Universal credit: Immigration and residence conditions

Who can get universal credit

Universal credit is a benefit for working age people who have a low or no income. It includes money 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 under the EU settlement scheme and you meet extra conditions

  • a visa under the Ukraine family scheme or the Homes for Ukraine scheme

You could get universal credit if you have another immigration status that does not say no recourse to public funds.

British and Irish citizens

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

Habitual residence: what is it?

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

This is sometimes called being habitually resident in the Common Travel Area.

Irish citizens have the right to live in the UK without restrictions. You do not need to apply to the EU settlement scheme to claim benefits.

If you've lived outside UK recently

You usually count as habitually resident within 3 months of arriving back in the UK .

If you return to the UK, show you intend to resettle by looking for work, arranging school places and registering with a GP.

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 possible. You usually have to wait 5 weeks for the money.

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 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.

Conditions if you have EU pre-settled status

You have to meet extra conditions to get universal credit if you have pre-settled status.

You need to show you're:

  • working or self employed

  • looking for work after your job or self employment ended

  • cannot work because you're pregnant or you've given birth

  • cannot work because you're ill

  • looking after a child who is in school

Working or self employed

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

You can also claim if you earn less than this or your income changes. The DWP looks at the hours you work and how much you earn.

Lost your job and looking for work

You can usually claim universal credit if you:

  • lose your job and are looking for another one

  • stop being self employed and are looking for work

Register with Jobcentre Plus. Start looking for work as soon as you can even if you do not need benefits.

Pregnant or recently given birth

You can usually get universal credit if you're:

  • on maternity leave from your job and on a low income

  • give up your job or looking for work in the late stages of pregnancy

You will not be expected to look for work for around:

  • 3 months before the birth

  • 9 months after the birth

You must plan to return to or look for work within 41 weeks of your baby being born.

Get advice from Maternity Action about claiming benefits when pregnant.

Cannot work because you're ill

You can usually claim if you:

  • have worked in the UK before

  • cannot work at the moment because of illness or an accident

This could include a longer term health condition or disability. You may need to show that you're likely to work again.

Children in school

You might be able to claim universal credit if a child who lives with you:

  • goes to school in the UK

  • has at least one parent who is or was an EU worker

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

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

You could still claim universal credit if you:

  • were living in the UK by 31 December 2020

  • applied to the EU settlement scheme by 30 June 2021

You need to show that either:

  • you meet one of the pre-settled status conditions

  • 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

Refugees and people with discretionary leave

You can usually claim universal credit if you have:

  • refugee status

  • humanitarian protection

  • discretionary leave with recourse to public funds

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

If you're seeking asylum

You cannot 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.

There are options if you have no recourse to public funds.

If you're on a spouse or partner visa

You cannot 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.

You should get immigration advice before asking the Home Office to claim benefits and get homelessness help if you're experiencing domestic abuse.

Find specialist immigration advice through:

Your advisor might tell you to complete a form on GOV.UK.

Proving your immigration status online

You can prove your immigration status online. You can:

  • check if you can claim benefits

  • get a share code to prove your status

Update your universal credit journal and contact the Home Office if you have problems getting a share code or seeing your immigration status online.

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 cannot give immigration advice.

Citizens Advice can refer you to a specialist adviser. You can also find immigration information on their website.

Information in other languages for EU citizens

Find information in other languages from these charities:

Last updated: 21 March 2022

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

Get help