Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a payment for people over 18 but under State Pension age who are on a low income or out of work. It includes support for the cost of housing, children and childcare, and financial support for people with disabilities, carers and people too ill to work.

Sign into your Universal Credit account

If you have already created an online account for Universal Credit, sign in here:

If you have not yet created an account, read the information below and create an account in the ‘How to claim’ section.

About Universal Credit

Universal Credit will help make sure you are better off in work than on benefits and give you the support you need to prepare for work, start work or earn more money.

There’s no limit to the number of hours you can work in a week if you get Universal Credit. 

Your benefit will not suddenly be removed if you start work. Your payment will reduce gradually as you earn more. This allows you to take temporary or seasonal jobs without making a new claim or having gaps between paydays as you move in and out of work.

When receiving Universal Credit it is your responsibility to do everything you can to find work or increase your earnings.

Benefits being replaced by Universal Credit

Universal Credit will replace:

When Universal Credit starts

New claims

Universal Credit will be introduced for new claims on a phased geographical basis across Northern Ireland from September 2017 to September 2018. 

When it is introduced in your area, you will no longer be able to make a new claim to the benefits being replaced and you will need to claim Universal Credit instead.

Date Universal Credit will start Jobs & Benefits / Social Security office
27 September 2017 Limavady
15 November 2017 Ballymoney
13 December 2017 Magherafelt and Coleraine
17 January 2018 Strabane and Lisnagelvin
7 February 2018 Foyle and Armagh
21 February 2018 Omagh and Enniskillen
7 March 2018 Dungannon and Portadown
18 April 2018 Banbridge and Lurgan
2 May 2018 Kilkeel, Downpatrick and Newry
16 May 2018 Bangor, Newtownards and Holywood Road
30 May 2018 Knockbreda, Newtownabbey and Shankill
13 June 2018 Corporation Street, Falls and Andersonstown
27 June 2018 Shaftesbury Square, Lisburn and Larne
4 July 2018 Carrickfergus, Antrim and Ballymena
July to September 2018 Cookstown, Ballynahinch and Newcastle

People already receiving a benefit being replaced by Universal Credit

If your circumstances change after Universal Credit has been introduced in your area, you may move to Universal Credit at that time and your existing benefits will stop.

If your circumstances do not change, you will move to Universal Credit between July 2019 and March 2022. The Department for Communities will contact you when it is time to move to Universal Credit.  

Getting ready for Universal Credit

You can start to prepare for Universal Credit by:

  • setting up a bank account if you don’t already have one
  • setting up an email address
  • familiarising yourself with using the Internet
  • checking how much rent you pay (including any service charges)
  • making sure you have the documents you need to verify your identity - this may include your passport, driving license or a household bill

The Personal Planner below will tell you what steps you can take to get ready for Universal Credit.

Eligibility

To get Universal Credit in Northern Ireland you must:

  • live in an area where Universal Credit has been introduced for new claims – Universal Credit postcode checker (GOV.UK)
  • be aged 18 or over (16 or 17 in certain circumstances – see below)
  • be under State Pension age  
  • not be in full time education or training (unless exemptions apply - see below)
  • not have savings over £16,000 

You’ll get less Universal Credit if you have savings over £6,000 or earn enough money to cover your basic living costs.

If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, please visit GOV.UK instead.

If you’re aged 16 or 17

You can get Universal Credit if you:

  • have limited capability for work or you have medical evidence and are waiting for a Work Capability Assessment
  • are caring for a severely disabled person
  • are responsible for a child
  • are in a couple with responsibility for at least one child and your partner is eligible for Universal Credit
  • are pregnant and it’s 11 weeks or less before your expected week of childbirth
  • had a child in the last 15 weeks
  • don’t have parental support, for example, you don’t have parents and you’re not under local authority care

Exemptions if you’re in training or studying full time

You can get Universal Credit if any of the following apply. You're:

  • in a couple and your partner is eligible for Universal Credit
  • responsible for a child, either as a single person or as a couple, if both of you are students
  • disabled and entitled to Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment and have limited capability for work
  • in ‘non-advanced education’ (for example, studying for A levels or a BTEC National Diploma), are 21 or under and don’t have parental support

If you have three or more children

If you have three or more children, you cannot currently claim for Universal Credit unless you have already had a Universal Credit award within the last six months. This will change in November 2018.  In the meantime, you should claim for an existing benefit instead (see ‘Benefits being replaced by Universal Credit’ above). 

