Universal credit: Immigration and residence conditions

Find out about immigration and residence conditions that affect whether you can claim universal credit if you have a low income.

British and Irish citizens

You can claim universal credit if you're classed as 'habitually resident' in the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man. 

Habitual residence means you're settled here for the foreseeable future.

You meet this condition automatically if either of the following apply:

  • you've not lived abroad in the last 2 years
  • you've been deported back to the UK from another country 

If you've lived abroad in the last 2 years

You can be habitually resident as soon as you arrive if you lived here before and have returned to resettle.

You can show an intention to resettle by looking for work, arranging school places and registering with a GP.

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

Other EU citizens

You may be able to claim universal credit but it depends on your residence status.

The rules for EU nationals also apply to:

After Brexit

The same benefit entitlement rules continue to apply until 31 December 2020.

After that date, you may need settled status in the UK to qualify for universal credit or other benefits.

Find out more from Citizens Advice about:

Settled status

You can apply for universal credit if you have been granted settled status through the EU settlement scheme

Until 31 December 2020, you can still apply for universal credit without having settled status if you're an EU national in any of the situations below. 

Permanent residence

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

You usually get permanent residence if you:

  • live here continuously for 5 years with a right to reside under EU law
  • retire after working here for at least 1 year and living here for at least 3 years
  • stop work permanently due to illness or disability after living here for at least 2 years

You don't have to apply for permanent residence. You have it automatically if you meet the conditions.

Find out more about permanent residence from Housing Rights Information

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 £792 a month before tax
  • your earnings have been at or above this level for at least 3 months

You can still claim if your earnings are below this amount. 

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

You'll need to provide proof of your wages or income from employment.

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 called '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're on maternity leave from your job or self employment. 

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 jobseeking at the end of this period.

Can't work due to illness or accident

You can usually claim universal credit if you've worked 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 who lives with you attends 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'.

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

You need evidence of your immigration status to claim universal credit. 

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

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. 

Indefinite leave to remain

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

You won't qualify if you got ILR because a relative sponsored you unless either:

  • 5 years have passed
  • your relative has died


You can usually claim universal credit if you've been 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.

You can't get universal credit while you're an asylum seeker but you may qualify for asylum support if you have no money.  

Spouse or partner visas

You can't 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 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.

If you have 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 asylum seekers, overseas students, work permit holders, visitors and some other types of limited leave to remain.

Challenging a universal credit decision

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.

Last updated 30 June 2020 | © Shelter

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