Understand the Universal Credit basics

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a government benefit provided to people of working age (over 18 but below state pension age) who are on a low income or out of work. It is means-tested, so your eligibility is affected by your income and capital (i.e. savings). 

Universal Credit is usually deposited on a monthly basis and will consist of a basic allowance, plus any extra payments if you meet certain criteria (for example, if you look after a child or children).

Before you apply

Am I eligible?

You can take our quiz to determine that! Generally, you are eligible for Universal Credit if you live in the UK, are 18 years of age or older but under state pension age, not in full-time education or training, and do not have more than £16,000 in capital (this includes savings, cash, and property, held in the UK or abroad).

In addition to the basic eligibility criteria, you must also meet a condition called 'right to reside' in the UK. You will have a right to reside if you are a British or Irish national, or if you have indefinite leave to remain (such as refugee status or EUSS settled status).

You can also claim Universal Credit if you have pre-settled status. But you will need to meet some additional criteria, such as being in work, having a history of work, or a family member who can help you qualify. Our tool explains them.

How to apply

First, find out if you're eligible and gather some evidence. This includes information about your housing costs, earnings, and any savings you may have. Our evidence checklist will take you through this.

When you’re ready, you can fill out the application here. You will be prompted to create an account, by entering a username and password and setting up two security questions, which will be used if you forget your login details. Please keep your login details safe. You will need them each time you log into your UC account.

Once you have activated your account, you have 28 days to make a claim. If you don’t make a claim during this time, you will need to set up a new account and start again. 

How do we apply as a couple?

If you live with someone as a couple, you will need to make a joint claim. To do this, both of you need to create your own individual accounts. The first person to apply will be provided with a linking code, which the second person will be prompted to enter when they apply. 

After you apply

After you make a claim keep an eye on your emails and phone. You may receive a call to verify your identity, or be asked to attend an interview at your local JobCentre. Even after you receive Universal Credit, it's very important to monitor your phone and emails. You may be asked to update your details or submit more evidence, using your online journal. 

When will I get the first payment?

When you submit your claim, there is usually a one-month assessment period during which you may be asked to provide additional evidence. After this, if you are eligible, you should receive your first payment within seven days.

How much will I get?

How much you're entitled to depends on your circumstances. Anyone eligible will be granted a 'basic' allowance. This varies based on your age and household circumstances. A single person under 25 can receive £292.11 a month, whereas this rises £368.74 a month if you’re over 25.

If you make a joint claim with a partner that you live with and either of you is under 25, you’ll get £458.51 for you both. If you’re both over 25, you’ll get £578.82 per month for you both. 

There is a maximum amount you can claim on Universal Credit, this is called the benefit cap. This applies to most people aged 16 or over who have not reached State Pension age.

You may also be entitled to extra payments if you: 

  • Look after one or more children. This is called Child Benefit and entitles a claimant to  £269.58 for per child per month, but this may be higher if your first/only child was born before 6th April 2017. The child or children must 'normally' live with you. There is a two-child limit for this payment, meaning you can only claim for up to two children.
  • Work and pay for childcare. If you use approved childcare while you work, you may be entitled to the childcare costs element of Universal Credit. If eligible, 85% of your childcare costs will be covered up to a maximum of £950.92 a month for one child, and £1,630.15 for 2 or more children. 
  • Need help with housing costs. If you're a private tenant, this element will be calculated using a local housing allowance for your area, based on local rental prices. 
  • Are disabled or have a health condition. This element requires an assessment of your physical and mental health, which will be used to conclude whether you have limited capacity for work. Based on this assessment, you may receive an extra £390.06 each month. We recommend Scope’s website for finding out more about the different types of benefit, including Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP), that are available to people with a disability or long-term health condition. 
  • Are a carer for a disabled person or you have a disabled child. If you are providing care for at least 35 hours per week, you may be entitled to claim Carer’s Allowance which provides £76.75 per week.

How do I maintain my Universal Credit account?

It is good practice to be active in using your Universal Credit account. You will use it for a number of things, including:

  • Recording the actions you have taken as specified in your 'claimant commitment', such as looking for work.
  • Communicating with your work coach. 
  • Recording childcare costs.
  • Reporting a change in circumstances, such as a new job or a new address.

Tasks that you need to complete will appear in a 'to-do' list. When you have completed them, they will move to your 'journal'. which is your record of everything you have done. It can also be used to send messages to your work coach. 

Your Universal Credit account also contains information about your payments, including a breakdown of what you have received. If you believe you have been overpaid, it is important to alert someone straight away, using your journal or calling 0800 328 5644. 

Do’s and Don’ts when making a claim

Don't provide an email address that you don't check regularly or that isn't yours. You can choose to receive communication from the DWP via email or phone, and it's important that you are able to promptly read and respond to any messages you receive.

Don't under-declare your earnings or savings. If you provide inaccurate or incomplete information, you risk having to pay back any money you receive. 

Do notify the DWP about changes to your personal circumstances. Once you have made your claim, you must be ready to notify the DWP if your circumstances or contact details change. Failure to do so can result in suspension of your Universal Credit or in overpayment, which you will have to pay back. 

Don't give your ID or bank details to unverified callers or via Facebook. Some scammers pretend to be from the JobCentre or DWP. They may offer to make a claim on your behalf and ask for your bank and ID details. Be careful! Save the DWP's number (0800 023 2635) in your phone book, so you know when they are calling. 

I need help

If you need help with your Universal Credit claim, our team will be happy to support you. You can contact them using the form on our website.

You can also contact other registered charities. Use one of directories from Turn2us or advicelocal to find a benefits adviser near you.

If you are advising someone else but need help with a complex query, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) run a free helpline for advisers. You can contact them at 020 78125231.