Social Justice

What is universal credit? The DWP benefit explained

Here's everything you need to know about universal credit including how much it is, who is eligible and how to claim it

universal credit

Millions are missing out on universal credit, when they could be getting thousands each year. Image: Pexels

Universal credit is a benefit people receive from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to help with the cost of living. 

If you are on a low income or are unemployed, you may be eligible for universal credit. There are 5.9 million people claiming universal credit, according to the most recent government statistics. 

But many more people are missing out on the financial support they need in the cost of living crisis. 

Recent research shows £19 billion in benefits are going unclaimed – because people don’t know about them, because they have trouble accessing them and because of stigma. 

For universal credit specifically, 1.2 million eligible households are missing out on £7.5bn. That is money which people could desperately use as food prices and bills are so expensive and keep rising in the cost of living crisis. 

It’s so important to claim financial support if you are eligible. So here is everything you need to know about universal credit – including how much it is, how to know if you are eligible, how to claim it and more. 

Who is eligible for universal credit?

People are eligible for universal credit if they need help with their living costs because they are on a low income, out of work or unable to work. 

You have to live in the UK, be over the age of 18 but under the state pension age, and have less than £16,000 in savings and investments. 

You can use a benefits calculator to find out if you are eligible for universal credit. Policy in Practice, entitledto and Turn2Us all have benefits calculators which are free and easy to use. 

You will need information about your salary, housing costs and any other benefits, so it’s a good idea to have your payslips and bank statements in front of you before you begin. 



Am I eligible for universal credit if I live with my partner?

If you live with a partner, you will both need to claim for universal credit even if the other person is not eligible. You’ll make a joint claim and how much you get will depend on your partner’s income and savings as well as your own.

If you or your partner has reached state pension age, you can still claim universal credit as a couple. But it will stop when you both reach state pension age. 

Are students eligible for universal credit from the DWP?

Students may be eligible for universal credit under certain circumstances. These include:

  • Living with a partner who is eligible for universal credit
  • Responsible for a child
  • Aged 21 or under and studying for a qualification up to A Level or equivalent without parental support.
  • Having a disability and assessed as having limited capability for work by a Work Capability Assessment. You must also be entitled to a disability benefit such as PIP or disability living allowance
  • Studying part-time or doing a course for which no student loan or finance is available

Can I get universal credit if I’m under 18?

You usually have to be over 18 to claim universal credit, but you might be eligible if you are 16 or 17 and you meet certain criteria. This includes having a health condition or a disability, being responsible for a child or expecting a baby in the next 11 weeks, or you do not have parental support. 

Can I work while claiming universal credit from the DWP?

Yes, you can work while claiming universal credit if you are on a low income. The DWP does not limit the number of hours you can work to receive the benefit. 

Your universal credit payment will reduce as you earn more. For every extra £1 you or your partner earns, your payment is reduced by 55p. Your payment will reduce until you are earning enough to no longer earn universal credit.

How much is universal credit? 

You can see how much universal credit you will get from the DWP using a benefits calculator. The amount depends on your age, how much you earn, whether you are in a couple and if you have children.

If you are single and over the age of 25, the standard universal credit allowance is £368.74 each month. If you are under 25, it is £292.11 per month. 

If you live with a partner and you’re both over the age of 25, you’ll get £578.82 per month for you both. If either of you is under 25, you’ll get £458.51 for you both. 

Can I get extra universal credit if I have a child? 

Yes, you can get extra universal credit for your oldest two children. If your first child was born before April 6, 2017, you’ll get an extra £315 each month. For any children born on or after this date and your second child, you will get an extra £269.58 per child. 

You will not get any extra money for more children unless they were born before April 6, 2017 or in exceptional circumstances such as having twins, adopted children and children in care or any children likely to have been conceived following a non-consensual sexual act. 

Can I get extra universal credit if I have a disability or health condition? 

You might get an extra universal credit if you have a health condition or disability that limits how much work you can do. You’ll get an extra £390.06 each month. You’ll have to report this when you apply for universal credit and you’ll be told if you need a work capability assessment – this is to decide how much your illness or disability limits your capability to work. 

It can be a fairly gruelling process, and the government is set to scrap work capability assessments. But this change will not be in place until 2026. 

If you are terminally ill and a health professional has said you might have 12 months or less to live, you may also get extra money for universal credit. You won’t usually need a work capability assessment in this circumstance. 

How do I apply for universal credit?

You can apply for universal credit online through the government’s DWP website. You have to create an account, after which you have 28 days to make a claim.

If you are struggling to claim online, you can claim over the phone using the DWP’s universal credit helpline. That’s on 0800 328 5644. 

You will need your bank, building society or credit union account details; an email address; access to a phone; and some identity documents like a driving licence, passport, bank card or payslip. 

If you cannot hear or speak into the phone, you can use Relay UK on 18001 then 0800 328 5644. There’s also the British Sign Language (BSL) video relay service if you’re on a computer, and you can find out how to use the service on mobile or tablet here

Where can I get cost of living support? 

At Big Issue, we want to help get you through the cost of living crisis. Here are some of our articles with extensive information to help you navigate the circumstances at the moment. 

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