Universal credit

Universal credit

Who can get it, how much you can get and how to apply

Universal credit is a monthly benefit to support those on low incomes (or no income) with living and housing costs. With the cost of living rising, millions of people are struggling financially, yet it's believed that around a million people aren't claiming universal credit when they could. Have a read of this guide and use our Benefits Calculator to check how much you could get.

This guide covers England, Wales and Scotland. Universal credit follows the same guidelines in England and Wales and there are some small differences for claimants in Scotland, which we outline. However, the system works differently in Northern Ireland. 

Over 8 million households on benefits will get a one-off cash boost as part of the Government's new cost of living support package. We cover who's eligible, and how much you'll get here

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What is universal credit?

Universal credit is a monthly payment - paid in arrears - to people who are unemployed, off work due to sickness, or on a low income. It's designed to help you meet your basic living costs. 

Claiming universal credit also opens up access to other forms of support, including increased free childcare hours, and reduced tariffs for certain utilities. We cover some of these below

In this guide we'll explain exactly how universal credit works, and how to apply. But if you simply want to quickly check what you might be entitled to, see our 10-minute Benefits Calculator.

Can I get universal credit?

If you're unemployed, have been made redundant, are off work due to sickness, or are in work on a low income (including if you're self-employed), you could be entitled to universal credit to help you meet your basic living costs. 

You might be able to claim universal credit if:

  • You're out of work, or have a low income.
  • You're aged 18 or over (there are some exceptions if you're 16 or 17).
  • You or your partner are under state pension age.
  • You have less than £16,000 in savings – if you have a partner, their savings count too. (If you're self-employed, some savings may not count if they're for business purposes. For full info on what counts, see below).
  • You live in the UK.

If you already claim benefits... 

Universal credit is replacing six legacy benefits. If you're currently claiming one of these benefits, you'll eventually be moved over onto universal credit automatically:

  • Income support
  • Income-based jobseeker's allowance (JSA)
  • Income-related employment and support allowance (ESA) 
  • Housing benefit
  • Child tax credit
  • Working tax credit

You'll be moved on to universal credit if you have a change in circumstances (such as moving in with a new partner, or changing job), or as part of a process called 'managed migration', where the Government moves you over automatically. This process is expected to be completed by the end of 2024.

You can also choose to move onto universal credit at any point – and some people will find they are better off on universal credit than on their old benefits – but there's no guarantee. Our Should I switch to universal credit? guide includes a calculator to help you check whether you'll get more or less on universal credit, and looks in detail at the pros & cons of switching.

I'm on working tax credit – would I be better off switching to universal credit? 

Before you think of switching, it's important to do your research to see if you'll actually be better off. If you switch from a legacy benefit to universal credit you CAN'T switch back.

Your personal mix of legacy benefits may very well be worth less than the amount available via universal credit, however there are different rules around savings, earnings, eligibility and capital that makes generalisations about who will be better off difficult. 

As rough guidelines, those who are better off are typically those who are in work, and pay private rents in expensive cities. Those who might be worse off are those with disabilities. 

It's quick and free to get an idea of if you'll be better off. Our benefits calculator has an inbuilt comparison tool that shows what you're currently getting versus what you might get if you made the switch. We also cover the pros & cons of switching in our Should I switch to universal credit? guide. 

Does universal credit operate the same way in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland? 

England, Wales and Scotland follow the same guidelines. Scotland has some extra flexibility when it comes to receiving the payments, known as 'Scottish choices'. You can choose to be paid monthly or twice monthly, and if you get an extra housing payment you can choose to get it in your bank account or paid directly to your landlord.

In Northern Ireland, there's a slightly different system and universal credit is normally paid twice a month – though you can choose to be paid monthly. Find out more on the NIdirect website.

Quick questions
  • What if I have savings or earnings?

    You can still claim, but only if you have savings of less than £16,000.

    Universal credit's a means-tested benefit. This means that the amount of income and savings you have will affect your eligibility and how much you might be entitled to, for example, you'll get less universal credit if you have savings worth over £6,000, or earn enough money to cover your basic living costs. If you've savings of £16,000 or more, you won't be eligible for universal credit.

    If you live with your partner, your partner's income and savings will be taken into account, even if they aren't eligible for universal credit.

  • I'm self-employed, am I eligible for universal credit?

    If you are or become self-employed, you may be eligible for universal credit. You will need to meet the general universal credit eligibility criteria.

    You will also need to show that, you are "gainfully" self-employed, this means that:

    • Your self-employment is your main job or source of income
    • You're getting regular work from self-employment
    • Your work is "organised and developed"
    • You expect to make a profit

    If you fit this criteria, you'll be supported towards the goal of becoming financially independent.

    You won't have to look for other work, and you'll have to report "cash-in" and "cash-out" payments to the Department for Work and Pensions each month. If you fail to supply these figures between seven days before and 14 days after, each assessment period, your universal credit payment will be suspended. 

    If you aren't considered to be "gainfully self-employed", you'll be required to look for additional employment, or undertake job-related activities like training days, in order to qualify for your universal credit payment. 

  • I'm self-employed, my profits have dropped, can I get extra help?

    Yes. The amount you get is based on your income (and your partner's income, if you have one) and the "minimum income floor" (the minimum amount which the Government assumes you'll earn).

    Your "minimum income floor" is calculated on the national minimum wage for someone in your age group multiplied by the number of hours you're expected to be available for work. 

    If you earn less than the minimum income floor, you'll usually have to find additional work to top up your income, as universal credit won't make up the difference.

    If you earn more than the minimum income floor, your universal credit payments will be based on your actual earnings.

