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Universal Credit

You may be thinking about claiming Universal Credit for the first time. Or perhaps you’re already getting it and wondering how a change in your life might affect what you can claim. Whatever your situation, it’s good to understand how Universal Credit works so that you can use it to help your family where you can. If you’re out of work, or working but earning under a certain amount, Universal Credit can help boost your income and cover things like childcare and housing costs.

The basics of Universal Credit

How much will I be paid?

What do I have to agree to?

Childcare payments

Other help through Universal credit

Adjusting how you’re paid if you’re struggling financially

This page contains general guidance on Universal Credit. For more tailored advice, please call our free helpline and we’ll be happy to talk you through your options.

The basics of Universal Credit

It’s financial support from the government

You can claim for Universal Credit if you:

  • Are 18 or older, or 16 or 17 if you’re pregnant, have a child or have no support from your parents
  • Are living in the UK (there are extra rules if you’re not a British citizen)
  • Have less than £16,000 in savings
It’s a single payment once a month

Unlike older benefits, it combines lots of payments into one and goes straight into your bank account each month. If you don’t have a bank account, here’s some advice for opening one from MoneyHelper.

It’s all online

To make a claim and manage your Universal Credit, you have to set up an online account. You’ll also use this to communicate with your work coach, even though you’ll have face-to-face meetings with them too.

If it’s hard for you to get online, you can call the free Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644. They may be able to do the online form for you or arrange for you to get help at your local jobcentre. Citizens Advice can also help you claim Universal Credit.

There’s a 5-week wait for the first payment

You may have to wait for around 5 weeks before you get your first Universal Credit payment. If you think you’ll struggle to pay your bills during this wait, you can apply for an advance to get paid sooner. This is a loan that you’ll have to pay back.

You can get help with childcare and housing costs

You can get up to 85% of your childcare costs covered through Universal Credit. At the moment, you have to pay for the childcare yourself and then claim the money back. This will change from 28 June 2023, when you’ll be able to get your childcare paid upfront.

If you qualify, your monthly payment will also include money to help with rent. You use this to pay the rent yourself (unlike Housing Benefit, which goes straight to your landlord).

It’s replacing older benefits

Are you on any of these types of support?

  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit (for people of working age)
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support

If you are, you’ll be moved over to Universal Credit in the next few years. It’s replacing these older benefits. 

The amount of money you get through Universal Credit might be more or less than what you were already receiving. The reason you move over – whether the government moves you or you make a new claim because of new circumstances – can affect how much you get.

You’re moved to Universal Credit

If the government moves you onto Universal Credit, the income you get from benefits and tax credits will be protected (called transitional protection). This means your Universal Credit amount won’t be less than what you were already getting. So you can count on the same level of support until there’s a change to your circumstances that affects what you’re entitled to.

If you’ve been asked to stop claiming an older benefit before you need to and to claim Universal Credit instead, please call our helpline for advice first. We can help to check whether you’d be better or worse off with Universal Credit. 

You make a new claim because your circumstances have changed

If something changes in your life that means you can no longer get one of your benefits or have to make a new claim, you may have to claim Universal Credit. The amount you get will be based on your new circumstances. 

Examples of changes that will mean you need to claim Universal Credit:

  • You start or stop working 16 hours or more per week
  • You become responsible for your first child 
  • You start renting for the first time
  • You’re on Income Support and your youngest child turns 5
  • You’re on Jobseeker’s Allowance and you’re pregnant
  • You’re claiming benefits with your partner and you’re separating
  • You’re claiming Income Support as a carer and your caring responsibilities end
  • You’re on Jobseeker’s Allowance but can’t look for work because you’re unwell
  • You’re on Housing Benefit and move to a new local authority area 

If any of your circumstances change, get advice to make sure you’re not missing out on support.

How much will I be paid?

This will depend on your personal circumstances. You’ll get a standard allowance, plus a number of payments for things like housing and childcare. 

In 2023/24, the standard allowance is:

  • £292.11 a month for single claimants under 25
  • £368.74 a month for single claimants 25 or older

On top of this, you may qualify for extra money (called elements) if you:

  • Have children 
  • Have a disabled child
  • Pay for childcare 
  • Have housing costs 
  • Have a disability or health condition that makes it hard for you to work
  • Take care of someone with a disability or health condition 

The child element – extra money for children – generally only applies to your first 2 children. This is known as the 2-child limit. 

