Universal Credit

Universal Credit (UC) is a benefit for people under State Pension age who are out of work or on a low income. If you are out of work because you have cancer or are a carer, you may be able to get Universal Credit.

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit (UC) is a benefit for people under State Pension age who are either: 

  • out of work, for example because of an illness or caring responsibilities
  • on a low income.

UC can include money for basic living costs, looking after children and housing.

UC has replaced 6 other means-tested benefits:

If you currently get any of these benefits and your circumstances change, you may have to claim UC instead. You can speak to a Macmillan welfare rights adviser to find out more.

Between 2019 and 2026, people receiving existing benefits and tax credits will be moved to UC. They will then be reassessed. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in England, Scotland and Wales, or the Department for Communities (DfC) in Northern Ireland, will contact you to change your claim.

Can I claim Universal Credit?

You may be able to get UC if:

  • you are on a low income or out of work
  • you are aged 18 or over (or 16 or over in certain cases)
  • you are not in full-time education or training – unless exceptions apply, such as you get Personal Independence Payment and cannot work because of ill-health
  • you are under State Pension age (or your partner is)
  • you and your partner have £16,000 or less in savings between you
  • you live in the UK.

If you live with someone as a couple, you must both make an online claim. The claims will be linked. This is called making a joint claim. Both of your savings and incomes are looked at. You get a single monthly payment for your whole household.

Before you make a claim for UC, you should apply for any contribution-based benefits you may be able to get. You can get more information about this from a welfare rights adviser.

If you have a terminal illness, you can claim under special rules. This means your claim should be fast-tracked and you will get extra money. We have more information about special rules.

You can find more information about who can claim at GOV.UK

Claimant commitment

You must accept an agreement called a claimant commitment unless you are terminally ill. This is a record of the responsibilities you will have if you get UC. When you apply, you will have a conversation with a work coach at your local Jobcentre Plus. If you agree, the work coach will write your claimant commitment during this conversation. 

You may want to speak to your health or social care professional for advice before meeting with your work coach.

The claimant commitment is based on your individual situation. For example, you may currently have a limited ability to work, but are expected to get better. Your claimant commitment might say you should prepare for work as much as you can.

You will then be put into a limited capability for work (LCW) group. This is sometimes called a conditionality group. Each group includes activities you must do to prepare for work.

If you are too unwell to work at all, you will not be expected to prepare for work.

You should make sure you are referred for a work capability assessment.

You should ask to be placed in the LCW or LCWRA group if you are having or recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

If you do not keep to your claimant commitment, your benefit could be stopped or reduced. It is important to make sure the agreement reflects what you can and cannot do.

Related pages

Booklets and resources

How much Universal Credit could I get?

The amount of UC you can get depends on your income and circumstances. It may also depend on the income and circumstances of people living with you.

UC is paid monthly in arrears. You usually need to wait about 5 weeks for your first payment. You can apply for an advance payment to help you budget. This advance payment is repaid over 24 months by reducing your UC payments.

To see how much money you may be able to get, visit GOV.UK.

Extra payments (elements)

UC also gives extra payments for people in certain situations. These extra payments are called elements:

  • The child element

    You may get this if you are responsible for a child who lives with you. This means a child aged under 16. But in some cases, it could mean a young person aged under 20 who is in full-time education or doing certain training. You can only get this element for up to 2 children born on or after 6 April 2017, unless special exceptions apply. Extra money is added if the child or young person has a disability, no matter how many children you have.

  • The childcare element

    You may get this if you pay for childcare while working. You may be able to claim back up to 85% of your childcare costs.

  • The limited capability for work and work-related activity element

    You may get this if you have a limited ability to work and do work-related activities.

  • The carer element

    You may get this if you provide at least 35 hours of care a week for someone who is severely disabled. You can either get the carer element or the limited capability for work and work-related activity element, but not both. You get whichever is more.

  • The housing element

    You may get this if you meet certain criteria. This helps with rent or service charges.

You can find out more about extra payments at GOV.UK.

Qualifying for UC may make you eligible for other help, such as free prescriptions and free school meals.

How do I claim Universal Credit?

You can apply for UC online at GOV.UK.

You can also apply by calling the Universal Credit helpline:

  • In England, Scotland and Wales, call 0800 328 5644 or 0800 328 1744 for Welsh language. Or use textphone 0800 328 1344.
  • In Northern Ireland, call 0800 012 1331 or use textphone 0800 012 1441.

It helps to provide as much information as you can, such as:

  • your bank, building society or credit union account details
  • an email address
  • details of your income, savings, investments, housing and any childcare costs
  • details of your health condition.

Once you have applied, you usually meet with a work coach at your local Jobcentre Plus. This must be arranged within 7 days. If you cannot attend the appointment because of your condition or treatment, it is important to let them know. This is so your claim is not cancelled.

You also need to provide proof of identity. You can do this through the online application process or at your appointment. For example, you can confirm your identity by showing your passport or driving licence.

We have more information on what you need to apply for Universal Credit and how to claim.

You can ask a Macmillan welfare rights adviser to help with your claim. We have information on how to prepare for a call with our Welfare Rights Advisers.

How do I challenge a decision?

If you are unhappy with a decision about UC, you may be able to ask for it to be looked at again. This is called a mandatory reconsideration. You need to ask for a mandatory reconsideration within 1 month of the decision date.

If you disagree with the mandatory reconsideration, you can appeal within 1 month. An independent tribunal will hear your case. It may be helpful to speak to a welfare rights adviser first. You can call our welfare rights advisers on 0808 808 00 00.

We have more information about challenging a benefits decision.

Can I claim Universal Credit for housing costs?

If you are eligible for UC, you can get help paying for your housing. This is called a housing element or payment. You may be able to get help with:

  • your rent
  • some service charges
  • interest payments on your mortgage, if you or your partner own the property you live in.

Housing Benefit, the housing element of UC or a Support for Mortgage Interest loan can help with these costs.

UC has replaced Housing Benefit in most circumstances, although there are some exceptions.

About our information

  • This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by Macmillan professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Macmillan’s Welfare Rights team.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 May 2022
Next review: 01 May 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.