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Eligibility for universal credit

This content applies to England

People can only claim universal credit if they are eligible based on their immigration and residence status.

How eligibility for universal credit is determined

Whether a person is eligible to claim universal credit depends on their immigration and residence status.

The groups of people who are eligible to claim universal credit are similar to those who are eligible for housing assistance. The rules apply in a different way and some of the terminology is used differently from other areas of law.

A person is eligible for universal credit if they are not subject to immigration control, are in Great Britain and are either habitually resident with a right to reside or exempt from habitual residence.

Subject to immigration control refers to people from other countries who either do not have leave to remain in the UK or whose leave is subject to restrictions.[1] These people are usually ineligible for universal credit.

All other claimants must meet the basic condition that they are ‘in Great Britain’.[2] This means that they need to be physically present in Great Britain when making their claim for universal credit.

A person is only treated as being in Great Britain if they are habitually resident, unless they are exempt from the habitual residence test.[3]

The term habitual residence here means that they must both:[4]

  • have the right kind of right to reside
  • be actually habitually resident in the Common Travel Area

People subject to immigration control

A person is not eligible for universal credit if they are ‘subject to immigration control’ as defined in s115 Asylum and Immigration Act 1999.[5]

Under this section a person is subject to immigration control if any of the following apply:[6]

  • they require leave to remain in the UK but do not have it
  • their leave to remain in the UK is subject to a no recourse to public funds condition
  • their leave to remain in the UK was given as a result of a maintenance undertaking

If a person falls into any of these categories, they are usually not eligible for universal credit.

This is not the same definition used in other areas of law, for example in homelessness law. People with indefinite leave to remain are not classed as subject to immigration control for the purpose of universal credit, but are classed as subject to immigration control when making a homeless application.

People subject to immigration control who are eligible

Some groups of people subject to immigration control can claim universal credit if they are either habitually resident or exempt from habitual residence.

A person whose leave is subject to a maintenance undertaking is eligible if either:

  • their sponsor has died
  • five years have passed since the later of either their date of entry or the date of the undertaking

People from Turkey or North Macedonia can claim universal credit if they are lawfully present in the UK.[7] Lawfully present means they must have some form of leave to remain in the UK. They can claim even if they have a no recourse to public funds condition attached to their leave.[9] Temporary admission, for example on a visitor's visa, is not sufficient.[8]

People with a right to reside who are eligible if habitually resident

A person can only be habitually resident if they have a right to reside. Certain rights to reside are excluded.[10]

This means if a person is not exempt from habitual residence, they are only eligible if they have both a right to reside and they are actually habitually resident.

Although the regulations refer to the requirement to be ‘in Great Britain’ habitual residence means residence in the Common Travel Area.[11] The Common Travel Area is the UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland.[12]

Right to reside in benefits law

In benefits law a right to reside is a right to live in the Common Travel Area and has a broad meaning.[13] It includes:

  • British and Irish nationals
  • Commonwealth citizens with a right of abode
  • people with indefinite leave to remain
  • people with leave to remain who have recourse to public funds

Habitual residence

Claimants also need to be habitually resident in the Common Travel Area.

The same legal test for habitual residence applies for eligibility for homelessness assistance.

Unlike some other benefits there is no set period of time that a person must be resident for before being entitled. DWP Advice for decision making based on case law says that a:[14]

  • period of between one and three months is likely to indicate habitual residence
  • person can be immediately habitually resident if they are returning to resume a former period of residence

EU Settlement Scheme and temporary protection

Settled status under the EU settlement scheme is a type of indefinite leave to remain. People with settled status have a right to reside and will be eligible if habitually resident.

Pre-settled status is a form of limited leave to remain and is disregarded as a right to reside for claiming universal credit.[15]

A person with pre-settled status can claim universal credit if they have a relevant right to reside under retained EU law and are either habitually resident or exempt from habitual residence.[16]

The relevant rights to reside are the same as in housing law and include a right to reside as a worker or self-employed person.

