Who can claim Universal Credit and how do you apply?

Not sure who can claim Universal Credit? This guide explains all you need to know, including how much you get and how to apply

Young family in their kitchen
(Image credit: Getty images)

Knowing who can claim Universal Credit, how to claim and how much you could get has never been more important. There are reportedly millions of pounds worth of government benefits that go unclaimed every year.

With the cost of living crisis adding pressure on family budgets, it’s more important than ever to claim all the benefits and tax breaks you are eligible for, including child benefit (opens in new tab), the tax-free childcare allowance (opens in new tab) and the Marriage Allowance (opens in new tab).

Universal Credit is an important benefit that aims to help households on low incomes – or out of work - that are struggling to make ends meet.

Sarah Coles (opens in new tab), senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “If you haven’t claimed Universal Credit before, it’s worth checking whether you qualify for any help. Around 40% of those who claim are in work, so don’t assume that having a job rules you out.

“Right now, horrible hikes in the cost of everything from food to fuel mean we need all the help we can get. The system isn’t terribly straightforward, but there’s plenty of help on navigating the process of applying.”

This guide explains who can claim Universal Credit and breaks down how much you could get. It’s worth remembering that if you are on Universal Credit, you will also get a one-off, £650 cost of living payment (opens in new tab), paid in two instalments – one in July of £326 and one in the autumn of £324.

If you work for yourself, make sure you check out our guide to Universal Credit for the self-employed (opens in new tab)

Who can claim Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is largely for those over 18 and under state pension age. However, there are some exceptions if you’re 16 or 17 if you have dependent children or you’re disabled. 

The eligibility criteria says that you cannot claim if you have more than £16,000 in money, savings and investments.

Universal Credit was brought in during 2015 and replaces some older benefits and tax credits you might already be claiming. These so-called legacy benefits include Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance and the income-related Employment and Support Allowance.

If you’re currently claiming legacy benefits, and your circumstances stay the same, you'll continue getting them until the Department of Work and Pensions asks you to move to Universal Credit. Rules state that everyone needs to be moved onto Universal Credit by 2024. 

If you already receive a legacy benefit or tax credits and your circumstances change in a way that would have meant you would make a new claim to one of these benefits, you will now need to claim Universal Credit instead.

If you live with a partner, you will both need to claim for Universal Credit, even if your partner is not eligible.

Universal Credit is paid to people of working age. Those that have reached state pension age would qualify for Pension Credit instead of Universal Credit.

If one member of a couple is pension age and the other one is working age, you will usually need to claim Universal Credit.

How much do you get per month on Universal Credit and how is it paid?

Everyone who gets Universal Credit gets a basic amount, which depends on your age and if you have a partner. The amount you will get in 2022-23 is £265.31 a month for single claimants under 25 or £334.91 for single claimants aged 25 or over.

For joint claims, the under 25s get £416.45 a month or if you’re aged 25 or over it’s £525.72.

However, Universal Credit is made up of several different elements and you can get extra money depending on your situation.

There’s a child element which pays £290 a month for the first or only child born before 6 April 2017 or £244.58 a month per child born after that date. You can only claim the child element for a maximum of two children.

A childcare costs element is available if both parents are working. In 2022-23, this is up to a maximum of £646.35 a month for one child, or £1108.04 a month for two or more children. The benefit can be claimed if the non-working partner has limited capability for work or limited capability for work and work-related activity (LCWRA), is a carer for someone with a severe disability or is temporarily absent – for example, in prison, hospital or residential care.

If your child has a long-term health condition or is disabled, you might be entitled to a disabled child element. You can claim £132.89 a month per child or qualifying young person currently getting Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or PIP (Personal Independence Payment).

You could get an extra £414.88 a month per child if they get the highest rate of the DLA care component, enhanced rate of PIP for daily living, or are registered blind.

For those in work, there’s a limited capability for work-related activity element (LCWRA) of £354.28 per month. There is also a limited capability for work element of £132.89, though this is not available for most new claimants after 3 April 2017.

There’s also a carer element of £168.81 a month, and help with housing costs which are calculated individually depending on your rent or mortgage.

ElementMonthly Amount (£)
Child£290 (£244.58 for two or more children)
Childcare costs£646.35 (£1,108.04 for two or more children)
Disabled child£132.89 (extra £414.88 a month per child if they get the highest rate of DLA)
Limited capability for workLimited capability for work-related activity element (LCWRA) £354.28 per month Limited capability for work element (LCW) £132.89 per month. (unavailable for new claimants)
Carer£168.81
Housing costsIndividual calculation according to rent/mortgage
Cost of Living payment£650 in two instalments

Payments can be affected by other income and savings or income from working, however. 

How is Universal Credit paid?

Universal Credit will be paid into one bank account or other account nominated by each household as one monthly payment (this might be twice a month for some people in Scotland).

After the first payment, you’ll be paid on the same date of every month. If your payment date lands on a weekend, you’ll receive the money on the working day before. A monthly statement will tell you how much you’re going to get.

If you claim Universal Credit as a couple, you and your partner will get one payment for your household. 

It will take at least five weeks for you to receive your first payment. This allows for a one-month assessment period and then payments are made seven days after the assessment.  

