Universal Credit: The Complete Guide For New UK Residents
Universal Credit is part of the UK’s welfare system. It’s designed to financially support people who need help paying for living essentials like rent, food, childcare costs, and bills.
Recently, the UK government has tightened immigration laws, so most people who move to the UK must prove they have the means to look after themselves and their families financially. But anyone can unexpectedly lose their job or their support system. If this happens to you, you may be able to claim Universal Credit.
So how does Universal Credit work for non-British citizens? In this article, you’ll learn:
- how Universal Credit works
- who is eligible to claim Universal Credit
- how your circumstances affect your Universal Credit payments.
What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is a monthly payment that helps you pay for essential living expenses, including:
- Rent or mortgage payments
- Looking after your children
- Paying for bills and other essentials if you’re out of work.
Universal Credit is a relatively new system. If you’ve been in the UK for a while, and you’re already claiming separate benefits like Child Tax Credits, Jobseeker’s Allowance, or Income Support, you may still be able to claim these. But eventually the government is likely to ask most people to switch to Universal Credit.
Am I eligible for Universal Credit as a non-UK national?
As a non-British citizen, you must make sure you’re eligible to access UK benefits before you apply for Universal Credit. Here are the general rules that apply to non-UK nationals.
When you can claim
- If you’re from the EU, EEA, or Switzerland, you can apply if you have the right to reside in the UK, and you live here most of the time
- If you’re from any country and you have indefinite leave to remain in the UK, you can claim Universal Credit
- If you have refugee status in the UK, you can usually claim Universal Credit.
When you can't claim
- If you’re from a country outside the EU or EEA and you don’t have indefinite leave to remain or refugee status, you can’t usually apply. This includes people who are in the UK on a work or student visa. Find out more about the different types of UK visa
- If you’re sponsored by an employer, you can’t apply for Universal Credit
- If you’re in the UK on a spouse visa you can’t claim, as your partner must be able to support you financially in the UK.
If you’re eligible to claim UK benefits, check the criteria for Universal Credit. Most of the time, you can claim if you’re out of work, working on a low income, or unable to work (due to a disability or health condition).
You must also be older than 18, but younger than the state pension age. You should also have no more than £16,000 in money, savings, and investments.
How does Universal Credit work?
If you’re eligible, you can create an account and submit an online application to apply for Universal Credit. If you live with your partner, they’ll also need to create an account.
You’ll need to answer questions about:
- Your circumstances — including your work and family situation
- Your identity — you’ll need to prove who you are and that you have the right to live and work in the UK
You can then book an appointment with your work coach. At this appointment, you’ll create a Claimant Commitment, which includes everything you need to do to receive your Universal Credit payment. You’ll need to meet with your work coach regularly for as long as you’re receiving Universal Credit.
Your application is then assessed, and you’ll find out how much you’ll receive each month. This usually includes a standard allowance, plus additional payments if you’re eligible.
What is a Claimant Commitment?
Your Claimant Commitment is a list of tasks you agree to do in order to continue receiving your Universal Credit payment. If you’re able to work, most of the tasks will relate to finding a job. For example, you may be asked to create a CV, apply for a certain number of jobs each week, and attend training courses to improve your employability.
Your Claimant Commitment often involves attending regular meetings with your work coach. You might also agree to pay for certain things from your other income, such as rent or childcare costs.
You must also commit to telling the Universal Credit team about any changes in your circumstances, so you don’t accidentally claim more money than you’re entitled to.
If you don’t adhere to the Claimant Commitment, you may face sanctions. This can lead to your Universal Credit payment being cancelled.
Applying for Universal Credit if English isn’t your first language
If English isn’t your first language and you need help applying for Universal Credit, you can call the Universal Credit helpline and request a translator. They can help you go through the application process over the phone, and give translation support with your work coach.
How long does it take to get Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is paid for the previous month. So it can take up to 5 weeks to receive your first payment after you’ve applied.
The date you claim is your assessment date, and you’ll get paid on that same date each month. For example, if you apply on 7th September, your first payment will be scheduled for 7th October, and the following payment should arrive on 7th November. It can sometimes take a few extra days for the money to reach your account.
To make sure you get your money quickly, you should apply for Universal Credit as soon as you know you’re eligible.
Can I request an advance Universal Credit payment?
If you don’t have enough money to live on until you receive your first Universal Credit payment, you can ask for an advance payment. Ask your work coach or call the Universal Credit helpline to request this.
If you get an advance payment, you must pay it back within 24 months. Repayments are usually taken from your Universal Credit payments, so only ask for what you really need in advance.
When and how will my Universal Credit be paid?
Your Universal Credit payment will be made the same day each month. It will be paid directly into your bank account, unless you set up an alternative arrangement. (Some people choose to have a payment made directly to their landlord, for example).
If you don’t have a bank account yet, it’s easy to set one up online or by visiting the bank. If you can’t open a bank account for any reason, call the Universal Credit helpline to set up another payment method.
How much Universal Credit can I claim?
Everyone’s Universal Credit entitlement is different, as it depends on your unique circumstances.
Most people receive a standard allowance, plus additional payments if they’re eligible for them. The standard monthly allowance in 2022/23 is:
- £265.31 — or a single claimant aged 24 and under
- £334.91 — for single claimants aged 25 or over
- £416.45 — for joint claimants both aged 24 and under
- £525.72 — for joint claimants with either aged 25 or over.
Additional payments may cover children and childcare, caring for someone, limited work capability, and housing.
You can use an online Universal Credit calculator to find out how much you’re likely to get.
Can I claim Universal Credit if I’m working?
Yes. There’s no upper limit on how many hours you can work and still claim Universal Credit. As you earn more, your Universal Credit payment will reduce.
At the moment, your Universal Credit payment will go down by 55p for every £1 you or your partner earns.
What counts as income for Universal Credit?
Your income affects how much Universal Credit you can claim. That’s why your payment goes down as your wage goes up.
Other benefits can also affect your Universal Credit payment, such as new style Jobseeker’s Allowance and Carer’s Allowance. Any income from your pension will also reduce your Universal Credit payment.
Do my savings affect my Universal Credit claim?
Yes. If you have more than £16,000 in savings or investments, you can’t usually claim Universal Credit.
Find out more about opening a Sharia-compliant savings account in the UK.
Applying for Universal Credit
First, revisit the eligibility criteria to check you can apply for Universal Credit. Then head to the gov.uk website to create your account and make your Universal Credit application.
To apply, you’ll need:
- An email address
- A UK bank account
- A phone number
- A type of ID (such as your passport)
- Evidence that you have indefinite leave to remain in the UK (such as a biometric residence permit)
Learn more about managing your money in the UK
At Bloom, we’re all about helping new UK residents understand how to manage your money. From savings tips to learning about life in the UK, head to the Bloom Learning Hub for more information.