    The minimum income floor doesn't apply to everybody. You're exempt from it if:

    • You look after a child under the age of three.
    • You're pregnant or gave birth in the past 15 weeks.
    • You're caring for a severely disabled person.
    • You've been assessed as having limited capacity for work, or limited capacity for work-related activity.
    • You're in full-time education.
    • You're temporarily too sick to work.

    If you start a business whilst claiming universal credit, the minimum income floor also won't apply to you for the first 12 months. 

    How is the minimum income floor calculated? 

    To calculate your minimum income floor, your expected working hours are multiplied by the hourly national living wage or national minimum wage for your age group, and then calculated as a monthly salary.

    If you're aged 23 or over and in employment, you must be paid a legal minimum of £9.50 an hour (for the 2022/23 tax year), or  – though it'll be less than this if you're younger.

    The Department for Work and Pensions then deducts tax and national insurance to work out your minimum income floor. This is deducted at an amount "the Secretary of State deems appropriate", so can differ from case to case. 

    While the tax and national insurance make it hard to state exact minimum income floors, the monthly wages above can be taken as a good approximation of the level of minimum income floor that will apply to you in your age group (assuming you'd be expected to work full time). 

  • Will paying into my pension impact how much universal credit I'll get?

    If you contribute to a personal or workplace pension the money you put into the pension will be disregarded when it comes to calculating your income - and therefore your universal credit allowance. 

    For example: if you earn £800 a month, and contribute £32 into your workplace pension, your income for universal credit purposes will be: £768 (£800 - £32).

    Any contributions your employer makes to your workplace pension will be completely ignored for benefits purposes. 

  • My partner is above state pension age, can I still get universal credit?

    Universal credit is only available for those under state pension age, but if you're part of a "mixed age" couple (where one of you is younger than state pension age), you will still be able to claim universal credit. 

    Remember, though, the amount of universal credit you receive is based on your household income. If your partner is claiming their state pension, these payments will be counted as "income" when it comes to working out how much universal credit you'll get. 

  • Universal credit has had a lot of criticism, why?

    Universal credit was designed to work just like a paying salaried job, which means instead of getting the benefit weekly, or fortnightly, it is paid in monthly arrears, with the first payment coming after five weeks. This means that many people struggle in those initial weeks. If this is you, there's help you can get.
     
    Unlike other means-tested benefits in the past, there is no "set amount" you can earn before you stop getting the benefit. The Government first looks at what you need to live on given your circumstances, then it looks at what you have - things like your: income, assets, other benefits - and then it awards you the difference. 
     

    So while it allows you to work and still receive support, the amount you get is adjusted in line with your earnings (and your partner's, if you have one).

    Another big difference is you can't get it if you – or your partner – have savings or capital over £16,000. See more about the effect of savings.

    Other difficulties with the universal credit system include: 
     
    • Childcare paid in arrears which forces claimants to pay £100s upfront. 

    • Lower payments for some compared with legacy benefits, in particular for those with disabilities. To see if you'll be better off switching, use our 10-min Benefits Calculator.

    • Monthly payments cause budgeting headaches for some. As a result the Government is piloting more frequent payments.
    • One payment per household. You have to choose a single bank account into which the total universal credit payment for your household will be paid. 
    • If you work and have more than one payday a month, you’ll get different amounts of universal credit each month. Because there are different numbers of days in each month, if you’re paid four-weekly, fortnightly, or weekly, there’ll be some months you get paid more than usual, meaning your universal credit payment will be lower than normal. This can make it even harder to budget and manage your money
    • Universal credit payments can be reduced if you’ve got certain debt. Up to 25% of your standard payment (the basic amount of universal credit you’re entitled to) can be automatically deducted to pay off certain debts, such as council tax, energy bills, rent, and child maintenance.

    If you're worried that money going into an account you share with your partner may be misused, talk to Citizens Advice before applying. It will be able to advise on if you may be able to get universal credit via an alternative payment arrangement.

How much could I get?

One of the underlying principles of universal credit is that it's a payment based on need. It helps if you think about universal credit like a set of scales: on one side, you get your standard payment along with extra payments based on what you need to meet your basic costs; and on the other side, these payments are reduced if you have savings, have income from work, or get other benefits (more on reductions in the chapter below). 

As a result, two people the same age and earning similar amounts could easily be entitled to vastly different amounts based on extra help the Government thinks each needs.

But as a starting point there's a standard allowance, based on age and whether you're single or in a couple. 

Here's a table showing the universal credit standard allowance for 2022/23:

Universal credit standard allowance

Your circumstances Monthly allowance
Single and under 25 £265.31
Single and 25 or over £334.91
In a couple and both under 25 £416.45
In a couple and either of you is 25 or over £525.72

What extra payments could I get?

In addition, universal credit offers some people extra help for:

Housing element for rent 

There is not standard amount for housing. Instead, the amount you get is set by your age, circumstances and the "local housing allowance" rate in your area. For the full ins and outs of the local housing allowance, see What is the local housing allowance?

For example, the amount for two-bedroom accommodation in the London borough of Ealing is £365.92/week. The amount for a two-bedroom accommodation in the Isle of Scilly is £143.84/week. Want to see what you could get, check your area's rates here.

