Universal Credit more detailed guide

Universal Credit more detailed guide

This guide to Universal Credit includes who it applies to and where to find further support and information - including in Newcastle

Our other page concentrates on the the move to Universal Credit, how it is happening, if you have a choice, would you be better off on Universal Credit or not, and where to get help

Also see our simpler guide to Universal Credit

Keep up to date with changes via our benefit bulletins

If you are affected by the 'cost of living crisis' or struggling with money please see our Debt and money advice and Energy advice pages

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a new government benefit which is replacing the following working age and means tested (or 'income related') benefits:

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

These six benefits are called 'legacy benefits'.

Universal Credit is not replacing these other means tested benefits:

  • Council Tax Reduction, which is administered by local councils.  Important: This needs to be claimed as well as Universal Credit. It is not paid automatically
  • Pension Credit (for people of pension age)
  • Housing Benefit for those of Pension Credit age (but see below about 'mixed age couples') 
  • Housing Benefit for those in specified accommodation like supported housing - although Universal Credit should be claimed for the rest of their needs. Details from Shelter

All the other benefits (known as ‘non means tested’) continue, including contribution based JSA which has become 'New Style JSA', contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which has become 'New Style ESA', disability benefits like Personal Independence Payment, pension age benefits, Child Benefit and many others. For more details, see  'other benefits' below and benefits information

When and how is Universal Credit being introduced / rolled out?

Universal Credit is available across the UK.

Universal Credit fully replaces the above six ‘legacy benefits’ and the reasons for getting them. The general idea is that, apart from some exceptions, you cannot make a new claim for any of those six ‘legacy benefits’. Once you have claimed Universal Credit you cannot normally return to or claim the 'legacy benefits.'

A limited form of  Universal Credit for single claimants called 'live service' that was introduced on 27 April 2015 was closed to new claims on 1 January 2018 and has now been fully replaced by 'full service' Universal Credit. Now it's simply known as Universal Credit.

How this roll out is happening and what changes might lead to a claim for Universal Credit - or not. Plus a handy table

This depends on which of the following situations you are in:

  • Not on a 'legacy benefit' - new claims:

    If someone makes a claim for any of the six ‘legacy benefits’ listed above, they will be told they have to claim Universal Credit instead. It is possible for someone not on 'legacy benefit' to claim Universal Credit. Also see How do I claim Universal Credit? below.
  • On 'legacy benefits' - changes in circumstances:

    If someone is on one or more of the ‘legacy benefits' and has a change in circumstances which would have meant a claim for another 'legacy benefit', they usually have to claim Universal Credit instead.  If their Universal Credit is less than their 'legacy benefits' they would usually drop down to that lower Universal Credit amount.  The only exception is for some disabled people - see 'exception' below. However, there are many circumstances where they do not have to claim Universal Credit and can remain on their ‘legacy benefit(s)’. In which case they may have the option to choose but this decision should be based on a 'better-off' comparison calculation between ‘legacy benefits' and Universal Credit.

    Warning. If you do receive one or more of those ‘legacy benefits', they will stop if you or your partner claim Universal Credit – and you may either be worse or better off. Once you have claimed UC, you cannot normally return to those legacy benefits. The DWP have warned about this on their Universal Credit webpages. NB. In June 2020 the Court of Appeal ruled that the failure to provide transitional protection for claimants who were worse off when they transferred to Universal Credit was unlawful. 

         This table lists the circumstances when you have to claim Universal Credit AND when you do NOT (pdf 291kb)

  • On 'legacy benefits' - the 'managed migration' process:

    From April 2023, those who are still on 'legacy benefits' are gradually being 'invited' to claim Universal Credit and their 'legacy benefits' will stop after 3 months of the date of the letter. If their new Universal Credit is lower they will get a 'top-up' called transitional protection. Unfortunately, this amount can be eroded by inflation and lost with various changes in circumstances.

    For more details on this see our webpage: The move to Universal Credit.

Also, see the section below: Will my benefit go up or down when I move to Universal Credit? 


As described above, you cannot normally make a new claim for a ‘legacy benefit’.  However, 

Protection for some disabled people. In June 2018 the government provided some protection for some disabled people (receiving the 'severe disability premium' (SDP) in their ‘legacy benefit’) who were losing substantial monthly amounts due to the lack of transitional protection when they had to claim Universal Credit following a change in circumstances (as described above under 'On 'legacy benefits' - change in circumstances'). Between 16 January 2019 and 26 January 2021, they did not have to claim Universal Credit even if they have a relevant change in circumstances.  Those who have already claimed Universal Credit and lost out, are being recompensed. From 27 January 2021, those getting the SDP are not 'protected' from Universal Credit and are able to claim it. If their Universal Credit is higher than their previous 'legacy benefit' they can get a transitional amount. This is the only situation where a transitional payment is made under 'natural migration' (see above). Details in our Benefit Bulletins and gov.uk

Those in 'specified accommodation'. For example, those in supported or temporary accommodation, can get a combination of Universal Credit for themselves and Housing Benefit for their housing costs.

