Universal credit – an introduction

Universal credit is a new benefit that will eventually replace benefits including jobseeker's allowance, income support and housing benefit.

What is universal credit?

Universal credit is a new benefit for people of working age. It will eventually replace a number of other benefits that people claim when out of work or when working and living on a low income.

You can claim universal credit whether you are working or out of work. Your claim continues if you move in and out of work as long as your income and savings don't go above certain limits.

Benefits universal credit replaces

Universal credit will replace these benefits:

  • housing benefit
  • income support (IS)
  • income-based jobseekers allowance (JSA)
  • income-related employment and support allowance (ESA)
  • child tax credit
  • working tax credit

Many other benefits will continue to exist. Some will count as income when universal credit is calculated.

Find out more from Gov.uk about benefits you may be eligible for.

Who can claim universal credit

You can claim universal credit if it's been introduced in the Jobcentre area that covers where you live.

In some areas only single people without children can apply, in others applications are also accepted from couples or people with children.

Find out from Gov.uk which Jobcentre areas you can claim Universal Credit in.

You can claim as an individual or jointly as a couple. You have to be aged 18 or over to make a claim.

Check the timetable for the introduction of universal credit for further information.

Who can't claim universal credit

You can't normally claim universal credit if you are:

  • under the age of 18
  • a student
  • not usually resident in the UK

However there are some exceptions. Get advice to check if you're eligible.

Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre.

You can't claim universal credit if both you and your partner are over pension credit age. You claim pension credit instead.

Find out more from Gov.uk about pension credit.

How to claim universal credit

To claim universal credit you usually must fill in an online application form on the Gov.uk website.

You have to complete the form in one go. You can't save changes and come back to it later.

Call the Universal Credit helpline on 0345 600 0723 if you need help making your claim online.

This is not a freephone service. You can ring them and ask them to call you back.

In limited circumstances you may be allowed to make a telephone claim.

If you are entitled to universal credit you will have to go to an interview at your local Jobcentre Plus office.

Help with paying your rent

Your claim form for universal credit includes a section on help with housing costs. You don't need to make a separate claim for this.

Universal credit is paid directly to you each month. It is your responsibility to budget and pay the rent to your landlord. There are some circumstances when payments can be made direct to your landlord instead.

Get advice if the amount you get is less than the rent you have to pay.

Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre.

Help with paying your mortgage

You can get universal credit to help pay your mortgage interest if you are not in paid work.

Payment is normally made directly to your mortgage lender. The amount you are paid won't usually cover your full mortgage amount.

You won't get any money to help pay your mortgage for the first 9 months after you claim or if you are in paid work.

Find out how to deal with mortgage arrears.

How universal credit is paid

You are not usually entitled to any payment for the first seven days after you claim.

Universal credit payments are made to you every month. Payment is made in arrears, not in advance. It is sometimes possible for payments to be made more frequently.

It may take a while to get used to budgeting for a month at a time if you usually manage your money from week to week. If you need help to manage while you wait for your first payment, you may be able to claim a short-term advance of universal credit.

You must have a bank, building society or credit union account to receive your universal credit payments.

Find out more from the Money Advice Service about opening a bank account.

In some circumstances, universal credit can be paid direct to your landlord.

When universal credit can be paid fortnightly or weekly

Universal credit is usually paid every month.

If you have trouble managing your money over a full month, Jobcentre Plus can decide to pay your benefit every two weeks instead.

In exceptional cases Jobcentre Plus could pay you every week.

When payments can be split if you are a couple

In exceptional circumstances, the monthly universal credit payment can be split between you if you claim universal credit as a couple.

For example, Jobcentre Plus could agree to this type alternative payment arrangement if one of you has a gambling or addiction problem that means the rent doesn't get paid.

How to report a change of circumstances

You must report any changes in your circumstances that could affect the amount of universal credit you are entitled to.

Do this through your online universal credit account.

When the benefit cap applies

The benefit cap limits the total amount of benefits that many working age households can receive.

You are exempt from the cap if you:

  • work and earn at least £430 a month 
  • earned this amount for at least a year before claiming universal credit    
  • claim certain disability or carers' benefits, for example, DLA, PIP or carer's allowance

If you are affected by the benefit cap, your monthly universal credit payment is reduced so that the amount you receive is below the cap.

Benefit cap in London

These limits apply if you live in a London borough:

  • £1,916 per month for a couple or family with dependent children
  • £1,284 per month for a single person without children

Benefit cap outside London

These limits apply if you live outside a London borough: 

  • £1,666 per month for a couple or family with dependent children
  • £1,116 per month for a singe person without children

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