  • Help with council tax

    If you qualify for universal credit it doesn't automatically mean that you can get help with your council tax, but you can apply to your council for a "council tax reduction". This is a long-standing discount of up to 100% off bills for those on benefits or a low income. It doesn't matter if you own your own home or rent, or whether you're employed or not. All can apply. Yet what you get depends on:

    • Where you live (each council runs its own scheme).
    • Your circumstances (for example, income, number of children, benefits, residency status).
    • Your income, including savings, pensions and your partner's income.
    • If children live with you.
    • If other adults live with you.
    For more information see the discounts section of our Council tax bands guide.
  • Support with mortgage interest payments

    If you qualify for universal credit, after nine months you can apply for support for mortgage interest (SMI) on up to £200,000 of your mortgage, based on a standard rate of interest – currently 0.8%. The money is paid directly to your lender. This is a loan and not a benefit – this means it must be repaid when you die or sell your home. For more information, see the Gov.uk website.

    If you are having difficulty meeting your mortgage payments, you should urgently speak to your lender and see what support they can offer you.

    More help can be found in our Mortgage arrears guide.

Help towards caring for children

If you're looking after a child under the age of 16, you can apply for an extra amount to help with the costs. If you have two children, you'll get extra for your second child. If you have three children you might get an extra payment, but it depends when they were born.

For your first child:

  • £290.00/month (born before 6 April 2017)
  • £244.58/month (born on or after 6 April 2017)

For your second child (and any other eligible children):

  • £244.58/month per child

If you have three or more children, you only get an extra amount for third or subsequent children if any of the following are true:

  • Your children were born before 6 April 2017, and 
  • You were already claiming for three or more children before 6 April 2017

If you have a disabled or severely disabled child:

  • £132.89/month or £414.88/month (for severely disabled child)

Help for a disability or health condition

If you can't work because of sickness or disability, you may be able to claim the "limited capability for work and work-related activity" element of universal credit.

If you have limited capability for work and work-related activity:

  • £354.28/month

If you have limited capability for work and you started your health-related universal credit claim before 3 April 2017:

  • £132.89/month

Did you know? If you have paid enough national insurance contributions, you may also be able to claim new-style employment and support allowance (ESA) of up to about £77/week. See our Universal Credit and Benefits Calculator to see how much you could get.

Help for caring for a severely disabled person

If you're a carer for someone in your household for at least 35 hours a week who is severely disabled, you may be able to get the "carer's element" as part of your monthly universal credit payment.

The carer's element is:

  • £168.81/month

Important: If you and someone else in your household care for the same person, you can't both get the carer's element. You'll have to decide which of you will claim it. If you're getting the separate carer's allowance benefit you can continue to get it, if you continue to be eligible.

Quick questions
  • How do I prove I have a disability, illness or health condition to get the extra payment?

    When you apply for universal credit, you must fill in whether you've a disability, illness or health condition which means you can't work. This includes physical and mental health issues. If you say yes, you will most likely need to attend a 'work capability assessment' (WCA). 

    Usually, this will happen around the 29th day of your claim, but there are certain instances where you may be referred to one on the first day – for example, if you're terminally ill or you're not legally allowed to work.

    At the WCA, you'll be asked questions about your condition and how it affects your daily life, and how it might vary over time.

    Once you've had your assessment, a report will be sent to the Department for Work and Pensions and used by a case worker (along with other evidence you've provided) to make a decision on whether you're:

    • Fit to work
    • Have limited capacity for work
    • Have limited capacity for work and work-related activity

    If you're deemed fit enough, you'll need to look for work that's suitable for your condition, and be prepared to work to keep getting universal credit.

    If you've limited capacity for work, you won't have to look for it straightaway, but you'll need to prepare for working in future, for example by writing a CV. If this is you, you could get an extra £132.89, in some circumstances.

    If you're considered to have limited capacity for work and work-related activity, you'll not be expected to look for or prepare for work. If this is you, you could get an extra £354.28 a month.

  • I get Childcare Vouchers, or Tax-Free Childcare to help with my childcare costs – can I still claim?

    You can use Childcare Vouchers and universal credit together but you CAN'T get universal credit at the same time as claiming under the Tax-Free Childcare scheme.

    If you're in work, universal credit can help by paying back up to 85% of your childcare costs (to a maximum of £646 for one child, and £1,108 for two or more children). You can make a claim through your account, but be aware you need to provide receipts and will only be reimbursed after your childcare has taken place.

    You can use universal credit with Childcare Vouchers, but as you'll only be able to claim on the costs not covered by the vouchers, you may be better off not using the vouchers at all, as universal credit will likely contribute more to your costs. 

    For example, if you've monthly childcare costs of £1,000 and you pay £500 with vouchers, you can only claim back up to 85% of the remaining £500 through universal credit: £425.

    In contrast, if you had childcare costs of £1,000 and only used universal credit to pay for it, you could claim back up to £850, so twice as much.

    If you were claiming Childcare Vouchers before they were stopped, you can continue to claim them even if you're claiming universal credit.

    Tax-Free Childcare is a Government-backed scheme, launched in 2017. You can switch between Tax-Free Childcare and universal credit if one is better for your circumstances. 

    The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group offers more guidance on how this could work for you.

  • What is the local housing allowance?

    The local housing allowance (LHA) is how the Government determines how much housing support you're entitled to.

    There will be a LHA rate set based on rental prices in your area and the number of rooms you need based on who lives in your household. 

    If you are single, don't have any dependent children and are aged under 35, you will only be able to get the 'shared accommodation rate' of LHA. This won't apply and you will be entitled to the one bedroom rate if:

    • You are under 22 and are a care leaver, or
    • You are receiving the daily living component of personal independence payment, the middle or high care rate of disability living allowance, or armed forces independence payment, or
    • You are over 25 and have been living in a hostel for people who are homeless for three months or more

    Otherwise, you will be entitled to one bedroom for each of the following:

    • You (and your partner if you have one)
    • Any other person over 16, as long as they aren't living with you as your tenant
    • Two children under 16 of the same gender
    • Two children under 10
    • Any other child under 16

    For both the 'shared accommodation rate' and regular rate, you can find your LHA for your area using the Government tool.