The following rights to reside under retained EU law are disregarded for claiming universal credit:[17]

  • as a jobseeker
  • during the initial three months of residence
  • as the primary carer of a dependent British citizen

People who had a right to reside under EU law on 31 December 2020 have temporary protection during the 'grace period' until 31 June 2021. They can claim universal credit if when applying they have a right to reside under retained EU law that makes them eligible.

Eligible people who are exempt from habitual residence

Some groups of people are eligible for universal credit if they are present in Great Britain. They do not need to be habitually resident in the Common Travel Area.

These include people:

  • with refugee status[18]
  • with humanitarian protection[19]
  • with discretionary leave under the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession or as a displaced person[20]
  • who have been deported, expelled or compulsorily removed to the UK and are not subject to immigration control[21]

EEA nationals exempt from habitual residence

People with EU pre-settled status or temporary protection are eligible regardless of habitual residence if under retained EU law they:[22]

  • are a worker or self-employed person
  • are a family member of an EEA worker or self-employed person
  • have a permanent right to reside in the UK, as a result of being a retired or permanently incapacitated worker or self-employed person
  • are a family member of a permanently incapacitated EEA worker or self-employed person

Frontier workers and family members who have been granted leave are also eligible without having to be habitually resident.[23]

These rights to reside are the same as referred to in housing law. See Eligibility of EEA nationals before January 2021 for more information.

Court of Appeal challenge on pre-settled status

A person who has pre-settled status but does not have another right to reside is ineligible for universal credit.

The Court of Appeal has held that this amounts to unlawful discrimination on the grounds of nationality.[24] The sections of the regulations that prevent claimants from relying on pre-settled status when claiming means tested benefits have been quashed. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has been granted permission to appeal by the Supreme Court. There is a stay on the decision being implemented until the Supreme Court judgment. 

Claims by couples where one person is ineligible

Couples who live together as one household must claim universal credit jointly. The eligibility of both is assessed.

If one person is ineligible, the other person can claim universal credit as a single person.[25] If they meet the other conditions of entitlement, universal credit is awarded at the single person rate, plus any additional elements, for example for any children in the household.

Universal credit paid in this situation does not count as public funds.[26]

The claimant’s benefit may still be reduced if the ineligible partner has any income or capital.[27]

[1] s115(9) Asylum and Immigration Act 1999.

[2] s4(1)(c) Welfare Reform Act 2012.

[3] reg 9(1) Universal Credit Regulations SI 2013/376.

[4] reg 9(2) Universal Credit Regulations SI 2013/376.

[5] s115(1) Asylum and Immigration Act 1999.

[6] s115(9) Asylum and Immigration Act 1999.

[7] OD v SSWP (JSA) [2015] UKUT 438 (AAC).

[8] 2015 UKUT 438 AAC.

[9] Yesiloz v London Borough of Camden & Anor [2009] EWCA Civ 415.

[10] reg 9(2) Universal Credit Regulations SI 2013/376.

[11] reg 9(1) Universal Credit Regulations SI 2013/376.

[12] s. 1(3) Immigration Act 1971.

[13] Abdirahman v SSWP [2007] EWCA Civ 657.

[14] para C1957 Chapter C1 Advice for Decision Making.

[15] reg 9(3)(c)(i) Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376.

[16] reg 11(t) Citizens' Rights (Application Deadline and Temporary Protection) (EU Exit) Regulations SI 2020/1209.

[17] reg 9(3) Universal Credit Regulations SI 2013/376.

[18] reg 9(4)(d) Universal Credit Regulations SI 2013/376.

[19] reg 9(4)(f) Universal Credit Regulations SI 2013/376.

[20] reg 9(4)(e) Universal Credit Regulations SI 2013/376.

[21] reg 9(4)(g) Universal Credit Regulations SI 2013/376.

[22] reg 9(4)(a) to (ca) Universal Credit Regulations SI 2013/376.

[23] reg 9(4)cb) to (cc) Universal Credit Regulations SI 2013/376.

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

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

[26] Immigration Rules, rules 6A-6C

[27] regs 18(2) and 22(3) Universal Credit Regulations SI 2013/376.

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