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Universal Credit (UC) is gradually replacing tax credits, and some other social security benefits. Universal credit is now available across the UK and HMRC state that it is no longer possible for anyone to make a brand-new claim for tax credits. The only exception is for certain people who are granted refugee status. Instead, people are expected to claim UC or pension credit depending on their circumstances.  Currently, existing tax credit claimants can continue to renew their tax credits and/or add extra elements to their claim. See our existing tax credit claimants page for more information. Our understanding is that the majority of existing tax credit claimants will move to either universal credit or pension credit by the end of the 2024/25 tax year. You can find out more about this in our universal credit section. 

Updated on 6 April 2024

Basic conditions

There are certain basic and financial conditions that need to be met to be able to claim universal credit. This page gives an overview of these rules.

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You must meet the basic and financial conditions to be entitled to universal credit. The amount of any award also depends on the your household circumstances, income and capital.

There are some limited and temporary exceptions to some of these rules if you move to universal credit after receiving a migration notice. See our moving to universal credit section for more information.

The basic conditions

To claim universal credit, you must meet these five basic conditions unless an exception applies:

  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • You must not have reached state pension credit qualifying age
  • You must be in Great Britain or Northern Ireland
  • You must not be receiving education; and
  • You must have accepted a claimant commitment

If you make a joint claim, you must each meet all of the basis conditions, unless an exception applies.

There are a number of exceptions for each of these requirements, which means that you can still claim universal credit even if you do not meet one or more of these five conditions.

Minimum age

You must be at least 18 years of age but there are some exceptions to this rule which mean that if you are aged 16 and 17 you can claim universal credit in some situations including:

  • If you have limited capability for work or are awaiting assessment to determine whether you have limited capability for work and a registered medical practitioner has given a statement that supports that you are not fit for work.
  • If you are responsible for a child (including if you are 16 or 17 year old and part of a couple where your partner is responsible for a child providing that your partner meets the conditions).
  • If you have regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person
  • If you are pregnant and it is between 11 weeks before and 15 weeks after the expected date of confinement;
  • If you are 16 or 17 years old and are without parental support

Maximum age

You must not have reached your qualifying age for state pension credit (in other words, your state pension age). In a joint claim, this rule applies to both of you. If you are part of a mixed age couple, where one of your has reached your state pension age and the other hasn’t, you can claim universal credit.

A small number of mixed age couples may have the option to claim pension credit instead. This exception to the normal pension credit rules allows mixed age couples who were in receipt of pension age housing benefit in 14 May 2019, and who have continued to receive it, to claim pension credit instead of universal credit. If you think this exception may apply, you should get specialist welfare rights advice.

Be in Great Britain or Northern Ireland

Universal credit is run by DWP in Great Britain and by DfC in Northern Ireland.

The test for whether someone is ‘in Great Britain’ or ‘in Northern Ireland’ is slightly different to the current test for tax credits that requires someone to be ‘in the UK’.

For universal credit, a person will generally not be in GB (or NI) unless they are habitually resident in the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man or Republic of Ireland and they also have to have a right to reside in one of those places. There are specific rules which allow for some exceptions and for temporary absences.

Someone who is subject to immigration control will generally not count as being in GB (or NI) but there are various exceptions to this rule, for example people arriving from Ukraine, Afghanistan, and parts of the middle east. We recommend seeking specialist advice for more information about the exceptions. 

Not be receiving education

You must not be ‘receiving education’ unless an exception applies. Broadly this means you usually cannot get universal credit if you are studying full time. There are a number of exceptions to this rule which means if you are studying full time you may still be able to claim universal credit and more information is available on the GOV.UK website.

Accept a claimant commitment

Usually you must accept a claimant commitment to be entitled to universal credit. The claimant commitment is agreed between you and the DWP shortly after the claim has been made. The claimant commitment is a record of the claimant’s responsibilities in relation to their award of universal credit. If you have made a joint claim, both of you must accept a claimant commitment. It should be updated and reviewed periodically and each time it is changed you must accept the new commitment.

If you lack capacity, are terminally ill or there are exceptional circumstances which mean it would be unreasonable to make you accept a claimant commitment then you can still qualify for universal credit without accepting a claimant commitment.

The financial conditions

You cannot qualify for universal credit if you have capital (for example savings) above £16,000. If you have a joint claim, your combined capital must not be over this limit. There is more information in our capital and universal credit section.

If you move to universal credit from another benefit because you have received a migration notice, you may still qualify for universal credit for a period of time even if you have capital above £16,000. See our moving to universal credit section for more information.

In addition to the maximum capital limit, your income (or both incomes combined in a joint claim) must be low enough so that the amount of universal credit payable to you is not below a penny.

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