Why your amount might be reduced 

Just as you can get awarded extra payments depending on your extra needs, your payments can also be reduced if you have extra savings, earnings or payments from other benefits. 

It's like a set of scales: on one side, you get awarded an amount based on what you need, while on the other, this amount can go down depending on what you have.

Here's what can reduce your payments:  

Income can affect the amount you'll get 

One of the principles of universal credit is the more you have, the less you're likely to get. So earnings from a job can affect the amount you can get. This may be from a job or self-employed work.

Currently, for every £1 you earn (after tax and pension contributions), your universal credit payment will be reduced by 55p.

If you have children or are disabled, you can earn up to a particular amount before your payment starts to be reduced. This is called a "work allowance". This "work allowance" is currently £344 a month if you get help towards paying your housing costs, or £573 a month if you don't.

More than £6,000 in savings, you'll get less, more than £16,000 you'll get nowt

  • Less than £6,000 and it's disregarded. If you have less than £6,000 in savings you'll have to declare it, but it won't affect how much universal credit you'll get.

  • Having between £6,001 and £16,000 will affect your universal credit amount. Savings above £6,000 are treated as if they give you a monthly income of £4.35 for each £250, or part of £250, regardless of whether it does or not. So if you have £6,300 in a savings account, £6,000 of it will be ignored and the other £300 will be treated as if it would give you a monthly income of £8.70. 

  • More than £16,000 and you will not be eligible. If you have more than £16,000 saved, you'll stop getting universal credit.

Redundancy payouts are treated as savings. So if you have a lump sum, and it takes you over the £6,000 mark it can impact how much your monthly payment is. And if it's over £16,000, like those with regular savings, you will be ineligible. 

Have you been rejected, or had your universal credit award reduced due to savings? If you've since used them up, reapply.

  • Been rejected because your savings (or you and your partner's combined savings) were above £16,000? Reapply as soon as your savings dip below that amount. Anyone with savings of less than £16,000 will start being eligible for universal credit (as long as you fit the other eligibility criteria). But the closer to £16,000 you are, the less universal credit you'll get.

    You will have to make a fresh application – any previous claims are not kept open on the system. 

    It's also worth noting that the person assessing your claim may look into why and how quickly your savings have fallen. They may ask for evidence that you've spent them legitimately and you haven't knowingly reduced your savings just to get or increase your universal credit payment. You may even be asked for receipts as evidence (to show you've not hidden or temporarily shifted money to another person's account to try to get more universal credit), particularly if it was a big, sudden drop. 
  • Were you getting a reduced universal credit payment due to having £6,000-£16,000 in savings? If your savings balance has since dropped, you can now claim more. This is because if you have more than £6,000 and up to £16,000 in savings you'll still get some universal credit – with the amount reducing the closer you get to the £16,000 threshold. 

    If your savings have dropped it's up to you to make sure you disclose this to get more: Simply update your savings amount via your online journal. But do it as soon as possible to make sure you'll get the full amount you're entitled to – once you've done so you should see the amount you get change when you're next due a payment. If you can't access this online, call the universal credit helpline on 0800 328 5644.

Don't delay: It's vital to make your fresh claim (if you're newly eligible) or to update your online journal as soon as your savings dip as the sooner you act, the sooner you'll be paid – or see your award increase.

Generally speaking, you won't be able to backdate a fresh claim without a good reason (such as an illness), and even then, it'll only be up to one month. 

For every £1 you get from other benefits (or a pension) your amount will reduce 

For every £1 of other income you receive from other benefits or a private pension, your universal credit payment will reduce by £1. Some benefits aren't taken into account when your income is worked out, these include: child benefit, disability living allowance, personal independence payment and war pensions.

If you get more than £20,000 a year in total from benefits

If your household gets more than £20,000 (£13,400 for single people without children), in benefits and you live outside of London, you might be subject to the benefits cap. This is the total amount of benefits (some are excluded) your household can receive in a year. 

In London, the benefits cap is currently up to £23,000 for couples, and families (or £15,410 for single people without children).

Of course, the easiest way to work out how much you'll get is to use our Universal Credit and Benefits Calculator, which will also inform you what other benefits you may be eligible for too.

Sanctions

Universal credit payments can also be reduced if you haven't done something you've agreed to as part of your 'claimant commitment', (the document you'll write with your job centre coach setting out your responsibilities whilst claiming universal credit). 

You can be sanctioned for things, like: 

  • Missing an interview.
  • Rejecting a job offer. 
  • Not spending enough time each week searching for a job.

If you are single and over 25, sanctions can reduce your universal credit payment by £11 a day, for as long as your sanction lasts. If you're under 25, sanctions are £8.70 per day.

If you claim Universal Credit as a couple, and just one of you doesn't do something set out in their claimant commitment, your joint payment can be reduced. If you're in a couple and one or both of you are over 25, the sanction is £8.60 per day if only one of you has been sanctioned. If you're both under 25, the sanction for one person not sticking to their claimant commitment is be £6.80 a day. 

Work requirements have recently got stricter for some...

New rules mean that you could be sanctioned if you don't start searching for work outside your preferred sector after four weeks. Previously, if you were required to look for a job, you had three months to find something in your preferred sector, before you had to expand your search. 

Quick questions on circumstances that can reduce your payment
  • Which benefits will count as income?

