benefits and Tax Credits section in the MSE Forum, where a number of Citizens Advice-trained people and others voluntarily help out answering people's questions. A good place to start is the Useful Links thread. Special thanks to Fran, Alwaysonthego, Fermi and Kimitatsu for organising it.
For those on a low income with money worries
This site lists lots of ways to help you try to cut costs, but the first place to start is the Debt Problems guide. No debt problems are insoluble and this guide will help you.
If you've also got mental health problems, special solutions apply. For a full guide to handling debts when stressed, working with banks, getting free one-to-one debt counselling and tips for bipolar and depression sufferers, read our free Mental Health & Debt Help PDF booklet.