Universal credit: Immigration and residence conditions

From 1 July 2021 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

  • indefinite leave to remain (ILR)

  • refugee status or humanitarian protection

  • settled status under the EU settlement scheme

  • pre-settled status and you meet extra conditions

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

British and Irish citizens

You can get universal credit if you are habitually resident in the UK.

Irish citizens have the right to live in the UK without restrictions and do not need settled status under the EU settlement scheme to claim benefits.

Settled status or indefinite leave to remain

You can usually get universal credit if you have either:

  • settled status under the EU settlement scheme

  • indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK

You must be habitually resident.

If you have ILR because a relative sponsored you to come and live in the UK in the last 5 years, you can only get benefits if your relative has died.

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.

If you've lived outside UK recently

You usually count as habitually resident within 3 months of arriving back in the UK if you're British, Irish, have settled status or ILR.

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

  • you've been living in Ireland, the Channel Islands or Isle of Man

  • you were previously resident and have returned to resettle

  • you've been deported or removed from another country

Apply for universal credit as soon as you need it.

You have to wait at least 5 weeks for your first payment.

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

Extra conditions if you have pre-settled status

You have to meet extra conditions to get universal credit if you have pre-settled status under the EU settlement scheme.

You need to show you're in one of the following situations when you claim universal credit.

Working or self employed

You can qualify if you've earned at least £797 a month before tax for the last 3 months.

You can also qualify if you earn less than this or your income changes. For example, if:

  • you work part time hours

  • you're on a zero hours contract

The DWP looks at the number of hours you work and how much you earn to decide if you have worker or self employed status under EU law.

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.

Pregnant or recently given birth

You can usually qualify for universal credit if you're on maternity leave from your job or self employment and on a low income.

You may also qualify if you have to give up your job or looking for work in the late stages of pregnancy.

You won't have to meet work search and availability conditions for around 3 months before or 9 months after the birth.

You must intend to return to work or looking for work within 41 weeks of your baby being born to get universal credit.

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 an 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.

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.

If your application to the EU settlement scheme is still being processed

You may still be able to claim universal credit at the moment if you can show you:

  • were legally resident in the UK by 31 December 2020

  • applied to the EU settlement scheme by 30 June 2021

You will need to show that you meet one of the extra pre-settled status conditions unless you can show that you've lived here legally and continuously for at least 5 years.

The EU settlement scheme closed for applications on 30 June 2021.

Find out more about staying in the UK from Citizens Advice


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 the Home Office looks at your asylum claim.

You can apply for asylum support if you're homeless or have no money.  

Commonwealth citizens

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

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

You may be able to get help through the Windrush Scheme if you moved to UK before 1989 and are settled here but don't have the documents to prove it.

Get immigration advice if you're unsure of your immigration status.

Other people with recourse to public funds

'Recourse to public funds' means you can get help with benefits and housing in the UK.

Your leave to enter or remain in the UK must allow you to have 'recourse to public funds'.

For example, if you have exceptional leave under the 'destitute domestic violence concession'.

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

Find specialist immigration advice through:

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.

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

Information in other languages for EU citizens

Find information in other languages from these charities:

Last updated: 1 December 2021

If you need to talk to someone, we'll do our best to help

Get help