If you have three or more children and you haven’t claimed Universal Credit before, you may be able to apply for Child Tax Credit.

Couples – joint claims

You will be classed as a couple if you are two people who live in the same household and are either:

  • married to each other
  • civil partners
  • living together as if you are married

If you live with your partner you’ll need to make a joint claim as a couple. Your partner’s income and savings will be taken into account, even if they aren’t eligible for Universal Credit.  Each of you will have to create and agree your own individual ‘Commitment’.

To add a partner to your claim you must report this change in your circumstances online.

You may still be able to claim Universal Credit if you and/or your partner are employed.

Other benefits you may be entitled to

If you live in an area where Universal Credit has been introduced, you may be entitled to claim new style Employment and Support Allowance or new style Jobseeker’s Allowance either instead of, or as well as, Universal Credit. This will depend on your circumstances. If you claim both, your ESA or JSA payment will be deducted from your Universal Credit payment.

Payments

Universal Credit is normally paid twice a month to a household and you will need to budget for this. However, you may request a monthly payment. A household could be a single person, a couple or a family.

You will get your first payment between five and six weeks after you put in your claim.

Help while waiting for your first payment

If waiting for your first Universal Credit payment will put you into financial difficulty, there is support available.  Contact the Universal Credit Service Centre via your online account or speak to your Work Coach about:

  • budgeting support and money advice
  • an advance payment which would be recovered from your future Universal Credit payments over several months
  • a Discretionary Support payment 

How much you'll get

The amount of Universal Credit you can get depends on your circumstances, including your income and how many children you have.

benefits calculator can help you check if you can get Universal Credit or other benefits.

Your Universal Credit payment is made up of a monthly ‘Standard Allowance’ and any extra amounts you may be entitled to.

Monthly Standard Allowance

Your circumstances Monthly Standard Allowance
Single and under 25 £251.77
Single and 25 or over £317.82
In a couple and you’re both under 25 £395.20
In a couple and either of you are 25 or over £498.89

Extra amounts

If you’re eligible, you may get more money on top of your Standard Allowance.

Your circumstances Extra monthly amount
For your first child £277.08 (born before 6 April 2017)
£231.67 (born on or after 6 April 2017)
For your second child £231.67  
If you need help with childcare costs   Up to 85% of your costs (up to £646.35 for one child and £1,108.04 for two children)
If you have a disabled or severely disabled child £357.78 to £649.38
If you’re disabled or have a health condition that stops you from working £318.76
If you care for a disabled person £151.89

If you have children

In certain circumstances you may get an extra amount of £231.67 for more than two children.

You may also get the extra amount if you start caring for another child, depending on when they were born and how many children you have.

Housing costs

You may get money to help pay your housing costs.  Your eligibility and how much you get depends on your age and circumstances.

The payment can cover:

These payments will be paid directly to your landlord or mortgage lender. You can request for it to be paid to you, allowing you to pay your own rent.

Your Universal Credit housing costs may not cover all of your rent and you will be responsible for covering any shortfall yourself.

Work Allowance

Your Universal Credit payment will reduce gradually as you earn more. For every £1 you earn, your Universal Credit payment will be reduced by £0.63.

You can earn a certain amount before your Universal Credit is reduced if you or your partner either:

  • are responsible for a child or young person
  • have a disability or health condition that affects your ability to work

This is called a ‘Work Allowance’.

Your Work Allowance will be lower if you get help with housing costs.

Your circumstances Monthly work allowance
You get help with housing costs £192
You don’t get help with housing costs £397

The Benefit Cap may limit the total amount of benefit you can get. 

How to claim

To claim, you must create a Universal Credit account online.  

Your responsibilities when claiming Universal Credit

It is your responsibility to make sure the information you provide is accurate when claiming Universal Credit. 

Your Commitment

As part of your claim you will need to accept your ‘Commitment’. You will create and agree this with your Work Coach.

