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Universal Credit explained

Universal Credit is a new benefit to support you if you’re working and on a low income or you’re out of work. This page explains how Universal Credit is different from existing benefits, how much you’ll be paid and how to apply for it.

What is Universal Credit?

Living in Northern Ireland or Scotland?

In Northern Ireland, Universal Credit works differently. Find out more on the nidirect website.

In Scotland, you might be offered some choices about how your Universal Credit is paid. Read our guide to Universal Credit in Scotland.

Universal Credit is a benefit payment for people in or out of work.

It replaces some of the benefits and tax credits you might be getting now:

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

The DWP calls these legacy benefits.

For more information on claiming Universal Credit, your commitments, sanctions and working while claiming download Universal Credit & You from Gov.uk.

Who can claim Universal Credit?

You might be able to claim Universal Credit if:

  • you’re out of work or on a low income
  • you’re aged 18 or over (there are some exceptions if you’re 16 or 17)
  • you or your partner are under state pension age
  • you and your partner have less than £16,000 in savings
  • you live in the UK

There are some situations where you can claim Universal Credit if you’re 16 or 17-years-old or when you’re studying.

Universal Credit key facts

Did you know?

You might have to wait up to five weeks before your first payment.

  • If you live in England or Wales and get help with your rent, this will be included in your monthly payment – you’ll then pay your landlord directly.
  • In Scotland and Northern Ireland rent can be paid directly to your landlord or you can choose to pay it yourself.
  • If you live with someone as a couple and you are both entitled to claim UC, you will get a joint payment paid into a single bank account.
  • UC is paid in arrears so it can take up to five weeks after you make your claim to get your first payment.
  • There are no limits on how many hours a week you can work if you’re claiming UC. Instead, the amount you get will gradually reduce as you earn more, so you won’t lose all your benefits at once.
  • You usually have to make your claim online.
If you’re currently claiming legacy benefits, you will have to move onto Universal Credit at some point before March 2023. Find out more about how Universal Credit will affect you.

How long does it take to get Universal Credit?

Make the most of your Universal Credit payment with personalised help from our Money Manager tool.

It’s really important you apply for Universal Credit as soon as you’re entitled, even if you think you’re not eligible.

If you find a new job, or your circumstances change before your application is complete, you will be able to cancel it. But at least you will not have to start your application from scratch and will not have to wait for your first payment.

This could help you avoid needing to take out an Advance Payment.

The Citizens Advice Help to Claim service is free and confidential and can help you:

  • check if you’re entitled to Universal Credit
  • get your important paperwork and documents together to speed up your application
  • fill out your application online.

Call 0800 144 8444 in England or 0800 024 1220 in Wales. For more information and to find your local Citizens Advice on their website.

In Scotland, call 0800 023 2581, via webchat on the Citizens Advice website or contact your local bureau directly during their usual business hours.

The date you submit your claim is the date of the month your Universal Credit payment will be paid. This is called your assessment date.

Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears, so you’ll have to wait one calendar month from the date you submitted your application before your first UC payment is made. This is called your assessment period.

You then have to wait up to seven days for the payment to reach your bank account.

This means it can take up to five weeks before you get your first payment.


  • Ben has lost his job and makes a new claim for Universal Credit on 22 July.
  • This makes his assessment date 22 July. It means he will be paid on the 22 of each month.
  • He needs to wait one assessment period (that’s a calendar month) to 21 August because Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears.
  • He also needs to allow up to seven days for the money to reach his account.
  • He should expect his first payment of Universal Credit no later than 29 August.
  • If 29 August is a bank holiday Monday, he should receive payment on the last working day (Friday) before the holiday.
If you are worried about how you will manage for money until you get your first payment, read our guide Support while waiting for benefit payments.

How often is Universal Credit paid?

Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears in England, Wales and Scotland.

However, in Scotland, you can ask for fortnightly payments instead of a single monthly payment.

In Northern Ireland, the default payment period is every fortnight, but you can choose to get monthly payments.

How much is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is made up of a basic allowance plus different elements for things like housing costs, bringing up children, caring or sickness and disability.

The amount you get in Universal Credit can go down or up depending on what income you get from:

  • working
  • a pension
  • other benefits
  • savings and capital above £6,000.
Get an estimate of how much Universal Credit you’ll be entitled to using the calculator on the Policy in Practice website.

Universal Credit and working

Help to Save

If you’re working and on Universal Credit, find out if you qualify for the Help to Save account, which gives you up to a 50% bonus from the government on your savings.

You can work as many hours as you like when you’re on Universal Credit.

There are no limits as there are with existing benefits such as Income Support or Working Tax Credits.

If you’re in paid work you might be entitled to a work allowance.

Universal Credit work allowance

The work allowance is the amount of money you’re allowed to earn before your Universal Credit payment is affected.

You will be entitled to a work allowance if you’re:

  • responsible for dependent children, and/or
  • you can’t work as much because of illness or disability.

If you’re entitled to the work allowance, you can earn up to the threshold for your circumstances.

Your Universal Credit payment will then go down by 63p for every £1 you earn above this amount. This is called the earnings taper.