    The following benefits will be taken into account:

    • Bereavement allowance
    • Carer's allowance
    • Employment and support allowance (new style)
    • Incapacity benefit
    • Industrial injuries disablement benefit
    • Jobseeker's allowance (new style)
    • Maternity allowance

    What doesn't count?

    • Child benefit
    • Disability living allowance
    • Income from boarders and lodgers
    • Maintenance payments
    • Personal independence payment
  • What counts as savings and capital?

    These will count as savings or capital...

    • Regular savings in your bank account
    • Fixed-term savings
    • ISAs – including LISAs, stocks & shares ISAs
    • If you've taken your private pension as a lump sum before state pension age
    • Redundancy pay 
    • Stocks or shares
    • Property you don't live in

    These won't count as savings or capital...

    • A pension pot that hasn't yet been drawn down
    • Pension income – this counts as income
    • Junior ISAs – money you have already given to your children

     

  • I have less than £16k but more than £6k – how much universal credit will I lose?

    If you or your partner have savings or capital of between £6,000 and £16,000, the first £6,000 is ignored. The rest is treated as if it gives you a monthly income of £4.35 for each £250, or part of £250.

    Example:

    You and your partner each have £4,000 in separate savings accounts, so combined savings of £8,000. The first £6,000 is ignored. The remaining £2,000 is counted as giving you a monthly income of £34.80

    £2,000 ÷ £250 = 8

    8 × £4.35 = £34.80

    £34.80 will be taken off your monthly universal credit payment.

  • I don't live with my partner, do I still need to record their income?

    No. The Department for Work and Pensions only counts two people as being in a couple if they live in the same household and are:

    • Married

    • Civil partners

    • Living together as if married

      If you are in a couple and you meet the criteria above, you and your partner will need to make a joint claim for universal credit. This means the Government will assess what you need as a couple against what you have as a couple and award you accordingly.

  • I already get benefits, what happens when I switch to universal credit?

    If you switch to universal credit from any of the following benefits, your current payments will stop and you will NOT be able to switch back:

    • Child tax credit
    • Housing benefit
    • Income-based jobseeker's allowance
    • Income-related employment and support allowance
    • Income support
    • Working tax credit

    However, at the end of July 2020, the Department for Work and Pensions introduced an extra payment for people claiming income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance or income support who choose to move over to universal credit. 

    If you currently claim any of these benefits and switch over to universal credit, you will now receive a new, additional payment, worth up to two weeks of your old benefit. 

    This one-time "run-on" payment does not need to be paid back, and will be paid automatically to eligible claimants when they claim universal credit for the first time. It will not affect the amount of universal credit you receive.

    Housing benefit claimants already receive a run-on payment. 

    Important: If you currently receive working tax credit or child tax credit, and you switch to universal credit, you will NOT receive a run-on payment. 

    Not sure whether you'll be better off switching? Our free Benefits Calculator will show you how much better - or worse - off you'll be if you switch. We also cover the pros & cons of switching in our Should I switch to universal credit? guide. 

  • I have found a job what do I do?

    If you or your partner are now returning to work or have found new employment, you need to tell the DWP. You can do so by updating the details in your online universal credit journal. Bear in mind the following:

    • As your income increases, your universal credit payment will reduce.
    • It will keep reducing until you're earning enough to no longer claim universal credit.
    • Tell the DWP that you're now working but don't just cancel your claim. If you just cancel, you'll risk missing out on any universal credit you're still entitled to. 
    • Remember it's not just your income that's taken into account, it's your total household income. If your partner is going back to work (and it doesn't matter if you're married or not, as long as you live together), this will also affect your universal credit claim.

    Here's an example to help:

    Imagine your assessment period runs from 5 August to 4 September and you're paid your universal credit on 11 September. You've just got a new job and started work on 20 August, BUT you won't actually get paid until 30 September.

    If you contact the DWP and cancel your universal credit claim on 20 August (instead of just telling it that you're now working), you won't get universal credit for ANY of the period from 5 August to 4 September. The DWP doesn't make part-month payments.

    As you've no earnings in that period up to 4 September, you will still be entitled to your usual universal credit, paid to you on 11 September. It isn't until you've been paid by your employer on 30 September that your universal credit for 5 September to 4 October will be reduced, or stopped.

  • I'll get paid early because of a bank holiday, does that mean I'll get less universal credit?

    Not anymore. But it used to mean you could lose some (or all) of your payment. This was due to the fact that if you were paid by your employer earlier than normal, you could end up having two monthly salaries fall into one universal credit assessment period. But thanks to a recent change to the system, it won't anymore.

    What's changed? 

    Universal credit has been improved with a new automatic process to ensure that even if your employer pays you early because of a bank holiday, the system will now automatically identify if you'll have a second monthly salary payment in one benefit assessment period.

    The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will be able to move your second payment forward to the next assessment period in the system, ensuring your universal credit payment won't fluctuate from one month to the next due to the system thinking you've had increased wages in one month. 

    Why was this a problem?

    Before this change, if you were paid earlier than normal it caused the DWP's system to think you'd had a bumper month as it registered two sets of salaries coming in over one month. This counted against you when it came to your universal credit payouts, as the more you earn, the less you get.

Self-employed and have savings put aside to pay tax? It needn't decrease the universal credit you get

Saving around a third of your profits to pay tax is normally sensible. But if you're now looking at claiming universal credit, you might think that any business savings in your personal account will affect your eligibility for this support. We've checked with the Department for Work and Pensions, which confirmed that while it'd expect business savings to be in a business account, nevertheless "if someone has money in their personal account to be used for business purposes, it won't be counted towards their capital".

