Before you claim 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.

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:

If you already receive a benefit being replaced by Universal Credit

If your circumstances change 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 2020 and 2023. You do not need to do anything now - the Department for Communities will advise you what you need to do when it is time for you to move to Universal Credit.  

Budgeting Loans are not available if you or your partner currently claim Universal Credit

Getting ready for Universal Credit

You can start to prepare for Universal Credit by:

  • setting up a bank or building society 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, UK driving licence or a household bill

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

Eligibility

To get Universal Credit in Northern Ireland you must:

  • 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, 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’ve reached Pension Credit qualifying age

You can only claim if you live with a partner who is eligible for Universal Credit and under Pension Credit qualifying age - you’ll have to make a joint claim. If you prefer, you can make a claim for Pension Credit as a couple instead.

Since 15 May 2019 most couples not already getting Pension Credit will not be eligible for Pension Credit until both partners have reached Pension Credit qualifying age.
 

If you’re getting Severe Disability Premium

If you are getting Severe Disability Premium you cannot currently claim Universal Credit, even if your circumstances change. You should, if eligible, claim one of the benefits shown above or keep claiming your existing benefits until you are told to claim Universal Credit.

You may need to move benefits depending on your circumstances, for example, if you’re getting Jobseekers Allowance and then become sick you’ll need to claim Employment and Support Allowance instead.

You will be contacted by the Department and told when you should claim Universal Credit. This is to make sure you don’t lose out financially when you move to Universal 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.

Children

From 6 April 2017, the UK Government’s ‘Two Child’ policy was established, providing support through Universal Credit for a maximum of two children.

The child element of your Universal Credit payment will depend on how many children you have and the date they were born.

Childcare Costs

Universal Credit supports working parents by providing financial help with eligible childcare costs, no matter how many hours you work.

You will be able to claim back up to 85% of the eligible childcare costs you pay if you meet the qualifying conditions

Help paying for eligible childcare costs in Universal Credit is available for payments to registered childcare providers. This means the childcare provider is registered with the relevant Health and Social Care Trust.

If you require further information about childcare costs you can contact your local Jobs and Benefits office.

For further information on registered providers, free childcare and other childcare support:

You can find out more at: www.familysupportni.gov.uk

Other benefits you may be entitled to

You may also 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.

Effect on 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 advise you what to do when it is time for you to move to Universal Credit.

You will get an extra two weeks' Housing Benefit, known as a ‘transitional payment’. This may put your rent account into credit – you can check this with your landlord. If the Housing Executive is recovering a Housing Benefit overpayment, this will be taken from your transitional payment.

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 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 advised what you need to do when it is time for you to move 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.

Welfare Supplementary Payments

If you receive a Welfare Supplementary Payment and move to Universal Credit, your Welfare Supplementary Payment will normally stop. Instead, most people will get an ‘administrative payment’.

Budgeting Loans

Budgeting Loans are not available if you or your partner currently claim Universal Credit.

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:

Payments

Universal Credit is assessed on a monthly basis and paid in arrears. It is important to note that your Assessment Period only begins when you submit your claim.

The assessment period is one calendar month. You will get your first payment 7 days after the end of your first Assessment Period.

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 can be a single person, a couple or a family.

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.

Information videos

A series of videos help explain the key stages in the Universal credit customer journey.

If you use sign language,  you can watch these videos in British or Irish Sign Language at the links below and follow the link on the page to the relevant video numbered 1-9:

Help and Support

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:

More useful links

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