If you have more than 2 children, you’ll only get support for them if they were born before 6 April 2017. But there are some exceptions. You may get support for 3 or more children if you:

  • Have twins or another multiple birth. If you already have 2 or more children, you won’t get support for the first child in a multiple birth, but you will for the others. So if you have twins, you can claim for the second-born child. And if you have triplets, you can claim for the second- and third- born children
  • Are adopting a child from the UK (unless you’re the child’s step-parent)
  • Are caring for someone else’s child, either formally or informally, and if you weren’t, they’d most likely be looked after by the local authority
  • Became pregnant as a result of rape or an abusive relationship
  • Have a child under 16 who has their own child, and they both live with you 

You can see more about on how to apply for different exceptions on gov.uk – and also find out how Universal Credit payments are worked out. You can also use our benefits calculator to estimate your Universal Credit payment. And for more tailored advice, call our helpline

If you need an advance before your first payment

If you can’t wait 5 weeks for your first payment to come through, you can ask for an advance by:

  • Talking to your work coach at your first Universal Credit interview
  • Applying through your online account
  • Calling the Universal Credit helpline

You’ll have 2 years to pay the money back. Repayments will automatically be taken out of your Universal Credit payments each month. This means your monthly payments will be lower until the advance is repaid. If the repayments are causing you problems, tell your work coach. You can also ask to pay it back more quickly if you want to.

If you’re already getting Universal Credit and need emergency money

If you’ve been on Universal Credit for at least 6 months, you may be able to apply for a Budgeting Advance. You can do this through your Universal Credit account or your local jobcentre, if you’re eligible. If you need the advance to help you start a new job or stay in work, then you don’t need to have been claiming for 6 months. 

Single parents can borrow up to £812 to use for emergency household costs, like a new fridge or cooker. You’ll have to pay this back over a year from your Universal Credit payments each month. 

Find out more about Budgeting Advances on gov.uk.

What do I have to agree to?

To get Universal Credit, you have to agree to something called a claimant commitment. This is a record of what you agree to do, such as how you’ll look for work or increase your earnings. If you don’t do the things you agree to in your claimant commitment, your payments might be reduced or even stopped.

When you make a new claim, you’ll be asked to come to the jobcentre to agree your commitment. This will be regularly reviewed and will change if your circumstances change.

Working and looking for work

As part of your claimant commitment, you’ll have to agree how many hours a week you’ll spend working or looking for work.

If you’re not working and your youngest child is 3 or older, you have to spend these amounts of time working or looking for work:

  • 16 hours if your youngest child is 3 or 4
  • 25 hours if your youngest child is between 5 and 12
  • 35 hours if your youngest child is 13 or older

If your youngest child is under 3, you don’t have to look for work. But you might have to go to jobcentre appointments or do training to get ready for work.

If you’re working, you have to be earning the same or more than someone earning minimum wage working the hours that apply to you. For example, if you’re expected to work 16 hours but you can make the same amount as 16 hours on minimum wage in 10 hours a week because your salary is higher, that’s fine.

There are different rules if you:

  • Are disabled or have a health problem
  • Look after someone who’s disabled or has a health problem
  • Have experienced domestic violence in the last 6 months

The rules around this are complicated. You can find out more on our page on work-related expectations, through Turn2us and by calling our helpline.

Explaining your childcare responsibilities

It’s important that whatever you agree to can fit around the time you need to look after your children. Remember to tell your work coach about:

  • Your children’s school hours
  • How long it takes to get them to school
  • Anything else that might affect how much time you have in the week

Particularly if your children are under 13 or at school, you might need to ask for adjustments to the time you’re expected to work or look for work.  More about tailoring your commitment to your childcare responsibilities

Signing and sticking to your claimant commitment

If you’re not sure about what you’re committing to, you don’t have to sign the commitment straight away. You should have 7 days to think it over. If you still haven’t signed after a week, it’ll be cancelled unless you’ve asked for more time. You can also ask for it to be changed after you’ve signed it.

Make sure what you’re agreeing to is doable. Your Universal Credits may be cut or even stopped (called being sanctioned) if you don’t do what you’ve said you will. If you have a good reason for not sticking to what you’ve agreed, you shouldn’t be sanctioned.

Childcare payments

If you’re working or have been offered paid work, you can get up to 85% of your childcare costs refunded through the childcare element of Universal Credit. Your children must be under 16. 

The most you can get to cover childcare costs is:

  • £646.35 a month if you have 1 child (£951 from 28 June 2023)
  • £1108.04 a month if you have 2 or more children (£1,630 from 28 June 2023)

At the moment, you have to pay for the childcare yourself and then claim the money back. You should use your online Universal Credit account to log how much money you paid for childcare each month. From 28 June 2023 you’ll be able to get your childcare paid upfront.

Childcare payments when you’re temporarily not working

If you’re not at work because you’re ill, pregnant or have a new baby, you may still be able to get help with childcare if you’re getting:

  • Statutory sick pay
  • Statutory maternity pay
  • Statutory adoption pay
  • Statutory paternity pay 
  • Statutory shared parental pay
  • Maternity allowance

Help with other child-related costs

If you’re on Universal Credit, you might be able to get extra help with the cost of having children.

Free school meals

If you have children at a state school in reception, year 1 or year 2, they can get free school meals no matter how much you’re earning. 

If you’re on Universal Credit and you either applied before 1 April 2018 or you earn less than £7,400 a year (not including benefits), your child can get free school meals. This will be the case until 31 March 2025 in England, even if you start earning more or stop getting Universal Credit. Your child will be eligible until they finish whatever stage of education they’re in (primary or secondary). You can apply for this through your council.