If you need help with your living costs while you wait for your first payment, it’s possible to apply for an advance.

Personal finance expert, Sarah Coles said: “One of the most controversial aspects of the benefit is that it’s paid monthly in arrears, and there’s a five week wait between applying and getting your first payment. If you’re struggling and apply for the advance payment, remember that it will be repaid out of your Universal Credit for the following two years.”

Student woman during E-Learning on laptop at home

(Image credit: Getty images)

How to apply for Universal Credit - step by step

Applying for Universal Credit can be done online via this form (opens in new tab), though it can be done over the phone in certain circumstances. 

  1. Check that you’re eligible to receive Universal Credit. You can use a benefits calculator, such as this one from entitledto (opens in new tab), to see which benefits you qualify for. 
  2. Ensure you have the right documents to hand. To claim Universal Credit you'll ideally need to provide ID, for example an in-date passport, driving licence or European Economic Area national identity card. You will also need proof of address such as an official letter from a bank or energy company.
  3. You'll need an email address to make a claim for Universal Credit. If you've already got one, double check you can access it before you start. You will also need a bank account and postal address. Those without one can use the Job Centre.
  4. Create an account that you will use to make your claim, by choosing a username and password. Couples living together will need to create separate accounts that can be linked during the claims process.
  5. Once the account is up and running you need to start and complete your claim within 28 days, or you’ll have to start the process again.
    First, answer questions about your situation - called your 'to-do list'.  This will help determine the amount you’re awarded.
  6. When your claim has been submitted and processed, you'll receive an invitation for you (and your partner if you have one) to attend a meeting at the job centre. You’ll have an interview with your ‘work coach’ who you’ll meet regularly as part of your claim. 
  7. You will be issued with a 16-digit Personal Security Number (PSN) after your first work coach meeting. Keep this number safe as you will need it if you ever need to create a new password.

If you need support with your claim, you can use the free service from Citizens Advice called Help to Claim (opens in new tab). There is also a dedicated helpline for England on 0800 328 5644 and Wales on 0800 024 1220. There’s a separate one for Scotland on 0800 023 2581.

Factors that will impact how much Universal Credit you can get

Age and relationship status: The final amount you’re awarded is impacted by your age and if you live with a partner. If you live with a partner, the joint claim for your household will dictate how much you can get as your partner’s income and savings will be factored in, as well as your own.

Your income: If you work, your income will be considered. As your take home pay increases, Universal Credit will reduce gradually so don’t worry, you won't lose all your benefits at once if you're on a low income - for every £1 you earn your payment reduces by 55p.

Your savings: Any amount you have in savings will also be factored into the calculation. If you have savings of less than £6,000 it won’t impact your benefits. 

Any savings between £6,000 - £16,000 is included into calculations.  The calculations will assume that your savings pot gives you a monthly income of £4.35 for each £250, or part of £250. That means, for someone with £6,300 in a savings account, £6,000 of it will be ignored and the other £300 will be treated as giving a monthly income of £8.70.

Advances and sanctions: You may also lose some (or all) of your benefits entitlement in other circumstances, like if the DWP has already granted an advance payment or budgeting advance, or for so-called sanctions. An example of a sanction for example, would be where your work coach thinks that you have not made sufficient efforts to look for work, or you have failed to apply for a job.

You might also see a reduction because of overpayments, to pay off debts for utility bills, or if you are found to have committed benefit fraud. 

Benefits cap: One other factor is the benefits cap which sets a maximum limit on what you can claim, according to your circumstances. For example, if you are single without any children (or your children don’t live with you) the cap is £1,116.67 per month or £13,400 a year.

Finance expert Sarah Coles added: “If your circumstances change, you’ll need to sign into your account and update your details, which could affect how much money you’re entitled to. It’s worth getting these changes made straight away, so you don’t end up having to pay money back. All sorts of things can affect your entitlement, such as finding a new job or working longer hours, having a rent increase or moving house, moving in with someone or having a child. Changes to your health can make a difference, so if in doubt, always check.”

Can I still claim Universal Credit if I work?

Your payment will reduce gradually as you earn more - for every £1 you earn your payment reduces by 55p.

Though the rules allow you to earn a certain amount before your benefit is reduced if you or your partner are either responsible for a child or young person or living with a disability or health condition that affects your ability to work.

This is called a ‘work allowance’. It is set at £573, or if you get help with housing costs it’s £344.

Your payment will reduce until you’re earning enough to no longer claim Universal Credit, at which time it will be stopped.

Can I get Universal Credit if I live with my parents?

You can get Universal Credit if you're living with other people but it might affect how much you get. For example, living with parents might mean you get less help with housing costs.

Holly Thomas is a freelance financial journalist and writes across all areas of personal finance, specialising in investments. Holly’s work can mainly be seen in The Times, The Sunday Times and the Daily Mail. Previously she worked as Deputy Personal Finance Editor at The Sunday Times, Money Editor at the Daily/Sunday Express and also at Financial Times Business. She has won a number of professional awards, most recently Investment Freelance Journalist of the Year at the Aegon Asset Management Media Awards in November 2021. Others include Freelance Financial Journalist of the Year at the Headlinemoney Awards.