However, it did warn that you may need to prove the cash is for business purposes. So if this applies to you, make it clear in your application that the savings are business savings, and put a note of it in your online universal credit 'journal', where you record any changes to your circumstances. It should then be discounted from the calculations.

How do I apply?

There is a two-step process to getting your payments:

1. First you need to claim

The quickest way to claim universal credit is online.

To start a claim online, you'll need to set up an account. Once this account has been created, you'll be given a "to do list" to complete in order to submit your claim - these will include things like providing information about where you live, if you're working, and whether you have any caring responsibilities.

If you are part of a couple and living in the same household, you'll make a joint claim for universal credit, but you'll both need to set up online accounts first. When one of you has set up an account, you'll be given a code - called a "linking code" - that can be used by the second person to connect your accounts together. 

If you have no access to digital services or have accessibility issues, you can call the free universal credit helpline on: 0800 328 5644. You can also call the helpline if you run into difficulties, or if you need to make a claim in an alternative format such as Braille, large print or audio CD. For Welsh language applications, call 0800 328 1744.

Need help? Citizens Advice also assists universal credit applicants. You can call their "help to claim service" 0800 144 8 444. 

What information will I need? 

You'll need to provide a range of personal information as part of your claim, so it's helpful to have these things to hand before you start. At the very least, you'll need your:

  • Contact details
  • Bank account details
  • National insurance number

Depending on what's relevant to you, you may also need details of your:

  • Current employment
  • Monthly earnings (have a copy of your payslip to hand)
  • Housing costs
  • Tenancy agreement
  • Other income, savings and any other benefits you or your partner receive

Although it goes without saying, make sure you only give correct information as you'll have to provide proof of anything you say in your application. Once you've entered all the information, you'll be shown an estimate of the amount of universal credit you'll get each month. You'll also have to complete a declaration confirming that all the information you've provided is correct.

2. Then you need to attend an interview 

After a successful online claim, you'll have to visit the Jobcentre and have an interview with your work coach if you want to claim universal credit.

You'll be told what information you need to take to the interview, but it'll definitely include physical evidence of details you provided in your claim (for example, your address, how much rent you pay, and how much you earn at work).

Citizens Advice has a comprehensive guide on how to prepare for your interview and examples of documents you may need to take with you.

At this interview you'll have to sign a "claimant commitment". This lays out the things you're required to do - such as looking for work, trying to increase your hours - in order to get your universal credit payment. If you don't do something set out in your claimaint commitment your universal credit payment can be reduced

When will I be paid? 

Your payment date is based on the date you applied, usually five weeks after. For example: Sarah applies for universal credit on 1 September. Her first assessment period will last until 30 September. She's paid on 7 October and will be paid on the 7th of every month after that.

  • England and Wales: You'll be paid once a month. 
  • Scotland: Here there's some extra flexibility when it comes to receiving the payments, known as "Scottish choices": you can choose to be paid monthly or fortnightly, and if you get an extra housing payment you can choose to get it in your bank account or paid directly to your landlord.
  • Northern Ireland: It's a slightly different system and it's normally paid twice a month, though you can choose to be paid monthly. Find out more on the NIdirect website.

Struggling to wait five weeks until your first payment?

You won't get your first payment until about five weeks after making your claim. If you don't have enough money to live on while you wait for your first payment, you can request an advance payment. 

Here's how it works: 

  • You need to make the request via your online universal credit account, or through your work coach. 
  • You can ask to receive all or part of your first payment.
  • It's interest-free but works like a loan, and you'll repay it through your regular universal credit payments, which will be lower until you pay it back. 
  • You can choose over how many months you want to pay it back, but it must be fully repaid within 24 months.
  • You'll usually be told the same day if you'll get an advance, and you'll typically have the money within three working days.
Quick questions on how to apply
  • I need help straightaway – what can I do?

    If you need help to pay your bills or cover other costs while you wait for your first universal credit payment, you can apply to get an advance.

    The most you can get as an advance is the amount of your first estimated payment. It is important to remember that this is a loan and must be paid back. It will usually be collected by reducing your future universal credit payments. Also, the guidelines say you may not be allowed an advance if you have any final earnings or redundancy payments you can be living on while waiting for your universal credit award.

  • Help! I can't verify my ID online. What do I do?

    Don't panic. We are hearing this is happening to many frustrated would-be claimants. It will take time; the Department for Work and Pensions is overloaded. But it's told us that universal credit staff will see that your form is incomplete and call you. Expect a 'withheld number' or 0800 number.

    You can also call the helpline (0800 328 5644) – it is VERY busy but persevere. You can also make a note in your online universal credit journal. 

  • I need to contact the Department for Work and Pensions but I'm hearing impaired. What are my options?

    British Sign Language (BSL) users can now access universal credit using the video relay service on the Gov.uk website. This allows BSL users to contact the Department for Work and Pensions via an interpreter, from a smart phone (excluding Blackberry or Windows phones), computer or tablet.

    The service is available 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday, and you don't need to book in advance. Simply click this link, turning on your microphone and front-facing camera and you'll be connected to a BSL interpreter via video. Explain what you'd like to discuss and the interpreter will telephone the service you require and relay the conversation between you and the other person.

    The video relay service is provided by SignVideo, which has full instructions on how to use it. You can access it via the Gov.uk link above or download the free SignVideo app on desktop or smartphone (iOS and Android).

What to do if you think your payment is wrong?

Whether you think your initial entitlement is wrong, or if your entitlement is changed after you start claiming, the first thing you should do is contact the universal credit helpline on 0800 328 5644. If a mistake has been made, it should be rectified while you're on the phone.

