What is Universal Credit?

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

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

If you have cancer, you may be able to get UC.

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

UC has replaced six other means-tested benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Housing Benefit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Income-based Job Seeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance.

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

Between 2019 and 2022, people receiving existing benefits and tax credits will be moved to UC, and will need to be reassessed. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or the Department for Communities (DfC) in Northern Ireland will contact you if you need to change your claim. You do not need to do anything until then.

We have more information about other benefits and financial support available.

Can I claim Universal Credit?

To claim UC, you must:

  • be on a low income or out of work
  • be aged 18 or over (or 16 or over in certain cases)
  • not be in full-time education or training (unless exceptions apply, such as you get Personal Independence Payment and are not able to work due to ill-health)
  • not have more than £16,000 in savings (between you and a partner if you have one)
  • live in the UK
  • accept an agreement called a claimant commitment (see below).

If you live with someone as a couple, you will need to include their details on the claim form. This is called making a joint claim. Both of your savings and incomes will be considered. 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 you do not have to have a work capability assessment and you will receive extra money.

You can find more information about who can claim at gov.uk

Claimant commitment

Your claimant commitment 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. Your claimant commitment will be written during this conversation with your agreement.

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 state that you should prepare for work as much as you can.

You will then be placed into a ‘work-related activity group’. This is sometimes called a ‘conditionality group’. Each group contains types of activities that you will have to 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 will need to complete a UC50 form, or a ESA50 form if you are also applying for new style ESA.

Completing the form will help to make sure you receive any extra money because of your condition, and that you get the right amount for your circumstances.

If you are waiting for, receiving or recovering from certain cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you should ask to be placed in the ‘no work-related activity group’. If you do not keep to your claimant commitment, your benefit could be stopped or reduced. So it is important to make sure that it reflects what you can and cannot do.

How much 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.

At the current standard monthly rates:

  • a single person aged under 25 would get £256.05
  • a single person aged 25 or over would get £323.22
  • a couple both aged under 25 would get £401.92
  • a couple where one person is aged 25 or over would get £507.37.

UC is paid monthly in arrears. This means you will usually have to wait about 5 weeks for your first payment. You can apply for an advanced payment to help you budget. This will need to be repaid. This is done by reducing your UC payments over 12 months.

Extra payments

UC also gives extra payments, called ‘elements’, for people in certain situations. You may get the following elements:

  • The child element

    You may get this if you are responsible for a child who lives with you. This generally means a child aged under 16. In some cases, it could mean a young person under the age of 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 so that you can stay in work.

  • The limited capability for work-related activity element

    You may get this if you have a limited ability both to work and to do work-related activities. It is similar to being in the support group for Employment Support Allowance.

  • The carer element

    You may get this if you provide care for at least 35 hours a week for someone who is severely disabled. You can either get the carer element or the limited capability for work element but not both. You will get whichever is greater.

  • The housing element

    You may get this if you meet certain criteria. It 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/apply-universal-credit

If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, you can also call the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Universal Credit helpline. Call 0800 328 5644 or 0800 328 1744 for Welsh language, or use text phone 0800 328 1344 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm).

In Northern Ireland, you can call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 012 1331 or use textphone 0800 012 1441 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm). 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 and housing costs
  • details of your health condition.

Once you apply, you will usually need to 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 that your claim is not cancelled. You will also need to provide proof of identity. You can do this through the online application process or at your appointment. For example, by showing your passport or driving licence.

You can ask a Macmillan welfare rights adviser to help with your claim.

The Department of Work and Pensions has a video about how to claim Universal Credit.

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 one month of the decision date.

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

Can I claim Universal Credit for housing costs?

You may be eligible for a housing payment to help with:

  • rent
  • some service charges.

This is called a housing payment, or the housing element of Universal Credit (UC).

UC has replaced Housing Benefit in most circumstances.

This is called the housing element of Universal Credit. It has replaced Housing Benefit for most people, although there are some exceptions. We have more information about this.

How we can help

Macmillan Grants

If you have cancer, you may be able to get a Macmillan Grant to help with the extra costs of cancer. Find out who can apply and how to access our grants.

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