In Wales, the government is rolling out free school meals to all primary school children by 2024. Check with your council and see how to apply.

Healthy Start scheme

You might be eligible for help to buy food, baby milk, or vitamins if:

  • You’re at least 10 weeks’ pregnant or have a child younger than 4 


  • You’re earning less than £408 a month – to check this, look at your Universal Credit award notice in the section called Your take home pay for this month

If you’re eligible, you’ll be sent a Healthy Start card with money loaded onto it that you can use in some shops. More money will be added every 4 weeks.

To check if you qualify and to make a claim go to the Healthy Start website.

School uniforms

Universal Credit doesn’t help with paying for school uniforms, but some councils do. Check the details of your council’s school uniform scheme and see how to apply for the grant.

Support with your first child

If you’re expecting your first child, whether you’re pregnant or adopting, you can get a £500 Sure Start Maternity Grant through Universal Credit. 

You can claim for this from 11 weeks before the date your first baby is due until  6 months after they’re born. If you’re adopting, you have to make a claim within 6 months of the adoption. Your child has to be less than a year old when you claim.

You can make a claim online or get a form from your midwife, doctor or health visitor. You’ll have to get a health professional to sign it to confirm that you’ve had advice about your own and your baby’s health.

Other help through Universal Credit

Housing costs

If you’re renting

Part of Universal Credit is a payment called the housing element. If you qualify, this is included in your monthly Universal Credit payment to help with your rent. This comes directly to you, and it’s your responsibility to pay your rent when it’s due. 

This payment will depend on whether you’re renting privately or through the council or a housing association, where you live, and how many children you have. See our page on help with rent for more. If you call our helpline, we can help you work out what you could be claiming, including how much your housing element should be.  

If you have a mortgage

If you have a mortgage and have been on Universal Credit for at least 3 months, you may be able to get a loan from the government to help pay your mortgage interest. See our page on mortgage help for more. 

This video explains how Support for Mortgage Interest works, who can get it and how to apply. 

Health costs

If you earned £935 or less in your last Universal Credit assessment period, as a parent you can usually get help with:

  • Free prescriptions
  • Dental treatment
  • Sight tests
  • Vouchers for glasses or contact lenses 
  • Fares to the hospital
  • Wigs and fabric supports

The NHS has more details on help with health costs.

Help when it’s cold

If you have a child younger than 5 or a disabled child, or a health condition or disability that makes it hard for you to work and you claim Universal Credit, you should automatically get a Cold Weather Payment. You could get £25 if the temperature drops to 0°C or below for 7 days or more.

Adjusting how you’re paid if you’re struggling financially

If you’re struggling to pay bills or the rent, or are worried that you’re going to struggle if you claim Universal Credit, you can ask for help to make it easier to manage your money. This is called alternative payment arrangements:

  • You can ask to be paid more often, like twice a month.
  • You can ask for your rent payment to be paid straight to your landlord.
  • You can also get help to manage your money.

Here are some of the most common situations people find themselves in.

I’m behind with my rent

If you’re behind with your rent (called rent arrears), you can ask for your rent to be paid straight to your landlord. This is called a managed payment. It can make it easier to manage your money and know what you can afford to pay for things like bills and food. 

You can ask for this through your online journal, in person at the jobcentre, or by calling the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644.

You might be asked to prove you’re behind with your rent by showing a letter from your landlord, or a rent statement or rent book. If your request isn’t accepted, you might need to give more information. You can also ask for the decision to be reviewed.

You might also be able to get something called a Discretionary Housing Payment from your council. Shelter and the National Debtline have advice about dealing with rent arrears.

I’m finding it hard to manage money and pay the bills

You can ask for your Universal Credit to be paid twice a month. Getting smaller payments more often might help you manage your money. To get paid more often, you’ll need to show that you can’t manage a single monthly payment. 

You might be able to get alternative payment arrangements if you:

  • Struggle with reading or writing or numbers 
  • Have mental health problems
  • Experienced domestic abuse 
  • Are behind with your rent 
  • Are homeless or in temporary or supported accommodation 
  • Have problems with drugs, alcohol or gambling 
  • Are under 18 or a care leaver 
  • Have lots of different, complicated issues affecting your family

You could also ask for the housing element of Universal Credit to be paid straight to your landlord. This is called a managed payment. It can make it easier to manage your money and know what you can afford to pay for things like bills and food.

I need help working out a budget

You can ask your work coach for budgeting support. They’ll point you to specialist money advice organisations for help over the phone, online or even face-to-face. 

Our page on dealing with debt has lots of advice and links to organisations that can help.

I’m running out of money

If you’re on Universal Credit but find yourself really struggling, you don’t need to deal with it on your own. Organisations like the National Debtline and StepChange can help you with things like budgeting, stretching out your income, prioritising debts and negotiating with creditors. 

You might also want to read our cost of living FAQs and our pages on managing financially and dealing with debt.

Here’s one of our advisers talking about what to do if you need money in an emergency.


Date last updated: 28 June 2023

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