If this isn't the case, you can appeal against the decision by asking for a 'mandatory reconsideration'. You must do this within one month of the date of your initial entitlement decision. Read more on making a mandatory reconsideration. If you do decide to appeal, make sure you gather supporting evidence before you do so.

I am still struggling - is there any extra help I can get?

If you're already receiving universal credit and you're struggling, there's some extra help you can apply for depending on your circumstances. This list provides 10 things to look into if you need extra financial help, from budgeting advances, to help with energy bills. 

1. Budgeting advance 

You can get a budgeting advance if you need help with emergency household costs, for example if you need to replace a cooker. Like an advance payment, you'll pay it back through your universal credit payments, which will be lower until it's paid off. If you're struggling to buy food, you might also be able to get a budgeting advance to pay for food – speak to your work coach or call the universal credit helpline. 

There are certain criteria you need to meet to qualify for a budgeting advance.

  • You must have been receiving universal credit for six months or more – unless you need the money to get a job or stay in work.

  • You must have earned less than £2,600 in the past six months (or £3,600 if you're part of a couple), and have paid off any previous budgeting advances that you've had.

The smallest amount you can borrow is £100. The maximum amount depends on your circumstances:

  • Up to £348 if you're single
  • Up to £464 if you're a couple
  • Up to £812 if you've children

If you think you qualify for a budgeting advance, talk to your work coach or call the universal credit helpline

2. Hardship payments 

If you're in financial hardship because you've been sanctioned, you can request a hardship payment. This is usually a loan that you can only get if you're struggling to meet your basic needs or those of your children (such as accommodation, heating, food and hygiene costs).

You must be 18 or over to apply, and you need to prove that you've tried to get the money from somewhere else, and that you only spend your money on essentials.

To apply for this, contact the universal credit helpline on 0800 328 5644.

3. Support if you have children

Free school meals

If you're on universal credit, your child – whether you are their parent or guardian or not – may qualify for free school meals. Recipients of certain other benefits are also eligible.

For the full list, and to check if your child qualifies for free school meals, enter your postcode at Gov.uk.

Note: This isn't to be confused with 'universal infant free school meals', available to all schoolchildren (in state-funded schools) from reception to year two. In Scotland, all children in primary one to five are entitled to universal infant free school meals. In Wales, all children in reception will be entitled to free school meals from September 2022, with a further roll-out to all children of primary school age by 2024.

If your child is eligible for free school meals, they may also be eligible for free transport to school. Eligibility varies by council, but generally your child will have to be attending the nearest suitable school, and travel over two miles to get there. Many councils will provide a travel pass that allows free travel, some will provide cycle vouchers that can be put towards the cost of a bike. Check whether your child is eligible here.

  • How does my child qualify for free school meals?

    If your child is in year three or above, they will typically be able to get free school meals if you meet the criteria in the following two steps: 

    Step 1. You are claiming one of these benefits:

    • Child tax credit 
    • The 'guaranteed element' of pension credit
    • Income-based jobseeker's allowance
    • Income-related employment and support allowance
    • Income support
    • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
    • Universal credit 
    • Working tax credit/working tax credit run-on (1) 

    (1) Working tax credit is only taken into account in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In England and Wales you can't get free school meals if you get working tax credit – you can only qualify with the 'working tax credit run-on'. (This is the payment you receive for four more weeks after you stop qualifying for working tax credit.)

    Step 2. You are earning below a certain amount (these are different depending on where you live): 

    England

    • If you receive universal credit, you can earn up to £7,400/year (in total earnings). 
    • If you receive child tax credit (but not working tax credit), you can earn up to £16,190/year.

    Scotland

    • If you receive universal credit, you can earn up to £625/month. 
    • If you receive child tax credit (but not working tax credit), you can earn up to £16,105/year.
    • If you receive working tax credit AND child tax credit, you can earn up to £7,500/year. 

    Northern Ireland

    • If you receive universal credit, you can earn up to £14,000/year. 
    • If you receive child tax credit or working tax credit, you can earn up to £16,190/year.

    Wales

    • If you receive universal credit, you can earn up to £7,400/year.
    • If you receive child tax credit (but not working tax credit), you can earn up to £16,190/year.
  • How do I apply for free school meals?

    Free school meals are run by the Department for Education and administered via councils. You need to register via your council, then you and your child's school will be notified of your application.

    You must wait until you've had your first universal credit payment before applying for free school meals.

    For people in England there is a free checker, which should link through to your council's free school meals registration page. We tested this and often were only sent to the council's main homepage – if this is the case, search 'free school meals' in your council's search bar. 

    You will need your name, date of birth and home address, details about your qualifying benefit claim – you'll be told what evidence you need to submit – and your child's/children's details and school name(s). Here's how to apply in ScotlandNorthern Ireland and Wales.

Healthy Start vouchers

Healthy Start is a scheme that offers £4.25/week on a prepaid card if you're pregnant or have kids under four (£8.50/week for babies under one), to buy milk and fresh, or frozen, fruit and veg. You can use the card at most big supermarkets as well as some corner shops, greengrocers and market stalls. To access the scheme you need to be claiming universal credit (or another similar benefit) and have a household income of less than £408 per month. See more info on  Healthy Start.

There’s a similar scheme in Scotland called Best Start Foods for those who are pregnant or have a child under 3. You’ll receive £18 every 4 weeks during your pregnancy, and when your child is between the ages of one and four. You’ll get £36 every 4 weeks for your child’s first year. You can access this scheme if you’re claiming universal credit, and your household income is less than £625 a month. See more info on Best Start Foods.

School uniforms

If you qualify for free school meals, you may be able to get up to £200 a year towards school uniform. For more information including the full criteria, check out Can I get help towards my child's school uniform costs?

