Universal credit: Immigration and residence conditions

Brexit update

From 1 January new rules affect who can claim universal credit.

This page includes the main conditions for British, EU and non-EU citizens.

Who can get universal credit

Universal credit is a benefit for working age people who have a low income or no money coming in at all. It includes a housing element to help with rent.

You can usually claim benefits in the UK if you have:

  • British or Irish citizenship

  • settled status under the EU settlement scheme

  • indefinite leave to remain (ILR)

  • refugee status or humanitarian protection

Many people with pre-settled status and some other EU and Commonwealth citizens can also claim benefits.

The rules for EU citizens also apply to citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

If your universal credit claim is refused, you can ask the DWP to look at it again. Sometimes you can appeal to a benefits tribunal.

Find out where to get benefits advice

The EU settlement scheme

You may still be able to claim universal credit at the moment if you can show you qualify for settled or pre-settled status but don't have it yet.

For example, if you're an EU citizen who was living in the UK by 31 December 2020 and can show that either:

  • you've lived here legally for at least 5 years

  • you meet other conditions for pre-settled status

You may be able to apply for settlement if you're a qualifying family member even if you're not an EU citizen yourself.

The EU settlement scheme closes for applications on 30 June 2021

After that date, you won't usually be able to get homeless help or claim benefits in the UK unless you're an Irish citizen or have settled or pre-settled status.

You need to apply even if you already have a UK permanent residence document.

Apply to the scheme on GOV.UK to protect your rights in the UK after 30 June.

Information in other languages

Find information in other languages about the EU settlement scheme:

If you're an Irish citizen or have settled status

You can claim universal credit if:

  • you're an Irish citizen

  • you have settled status under the EU settlement scheme

Irish citizens have the right to live in the UK without restrictions. You don't need to apply to the EU settlement scheme but you can choose to do so. Non-Irish family members may need to apply to keep their rights after 30 June 2021.

Find out more from Citizens Advice about staying in the UK after Brexit.

Extra conditions if you have pre-settled status

The universal credit rules say you have to meet extra conditions if you have pre-settled status.

You need to show an additional residence right, for example, you're:

  • working or self employed

  • unable to work because of ill health

  • looking for work after working in the UK

  • living with a child at school in the UK

You should qualify if you're in one of these situations:

Working or self employed

You qualify automatically if you've earned at least £792 a month before tax for the last 3 months.

You can also qualify if you earn less than this or your income changes. This includes time spent on maternity leave.

Can't work because of ill health

You usually qualify if you've worked in the UK but can't work at the moment because of illness or accident.

This could include a longer term health condition or disability, but you may need to show that you're likely to be able to work again in the foreseeable future.

Looking for work

You can usually claim universal credit if you lose your job or become unemployed in the UK.

You should register with Jobcentre Plus and start looking for work as soon as you can even if you don't need to claim benefits immediately.

Children in school

You might be able to claim universal credit if a child who lives with you is at school in the UK.

Your child must have lived in the UK while you or their other parent was an EU worker. You don't need to be working now.

The Court of Appeal has decided that people with pre-settled status should not have to meet these extra conditions to claim benefits

The law has not yet changed and the DWP might appeal against the court ruling.

If you apply for universal credit and don't meet the extra conditions, your claim will be put on hold until the law is clear.

If the rules are changed so that you don't have to meet the extra conditions, your universal credit payments will be backdated to when you applied.

Get benefits advice if you've been refused benefits.

An adviser may be able to help you challenge a decision made in the last 13 months.

Find out about other sources of support if you can't pay for essentials.

Family members of EU citizens

You can get universal credit if you have:

  • settled status

  • pre-settled status and meet the extra conditions

You may be able to get universal credit until 30 June if you can show you would qualify for settled or pre-settled status but don't have it yet.

It's important to apply before the EU settlement scheme closes or your rights to live, work and claim benefits could end.

If you've lived abroad recently

You must usually be 'habitually resident' to claim benefits in the UK.

Habitual residence: what is it?

You must be living in the Common Travel Area - the UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man - for the foreseeable future.

You might not qualify if you've recently lived abroad even if you're a British citizen.

You can usually qualify for universal credit within 3 months of arriving in the UK.

Sometimes you can qualify as soon as you arrive. For example, if you've been:

  • living in Ireland

  • working in another EU country

  • deported or removed from another country

If you're returning to the UK, you can show an intention to resettle by looking for work, arranging school places and registering with a GP.

Apply for universal credit as soon as you can as there's at least a 5 week wait for your first universal credit payment.

If you have indefinite leave to remain

You can usually claim universal credit if you've been granted indefinite leave to remain (ILR) and are habitually resident. 

The only exception is if a relative sponsored you to come and live in the UK within the last 5 years. In this situation you can only claim benefits if your relative has died.

If you're a refugee or seeking asylum

You can usually claim universal credit if you're granted:

  • refugee status

  • humanitarian protection

  • discretionary leave with recourse to public funds

If you apply to extend your leave before it expires, you continue to qualify until the Home Office makes a decision.

If you're seeking asylum, you can't get universal credit while you wait for a Home Office decision. You can apply for asylum support if you're homeless or have no money.  

If you're a Commonwealth citizen

You can claim universal credit if you're habitually resident and have right of abode.

Other long term residents from the Commonwealth may also have the right to live, work and claim benefits in UK. 

If you're on a spouse or partner visa

You can't claim universal credit if you're on a spouse or partner visa because your partner is expected to support you financially for your first 5 years in the UK.

If you need to leave your home because of domestic abuse, you can ask for Home Office permission to claim benefits and get homeless help.

You should get immigration advice before completing the application form on GOV.UK

Rights of Women can provide free legal advice.

Need immigration advice?

Get advice before claiming benefits if you're not sure of your status.

You may have 'no recourse to public funds'. This means you can't claim universal credit and it could affect your residence rights if you try to apply.

Shelter can't provide immigration advice but there are other charities who could help.

Citizens Advice can help with immigration problems or refer you to a specialist adviser. You can also find immigration advice on their website.

Help with EU settlement

Roma Support Group offer phone appointments for Roma families and individuals who need help applying for settlement.

The AIRE Centre's EU settlement scheme checker tool has an option to discuss your results with a caseworker.

Contact Settled if you have more questions about the EU settlement scheme.

Use GOV.UK to search for other advice services.

Problems proving your status

You may be able to get help with documents through the Windrush Scheme if you moved to UK before 1989 and are settled here.


Last updated: 29 December 2020

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