If you don’t qualify for the work allowance, your Universal Credit payment will go down by 63p for every £1 on all your earnings.

Employer-paid benefits, such as Statutory Maternity, Paternity, Adoption and Sick Pay are treated as earnings and are affected by the taper.

Find out more about the work allowance and earnings taper on the Turn2Us website

What happens to your Universal Credit when you start work or work more hours?

Watch the video from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to find out.

What counts as income for Universal Credit?

Some income that you didn’t get from working can be deducted from your maximum award. This is called unearned income.

Unearned income that will be taken off your Universal Credit payment includes:

  • new-style Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • new-style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Pension Income
  • Some benefits that aren’t replaced by Universal Credit.

Usually £1 will be deducted from your Universal Credit payment for every £1 of unearned income.

Unearned income that won’t be taken off your Universal Credit payment includes:

  • Child Benefit
  • Maintenance payments
  • Disability Living Allowance
  • Personal Independence Payment
  • Income from boarders and lodgers.
Find out more about income that affects Universal Credit on the Turn2Us website.

How do savings affect Universal Credit?

If you have savings or capital (from things like investments or shares) this might affect how much Universal Credit you’ll get.

Find out more about how your savings will affect your benefit payment.

How to apply for Universal Credit

Did you know?

If you’re entitled to claim Universal Credit, you are expected to make your claim online on the Apply for Universal Credit website.

Find out what information you need to gather before you start your claim on Making a Universal Credit claim.

If you and your partner are making a joint claim, only one of you will need to complete the online claim form, but that person will need to enter details for both of you.

Help with an online application for Universal Credit

Help to Claim

If you’re claiming Universal Credit for the first time, Citizens Advice has a dedicated service to help you. Call 0800 144 8444 in England or 0800 024 1220 in Wales. For more information and to find your local Citizens Advice on their website

In Scotland, call 0800 023 2581, via webchat on the Citizens Advice website or contact your local bureau directly during their usual business hours.

If you’re worried about using a computer to make your claim, it’s important you get help. This is because your claim will not start until you have sent your online form. There is then a five-week wait for your first payment. Any delays can mean you have to wait longer than this.

If you don’t have access to a computer at home, you might be able to use one for free at your local Jobcentre, library, Citizens Advice or council.

Many jobcentres now offer extra support for people who are struggling to claim online and can also help you get all the paperwork you need together.

If you’re new to computers or haven’t felt confident about using them in the past, now is a good time to learn or get up to speed.

You can find free digital skills support in your area from the National Careers Service on 0800 100 900.

Visit the Online Centres Network to find your nearest training centre and LearnMyWay.com offers free online course to help beginners develop digital skills.

Advance payment on Universal Credit

Top Tip

You can now only apply for a Universal Credit advance online if you have made a claim within the past five weeks, are waiting for your first payment and have already had an interview at your Jobcentre.

If you have been waiting for longer than five weeks for your first payment, you will need to apply by calling the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 in England.

If you will have little or no money until your first payment, you can request an advance payment from your work coach or by calling the free Universal Credit helpline. You will have to pay this money back within 12 months and the first repayment is usually taken from your first Universal Credit payment, so only ask for what you need.

If you’ve been claiming Universal Credit for six months, you might be able to claim a Budgeting Advance for essential costs.

If you apply for an advance by speaking to your work coach or calling the Universal Credit helpline, you (and your partner if you are claiming jointly) will need to:

  • explain why you need an advance
  • provide bank account details where the advance should be paid
  • have had your identity checked at a Jobcentre.

Universal Credit scams

Benefit claimants are being targeted by scammers offering low-cost loans or grants from the government.

You might be called by someone claiming to work for Jobcentre Plus, or contacted through social media ads. Many of the scammers have convincing websites, with government logos and testimonials.

They may ask for your ID and bank details, offer to make a claim for Universal Credit and apply for an advance payment on your behalf, taking some of this money as their fee.

However the full amount of advance payments need to be repaid out of future Universal Credit payments, so you will end up paying back the whole amount borrowed.

You should also not be tempted by these offers if you are already claiming any of the benefits (like tax credits or Housing Benefit) that are being replaced by Universal Credit. This is because your old benefits will stop and the money you get on Universal Credit might be less than you are getting now.

If you are simply offered a government loan and asked to give your ID and bank details, the scammer might be trying to make a Universal Credit application without your knowledge, so do not give out these details as you may not be entitled to Universal Credit and this could be seen as benefit fraud.

If you are waiting for your first Universal Credit payment and do need help applying for an advance payment the Citizens Advice Help to Claim Service will help you get the payment you need for free.

If you have been targeted, even if you’ve not become a victim, you can report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, by using their online reporting tool, or to the FCA Scam Smart website.

Read out blog post on Universal Credit scams.

Contact the Universal Credit helpline

If you need help with your claim, call the Universal Credit helpline free on:

Telephone: 0800 328 5644
Textphone: 0800 328 1344

8am – 6pm, Monday to Friday (closed on bank and public holidays). Calls are free.

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.

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