Childcare

There are a range of schemes available to support with the cost of having a child, and childcare. The main ones are: 

  • The Sure Start Maternity Grant (England and Wales) - A £500 one-off payment for those on low incomes, to help towards the costs of having a child. You have to claim the grant within 11 weeks of your baby's due date, or within six months of your baby's birth. For more information, see our maternity grants guide. 
  • Best Start Grant (Scotland) - A similar scheme for low-income parents in Scotland. The Best Start grant is three one-off payments that you'll receive over the course of your child's first years. 
  • Free childcare for children aged three and four - All families in the UK (regardless of income), are entitled to a certian number of hours of free childcare for children between the ages of three and four. If you're on a low income, you also get free childcare when your toddler is two. There are different rules for each part of the UK, we go into detail in our Childcare Costs guide. 

In Scotland, there are some additional schemes specifically to support parents with a new-born: 

  • Baby Box - Every new parent in Scotland receives a "Baby Box" containing clothes, bedding, nappy vouchers, and lots of other things to help with your new born. Your midwife should fill in a Baby Box registration card with you between your 18-20 or 28-week approintment.
  • Bookbug - Every child in Scotland gets four free Bookbug Bags at regular intervals between their birth and age five. Each bag contains picture books and activities suited to your child's age. You don't need to sign up to get the Bookbug Bags, you should receive them through your health visitor or from your child's nursery or school. 

4. Help with energy bills

Rising energy bills are causing substantial stress for many in the UK, and particularly those on low incomes. We cover the support available in the form of grants and local authority discretionary funds in our Housing and Energy Grants guide. 

5. Help with food costs

While there are a range of grants and loans that you can claim to help with essential costs, these often don't go far enough. 

You may be able to get free or reduced food using apps or coupons such as: 

  • Olio - an app where individuals and some shops give away food for free that would otherwise be thrown out. 
  • Too Good To Go - An app where restaurants and shops sell leftover food at reduced prices. 
  • Approved Foods - A website that sells groceries and household items that are approaching or have passed their best-before date for a reduced price (but there is a minimum spend).
  • Supermarket coupons - It used to be that you could only get coupons from supermarkets or the backs of newspapers. While these are still great places to find coupons, you can also now find lots online too. We keep a list of some of the best coupons currently out there - and where to find them - here. 

For more tips on getting food cheaply (or for free) read our How to get cheap food guide. 

If you continue to struggle with food costs, food banks give out free parcels of food designed to last three days. In many cases you need to be referred to a food bank by a doctor, social worker, or school, but some independent banks don't require a referral. 

For advice on how to get help from foodbanks, talk to Citizens Advice

6. Help with the costs of finding work with the Flexible Support Fund

The "Flexible Support Fund" was created to help people claiming unemployment benefits to find a job. It's designed to help with the extra costs associated with finding a job such as travelling to interviews, or the upfront cost of purchasing tools and clothing you need to start work. 

You may also be able to get help from the Flexible Support Fund for the first month of childcare you need once you find a job. 

The Flexible Support Fund is a discretionary payment, and you have no automatic right to it even if you qualify. If you think you might be eligible talk to your local Jobcentre Plus or your work coach about how you should apply. You should tell them what you need the money for, and give evidence (such as a bank statement or a monthly budget plan), that shows that you can't afford to pay for the items yourself. 

In Northern Ireland, the Flexible Support Fund is called the "Adviser Discretionary Fund". Talk to your work coach to see if you're eligible. 

If you're a young person in Scotland, you may also be eligible for additional support from the 'Job Start Payment'. This is a one-off payment of £267.65 (or £428.25 if you are the main carer of a child), designed to help with the costs of getting into work. You may be eligible if you're aged 16 - 24, and have been out of work for at least six months. You can apply for the payment online

7. Free prescriptions, dental treatments and eye tests

If you're on universal credit and your earnings were under £435 in the last assessment period, you’re eligible for free NHS prescriptions, free dental care and free eye tests. This earnings threshold rises to £935 for certain claimants, so check the NHS website for the full eligibility criteria. Recipients of certain other benefits will qualify too.

If you meet any of these criteria and you’ve spent money on any of these things in the last three months, you can claim it back providing you have the necessary receipts.

8. Cheap broadband and mobile data

There are some cheap broadband and sim plans that are tailored to those receiving universal credit, such as BT Home Essentials and Virgin Media Essentials. While some of these may come with limitations, it’s always worth seeing what’s out there to see if you can save money on your current bills. Check out our Broadband for low income families guide for the latest deals.

9. London travel discount

If you’re on universal credit and you’ve been unemployed for at least 13 weeks, you may be entitled to a Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount card, which gets you 50% off London pay as you go fares on buses, trains, the tube and more. See the TFL website for the full breakdown of the discount and the eligibility criteria.

10. Grant searching

Hundreds of charities have funds available to give grants to individuals, from one-off sums to help with things like furniture, clothing or improving your quality of life, to regular amounts that can help cover bills and other household expenses. 

A good place to start looking for these is our grant grabbing guide, and Turn2Us who have a tool that allows you to search for available grants, based on your individual circumstances. 

You could also ask your local library whether they have a copy of the "Directory of Grant Making Trusts", which lists charities offering grants, along with the criteria to apply, and their contact information. 

This is the latest incarnation of this guide. Please give us feedback, suggest improvements and share your tips in the universal credit forum thread.

Thanks to Wendy Alcock of Entitledto for fact-checking the guide.

Spotted out of date info/broken links? Email: brokenlink@moneysavingexpert.com