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Eligibility for universal credit

This content applies to England

There are pending updates to this page following Brexit and the end of transition period on 31 December 2020

Working age claimants entitled to universal credit and the categories of exceptions, such as persons from abroad, students or claimants under 18.

Eligible claimants

Regulations set out the conditions for entitlement. The claimant must:[1]

  • be aged 18 or over (with limited exceptions) and under the qualifying age for pension credit
  • be habitually resident in the Common Travel Area (UK, Channel Islands, Republic of Ireland or Isle of Man) with a 'right to reside' and not subject to immigration control. In the regulations the category of ineligible claimant is described as 'persons treated as not being in Great Britain'
  • not be in education, with limited exceptions
  • accept the 'claimant commitment'. For further information, see claimant commitment.

Persons from abroad

Regulations set out the eligibility requirements for persons, including British citizens, who have come to the UK from abroad. The categories of persons from abroad who are ineligible for universal credit are broadly the same as those ineligible for housing assistance under parts 6 and 7 of the Housing Act 1996.[2]

See the following pages for information on which persons from abroad are eligible for assistance under parts 6 and 7 of the Housing Act 1996:

A claimant whose right to reside is not specifically listed as eligible in the regulations may be able to claim universal credit, provided that:[3]

  • they satisfy the 'basic conditions' for entitlement, and
  • their right to reside is not excluded from the eligible categories.

Pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme
Claimants with pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme who have no other qualifying right to reside are excluded from being treated as habitually resident for the purposes of claiming universal credit.[4]

The Court of Appeal has held that this amounts to unlawful discrimination on the grounds of nationality.[5] The sections of the regulations that prevent claimants from relying on pre-settled status when claiming means tested benefits have been quashed. However, there is a stay on the decision being implemented until 26 February 2021.

Claimants with pre-settled status who have been refused universal credit because they had no other right to reside can challenge that decision. They may be able to receive a backdated payment after February.

Similarly, people with pre settled status who do not have another right to reside could consider making a claim if they meet the other conditions of entitlement.

Windrush generation
The DWP has issued Memo ADM 14/18 giving guidance on Commonwealth citizens who are claiming universal credit, and are long term-residents in the UK, but are unable to provide documentary evidence of their immigration status. This advises that 'where the evidence of nationality and status provided to and held by DWP and the Home Office indicates that the balance of probabilities is that the claimant is likely to have legal and habitual residence, the decision maker may determine that the claimant is eligible to claim...'. This is not restricted to the ‘Windrush generation’ (migrants from Commonwealth Caribbean countries who settled in the UK before 1973), see para 4 of the Memo for details.

EEA nationals - minimum earnings threshold
On 1 March 2014 the Department for Work and Pensions issued guidance[6] that introduced a ‘minimum earnings threshold’ (MET) for EEA nationals to be used when deciding whether an EEA national who has applied for benefits could be classed as a worker/self-employed person. The MET is not a legislative change but as guidance forms part of the decision-making framework for benefits that require an EEA national to have a qualifying 'right to reside'. The MET is set at the level of income that an employee or self-employed person starts making Class 1 National Insurance contributions. The guidance states that an economically active EEA national will be automatically considered to be a worker or self-employed person for the purposes of EU law if their gross earnings:

  • average more than the MET over the financial year under consideration, and
  • were at, or above that level for a continuous period of 3 months immediately before the date from which benefit has been claimed.

In all cases where the EEA national does not meet the income threshold criteria above, the benefit authority would need to make further enquiries and examine each case as a whole, considering all individual circumstances before making a decision. Decision-makers are reminded that an EEA national may have a right to reside as a worker if s/he works part-time.[7]

The Upper Tribunal has emphasised the non-statutory nature of the MET and the fact that assessments of whether work is genuine and effective must be carried out in accordance with the EU law, which does not prescribe an earnings threshold, therefore an EEA national may have a right to reside as a worker or a self-employed person despite generating income below the threshold for National Insurance contributions.[8]

Claimants aged 16 or 17

A claimant aged 16 or 17 is entitled to claim universal credit if s/he:[9]

  • has a dependent child or in some cases is a member of a couple and the other member of the couple is responsible for a child
  • has been assessed as having limited capability for work, or is awaiting assessment
  • is caring for a severely disabled person
  • is pregnant and it is less than 11 weeks until the expected date of birth
  • was pregnant and it is less than 15 weeks since the date of birth
  • is without parental support. This includes where the claimant is estranged or at risk from her/his parents.


Most people in full-time education are not entitled to universal credit. The exceptions to this rule include a student who:.[10]

  • is aged under 21 and in non-advanced education (or was under 21 when s/he started the course of study) and is without parental support
  • has a dependent child, or is a member of a couple in which the other member is also in education and has a dependent child
  • is a foster parent, or is a member of a couple in which the other member is also in education and is a foster parent
  • is entitled to attendance allowance, disability living allowance or personal independence payment and has been assessed as having limited capability for work
  • is over the qualifying age for pension credit and her/his spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner is under that age.

