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What is Universal Credit?

What is Universal Credit?
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If you are a UK citizen on a low income or unemployed and struggling to get by or meet your living costs, you could be entitled to several benefits and help from the government. One of these benefits is Universal Credit.

Here’s a brief guide to what Universal Credit is, how it works and who qualifies.

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a benefit payment to assist people who are on low income, out of work or cannot work. It is the government’s official flagship reform of the previous benefits system, and it replaces the following benefits:

  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Employment Support and Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit

You cannot claim Universal Credit if you are already on any of these benefits. You do not need to do anything unless:

  • your financial circumstances change
  • the Department for Work and Pensions contacts you about moving to Universal Credit

Who can claim Universal Credit?

You can claim Universal Credit if:

  • you’re on a low income or unemployed
  • you’re at least 18 years old (though there might be exceptions if you are 16 or 17)
  • you or your partner are under state pension age
  • you have less than £16,000 in savings between yourself and your partner
  • you’re a resident of the UK

How does Universal Credit work?

If you succeed in your claim for Universal Credit, you will receive it as a single monthly payment if you live in England and Wales. In Scotland however, you can request for your payments to be made fortnightly. In Northern Ireland, you will receive payments every fortnight by default, but you can ask to receive them monthly.

If you have claimed Universal Credit as a couple, then you will get it as one payment for your household.

The money will be sent to your bank, building society or credit union account. If you don’t have any of these, you can call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 to arrange a different way of receiving your payment. 

In case your payment includes an amount for housing or rent, you will need to pay the landlord directly if you live in England or Wales. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, this rent can be paid directly to the landlord or you can pay it yourself. 

It will take around five weeks to get your first payment. However, you can apply for an advance if you cannot afford to wait this long and need help with your living costs.

After your first payment, subsequent payments will be made on the same date each month, unless the date falls on a bank holiday or the weekend, in which case it will be paid on the working day before.

How do you apply?

Applications for Universal Credit are done online on the website. If you do not have a computer at home, you can visit your local Jobcentre, council or library and apply from there for free.

If you’re unsure whether you can claim Universal Credit, then Citizens Advice have Help To Claim advisers on hand to help you with the early stages of the process, available to speak online or over the phone.

To start your application, you will need certain information and documents at hand. This includes your postcode, email address, bank or building society account for receiving your money and details about your income, savings and investments. You will also have to verify your identity online using a document like your passport, driving licence or credit card.

Needless to say, it is a good idea to be thorough and ensure that you provide the right information since this may affect the amount you can claim.

You can also apply for Universal Credit over the phone in exceptional circumstances, such as if you have a disability that prevents you from applying online or if you have problems with your sight. To do this, you will need to call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 9344.

How much can you get?

Universal Credit payments comprise of a standard allowance and other extra amounts that are applicable to you. The standard allowance amount depends on your age and whether you are part of a couple.

You might be eligible for additional Universal Credit if:

  • you have children (or children who are not yours but that are under your care)
  • you’ve a health condition or disability
  • you’re currently caring for a person with a severe disability or you have a child with a disability
  • you need help paying your housing costs

The amount you receive can also increase or decrease depending on what other income you get from:

  • working
  • capital or savings above £6,000
  • other benefits you receive
  • any other income, such as a pension


If you think you are eligible for Universal Credit, you are within your rights to apply for it. It can provide much-needed financial help, particularly during these uncertain times caused by COVID-19.

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