Your Commitment will set out the tasks you have agreed to do to prepare for work, look for work or increase your earnings. This may include preparing a CV, going on a training course or employment programme, applying for jobs and registering with a recruitment agency. The tasks you agree to will depend on things such as your health, your responsibilities at home and how much help you need to get to work or to increase your income. Your Commitment will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

Sanctions

Your Universal Credit payment may be reduced or stopped if you do not meet the responsibilities in your Commitment and you cannot give a good reason to explain why. This is known as a 'sanction'. With a sanction, you will be told how much of your Universal Credit payment you will lose and for how long.

If you are the lead carer

If you are responsible for a child or children and do not have a partner, you will be regarded as the lead carer.  If you are a couple responsible for a child or children you will need to nominate a lead carer. This is so your Commitment can be tailored to your personal circumstances.

Age of youngest child Lead carer’s 'Commitment'
Under one  You do not need to look for work 
One If you are not already working, you will be asked to go to interviews to discuss plans for a future move into work
Two You will be expected to take active steps to prepare for work - what this involves will be agreed between you and your Work Coach and will depend on your circumstances, but might include some training and work-focused interviews
Three to 12 You will be expected to look for work in line with your caring responsibilities, for example during your child’s school hours
13 and above You will normally be expected to look for full time work

If your child has exceptional care needs this will be reflected in your Commitment. 

Your other benefits and tax credits 

Once you have claimed Universal Credit, any benefits it replaces will stop. This may be before you get your first Universal Credit payment. If this happens, you can ask for an advance to help you manage until you get your first payment (see 'Payments' section above).

If you or your partner receive any of the following benefits, the amount you get of this benefit will be deducted from your Universal Credit award:

  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Employment and Support Allowance (contribution-based)
  • Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (parts of Constant Attendance Allowance and Exceptionally Severe Disablement Allowance may not be included)
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance (contribution-based)
  • Maternity Allowance
  • State Pension
  • Widowed Mother’s Allowance
  • Widowed Parent’s Allowance
  • Widow’s Pension

Any benefit, allowance or payment from a country outside the UK that is similar to the benefits listed above will also be taken into account.

If you receive Universal Credit you may also be able to get some extra support including free school meals and prescriptions depending on your personal circumstances.

Housing Benefit

If you already receive Housing Benefit, the Housing Executive and the Department for Communities will contact you when it’s time for you to move onto Universal Credit.

You do not need to do anything further now unless your circumstances change. You must report any change in your circumstances that could affect your claim as soon as possible by contacting the Housing Executive if you rent your home or Land & Property Services if you are a homeowner.

Tax Credits

If you live in an area where Universal Credit is available and you lose your job, your Tax Credit payments will stop and you will need to make a claim for Universal Credit. You can’t receive Universal Credit and Tax Credits at the same time.

If you already receive Tax Credits, you do not need to do anything unless your circumstances change. You will be contacted when you need to make a claim to Universal Credit. 

If your circumstances do change, you should report this as soon as possible by calling the Tax Credits Helpline or writing to the Tax Credit Office.

Living with others

If you are a couple living together you must make a joint claim.

If your partner moves in with you after you have claimed Universal Credit, you must report this change in your circumstances through your online account.

You must also report details about anyone living with you who is not dependent on you, for example, a grown-up son or daughter. If any of these people are under 21, you must also tell the Department for Communities if they:

  • receive disability benefits, for example, Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment
  • receive Carer’s Allowance 
  • are the primary carer for a child under five

Help with rates

Your Universal Credit payment will not include money towards your rates.

A new Rate Rebate scheme will replace Housing Benefit for rates for homeowners and tenants who claim Universal Credit.  If you think you may be eligible to claim Rate Rebate, you can find more information at the following page:

Disability or health condition

If you have a health condition, disability or terminal illness which prevents you from working or limits the amount of work you can do, Universal Credit provides financial and work related support.

You may be asked to go to a Work Capability Assessment to find out if you:

  • are fit for work
  • have limited capability for work – which means that although you may be unable to look for work now, you are able to prepare for work with the aim of working some time in the future
  • have limited capability for work and work related activity – which means you will not be asked to look for work or prepare for work

The Work Capability Assessment will assess what you can and can’t do on a day to day basis.  It gives you the opportunity to explain if, and how, your condition changes over time.