Claimants in receipt of severe disability premium

From 16 January 2019, a claimant who is (or who was in the previous month) entitled to a legacy benefit that includes a severe disability premium (SDP) cannot claim universal credit under the 'SDP Gateway' provisions.[11] This restriction also applies where either one of joint claimants meets the condition. The restriction is intended to ensure protection for people who are entitled to SDP attached to their existing 'legacy' benefit, because the premium is not payable under the universal credit regulations. Whilst universal credit contains disability elements, they are targeted differently from those in legacy benefits.

The benefits that can include a severe disability premium are:

  • jobseeker's allowance (income-based)
  • employment support allowance
  • income support
  • housing benefit.

Claimants in this category will not migrate naturally onto universal credit, but will instead be moved onto universal credit through a managed migration process. See Migration and transitional protection for more information on migration. The Department for Work and Pensions has issued HB Circular A1/2019 providing guidance on housing benefit for claimants who are entitled to the severe disability premium. ADM memo 15/19 provides information on transitional payments for claimants previously entitled to SDP who are being migrated onto universal credit under the managed migration pilot.

18 to 21 year olds

From 31 December 2018, 18 to 21 years olds are entitled to universal credit housing costs element.[12]

From 1 April 2017 until 31 December 2018, for claims made in a full digital service area, claimants aged between 18 and 21 years were not eligible for the housing costs element of universal credit unless they were in an exempt group.[13] See 18 to 21 year olds condition - now revoked for details.

Claimants of pension credit age

Single claimants over the qualifying age for pension credit are not eligible to claim universal credit.[14] At a date to be decided, pension credit will include:

  • a 'housing credit' element for pension credit claimants who need help to pay their rent , and
  • an extra amount for dependent children.

After this change, a claimant in receipt of pension credit will not be able to receive housing benefit or tax credits.

Mixed age couples

Where a claimant is a member of a couple in which one member has achieved the qualifying age for pension credit and the other has not ('mixed age couples'), the couple will be able to claim Universal Credit.[15] Until 14 May 2019, claims for those housing benefit and state pension credit age are still open to all people over state pension credit age.[16] This means that mixed age couples will effectively have the choice of claiming housing benefit and state pension credit or universal credit. Specialist benefits advice should be sought in this situation.

From 15 May 2019, the ability to claim pension credit and housing benefit will be withdrawn from mixed age couples and they will have to claim universal credit.[17] DWP have written to all known mixed age couples currently claiming pension credit and/or housing benefit to inform them that a change in circumstances which would lead to natural migration they will need to claim universal credit.[18]

Mixed age couples can continue to claim housing benefit, where either the older member is in receipt of severe disability premium (SDP), or the younger member is not eligible for UC due to one of the following:

  • s/he does not satisfy the habitual residence test
  • s/he is a person subject to immigration control
  • s/he is under 18 years old
  • s/he is in prison
  • s/he is absent from the UK for longer than the allowed temporary absence period.

Where the older member of a mixed age couple is in receipt of SDP, s/he would be treated as not having reached state pension age and would be able to claim working-age housing benefit. Where the younger member of a mixed-age couple is not eligible for UC for one of the reasons listed above, the older member is treated as a single claimant and able to claim pension age housing benefit.[19]

The state pension calculator can be used to calculate when a claimant will qualify for pension credit.

[1] regs 7 to 19 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376.

[2] reg 9 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/37, as amended.

[3] ss. 3 and 4(1)(c) Welfare Reform Act 2012; regs 9(2) and 9(4)(c) Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376; MW v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (UC) [2019] UKUT 184 (AAC).

[4] reg 9(3)(c)(i) Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376, as inserted by reg reg 8(3)(d) Social Security (Income-related Benefits) (Updating and Amendment) (EU exit) Regulations 2019 SI 2019/872.

[5] Fratila & Anor v Secretary of State for Works and Pensions & Anor [2020] EWCA Civ 1741

[6] Memo DMG 1/14; HB Circular A3/2014; Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit lawful residence test: workers and self-employed people.

[7] See, for example paras 7 and 22, memo DMG 1/14.

[8] RF v London Borough of Lambeth (HB) [2019] UKUT 52 (AAC).

[9] reg 8 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376.

[10] reg 14 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376.

[11] reg 4A Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2014 SI 2014/1230 inserted by reg 2 Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) (SDP Gateway) Amendment Regulations 2019 SI 2019/10.

[12] para 4A, Schedule 4, Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376 revoked by reg 3(6) Universal Credit and Jobseeker's Allowance (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2018 SI 2018/1129.

[13] para 4A – para 4C, Sch 4, Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376 as inserted by Universal Credit (Housing Costs Element for claimants aged 18 to 21) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 SI 2017/252; ADM Memo 6/17.

[14] s.4(1)(b) Welfare Reform Act 2012.

[15] reg 3(2) Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376.

[16] art 7(4) The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No. 23 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions) Order 2015 SI 2015/634 and reg 6(3) Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No. 21 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions) Order 2015/33.

[17] art 5 The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No. 31 and Savings and Transitional Provisions and Commencement No. 21 and 23 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Amendment)) Order 2019 SI 2019/37.

[18] para 14-17 LA Welfare Direct Bulletin 3/2019, DWP, 21 March 2019.

[19] art. 2 The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No. 31 and Savings and Transitional Provisions (Amendment)) Order 2019 SI 2019/935; A9/2019 Mixed age couples: further guidance, DWP, 21 May 2019; LA Welfare Direct Bulletin 6/2019, DWP, 4 June 2019.

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