Universal credit: Immigration and residence conditions

Most British citizens, many EU nationals and some people from outside the EU qualify for universal credit if you meet the general rules of entitlement.

British and Irish citizens

You can claim universal credit if you're 'habitually resident'. This means you're settled in UK for the foreseeable future.

If you've been living in the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man or the Republic of Ireland - also known as the Common Travel Area - you count as habitually resident.

Arrival from outside the Common Travel Area

You can usually claim universal credit on arrival if either:

  • you previously lived in the Common Travel Area and have returned to resettle
  • you've been deported back to the UK from another country

Otherwise it usually takes 1-3 months before you're treated as habitually resident and can claim universal credit.

EU citizens

Many EU citizens can claim universal credit but it depends on your residence status.

The rules for EU nationals also apply to:

  • citizens of Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland
  • some family members of EEA or Swiss nationals

Permanent residence

You can usually claim universal credit if you have permanent residence in the UK.

You could have permanent residence if you've:

  • lived here continuously for at least 5 years
  • retired after working here for at least 1 year and living here for at least 3 years
  • stopped work permanently due to illness or disability after at least 2 years' residence

Working or self-employed

You can claim universal credit if you have 'worker or self-employed status' in the UK.

You qualify automatically if:

  • you earn at least £702 per month before tax
  • your earnings have been at or above this level for at least 3 months

You may still be able to claim if your earnings are below this amount. 

Jobcentre Plus looks at how much you earn and the number of hours you work.

Looking for work

You can usually claim universal credit if you become unemployed after work or self-employment in the UK providing you:

  • register with Jobcentre Plus as soon as you can
  • look for work and have a genuine chance of finding it

This is known as 'retained worker or self-employed status'.

You can only claim for a maximum of 6 months if you worked in the UK for less than 1 year - unless you find another job.

If you worked for more than 1 year, you should be able to claim for longer than 6 months as long as you keep to your claimant commitment.

You can't usually claim universal credit if you've never worked in the UK.

Pregnant or recently given birth

You can claim universal credit if you'll return to your job or self-employment after maternity leave. 

You can also usually claim if you stop working for an employer up to:

  • 11 weeks before the birth
  • 41 weeks after the birth

Your claim may be refused if you don't intend to return to work (or start looking for work) at the end of this period.

Can't work due to illness or accident

You can usually claim universal credit if you've worked or been self-employed in the UK but can't work temporarily because of illness or accident.

Children in school

You may be able to claim universal credit if a child living with you is in 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.

People from outside the EU

Some people from outside the EU qualify for universal credit. Your leave to remain must allow 'recourse to public funds'.

Commonwealth citizens

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

Many other long-term residents also have the right to live, work and claim benefits in UK. You may need to provide documentary evidence of your status.

Get immigration advice before claiming universal credit if you're unsure of your immigration status or don't have documents to prove it.

Indefinite leave to remain

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

You won't usually qualify if you were granted ILR within the last 5 years because a relative sponsored you. The Home Office expects your relative to support you financially for your first 5 years in the UK unless they die during this time.

Refugees

You can usually claim universal credit if you've been granted:

  • refugee status
  • humanitarian protection
  • discretionary leave

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

Spouse or partner visas

You can't usually claim universal credit if you're on a spouse or partner visa. 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 violence, you can ask the Home Office for permission to claim benefits for a 3-month period.

The application form is on GOV.UK but you should get immigration advice before you complete it.

Rights of Women can provide free legal advice.

No recourse to public funds

You can't get universal credit if your immigration status means you have 'no recourse to public funds'.

This restriction affects foreign students, work-permit holders, visitors and some other types of limited leave to remain.

Challenging a decision

You can ask for a review if you're refused universal credit and you think the decision is wrong.

A benefits adviser may be able to help.

If you have rent arrears or are facing eviction because you've been refused universal credit:

Contact a Shelter adviser online, by phone or in person


Last updated 15 Jan 2019 | © Shelter

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