Your Assessment will help your Work Coach to discuss and agree the responsibilities you will have to meet for your Universal Credit award. 

You can earn a certain amount before your Universal Credit payment is affected if you are found to have limited capability for work. This is called a Work Allowance. If you earn more than your Work Allowance, your Universal Credit payment will reduce gradually as your pay increases.

If you are already claiming Universal Credit and your health condition changes, you can stay on Universal Credit but you must report your new circumstances.

You may be eligible to apply for other benefits, for example, Personal Independence Payment.

Working whilst claiming Universal Credit

Starting work

If you receive Universal Credit and start work you will need to tell the Department for Communities who your employer is. This will make sure you receive the right amount of Universal Credit because as your pay changes, the amount of Universal Credit you receive changes too.

You will not need to close your Universal Credit claim just because you have started work.

Already in work

If you already work, earning as much as can be expected and are still eligible for Universal Credit, you will receive financial support without having to increase your earnings.

If you are working but could earn more, you will be supported while you look for extra work or better paid work.

Becoming financially independent

Once you earn enough money through work and have become financially independent, you will no longer need Universal Credit and your claim will close. The Department for Communities will tell you if this is the case.

If your circumstances change and you need to come back onto Universal Credit within six months of your previous claim ending, it is easy to do so through the reclaim function in your online account.

Self-employment

If you are self-employed and claiming tax credits or Housing Benefit, you may be moved onto Universal Credit when it is introduced in your area.

If you are self-employed but also employed, the Department for Communities will make a decision about which activity is your main occupation as part of a ‘gainful self-employment test’.

Gainful self-employment

To count as gainful, your self-employment must be organised, developed and regular, and you must expect to make a profit. It should also be your main job.

You will need to go to a ‘gateway interview’. At the gateway interview, you’ll need to provide evidence of your self-employed activity, for example your business plan, copies of invoices and receipts, or trading accounts from the previous year.

If the Department for Communities decides you are not gainfully self-employed, you’ll need to look for and be available for other work. You will still need to report any earnings from your self-employment so they can be taken into account when calculating your Universal Credit.

Minimum Income Floor

To work out your Universal Credit payments, it is assumed you earn at least the ‘Minimum Income Floor’, even if your actual earnings fall below it.

Your Work Coach will be able to explain how your Minimum Income Floor is calculated. 

If you earn more than the Minimum Income Floor you will receive less Universal Credit.

Exemptions from the Minimum Income Floor

If the Minimum Income Floor doesn't apply to you, your Universal Credit payments will be calculated on your actual income rather than your assumed income.

Start-ups

If your business is less than 12 months old, the Minimum Income Floor won’t apply to you for one year. During this time your actual earnings will be taken into account to work out your Universal Credit.

People with a health condition or disability and lone parents

If you’re a self-employed person with a disability or lone parent and in any of the groups listed below, the Minimum Income Floor won’t apply:

  • no work-related requirements group
  • work-focused interview group
  • work preparation group

Your Work Coach will be able to tell you if you are in one of these groups.   

Reporting your income 

You must report your earnings from self-employment to the Universal Credit Service Centre every month by telephone.

Find out more about how to calculate your income for Universal Credit at the following page:

Expenses

If your expenses for a particular month are unusually high, you can’t offset them against your income in future months. This applies even if your expenses for the month are higher than your receipts.

Business start-ups

If you’re classed as gainfully self-employed and your business is less than 12 months old you will not have to look for other paid work. However, you will have to go to an interview every three months to prove you are still gainfully self-employed and taking steps to increase your earnings.

Change of circumstances

If you get Universal Credit and your circumstances change, you must report this change through your online account.

Changes can include:

  • finding or finishing a job
  • having or caring for a child
  • a change to your address
  • a change to your bank details
  • your rent going up or down
  • becoming too ill to work or meet your Work Coach

Your Universal Credit may be stopped or reduced if you don’t report changes in your circumstances straight away.

You don’t need to report any changes to your earned income or other benefits. 

You will still need to report changes in other income, including:

  • private/occupational pension
  • Mortgage Payment Protection policy income
  • income from annuities
  • self-employed income 

Other help

If you would like independent help and advice on Universal Credit or any of the other welfare changes, you can visit any independent advice office or contact:

A Universal Credit guide is also available.

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