The two child limit. There was an interim period between 6 April 2017 and 31 January 2019, where people with more than three children were not able to claim Universal Credit and were directed to claim ‘legacy benefits’. Since 1 February 2019, they are able to claim Universal Credit, but the two child limit means they are not able to claim for three or subsequent children born on or after 6 April 2017, unless an exception applies.  More details on the two child limit

See also the section ‘Will my benefit go up or down when I move to Universal Credit?’ below

Who can get Universal Credit?

The reasons for getting Universal Credit are similar to those for the 'legacy benefits' that it is replacing. For example, having no or little income, being too ill to work, in work, unemployed, a lone parent, a carer, or needing help with rent. However, many rules and amounts differ. For example, Universal Credit does not have any working hours limits as with Working Tax Credit.

Universal Credit is normally payable to one person in the benefit ‘household’ – which includes a partner and any dependent children they are responsible for. 

Universal Credit is a 'working age' benefit. That means it is payable from 18 years old up to 'Pension Credit qualifying age' which depends on your date of birth and can be calculated online . It can be paid to 16 and 17 year olds in limited circumstances, such as being a carer or ill or estranged from parents.

Mixed age couples

Normally both in a couple have to be of pension age to get Pension Credit or pension age Housing Benefit. In 'mixed age' couples, where only one is of pension age, new claims will normally have to be for Universal Credit instead.  More details from entitledto

How much is Universal Credit?

The amount you get will depend on:

  • your (or your partner's) income and savings,
  • your age(s),
  • family circumstances (such as children, a couple or single),
  • if you or your partner are incapable of work or a carer,
  • if you have housing costs - like rent,
  • entitlement to a transitional amount

For example, it includes an extra element for a carer, or for being incapable of work (see our factsheet: Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit 'work capability assessment') and an amount for each child, which is higher if they are disabled and so on. But the 'two child limit'  means you cannot claim an element for a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017 unless an exception applies. These elements make a total amount which is compared with income you (and your partner) may have and the amount of Universal Credit that you will be paid is the difference on a sliding scale. Income includes earnings and some benefits. Self-employed earnings are treated differently.

As your income or circumstances change, so too may your Universal Credit. This is similar to 'legacy benefits'. However, a big difference is that Universal Credit is one benefit with one calculation, so that as you move in and out of work, or your income goes up or down, it will just be the amount of Universal Credit that changes - whereas before, you may have had to change 'legacy benefits'. There may be differences in the amounts payable under Universal Credit and 'legacy benefits'. See below for what happens to amounts when you have to move to Universal Credit. Also, see our page on how to calculate your benefit entitlement online, including Universal Credit.

If you are an employed Universal Credit claimant, your employer immediately reports any changes in earnings via Pay As You Earn (PAYE) information to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). This is referred to as Real Time Information or RTI. However, you still have to notify Jobcentre Plus so that your Universal Credit can be adjusted manually, if your employer doesn't use this system such as for cash in hand payments and other income or for changes in circumstances. You do this via your online 'journal' (the 'journal' is described below).

As with 'legacy benefits', the amount of Universal Credit may be restricted by the benefit cap and the limits on help with rent, such as the 'under occupancy' rule for social housing tenants, known as the "bedroom tax" and the Local Housing Allowance restrictions for private tenants. Mortgage help became a loan from April 2018. See also the 'two child limit' above.  Direct deductions can be taken from Universal Credit to repay arrears such as rent arrears and fines. There is a maximum that can be recovered. Keep up to date with changes via our benefit bulletins.

How do I claim Universal Credit?

The government expects almost everyone to claim and manage their Universal Credit online. This link takes you to the Government's Universal Credit online claim page.

The first step in claiming Universal Credit is create an account, where you provide basic information including a useable email address, a phone number, a username and password - which you must remember. You are then sent a one time passcode to your mobile phone to use. This enables you to go onto make your actual online claim for Universal Credit, which may take from 30 minutes to an hour or more, depending on your circumstances.

If you can't apply online, you have various options including phoning the DWP. See 'If you have difficulty claiming Universal Credit online' below.

There are three areas of your Universal Credit online account:

  • The ‘to do’ area lists all the actions you need to take and the information you need to provide in order to successfully claim Universal Credit. This includes information about you, any family, work, income, health, caring responsibilities and a bank account or similar. For information on such accounts, see How do I receive my Universal Credit  below. 
  • The ‘journal’ area, where you communicate with your work coach during you claim.
  • The 'home' area ,which provides information about your claim and award.

You can save and return to the application later. However, the sooner you make your claim the better. The actual claim is made at the ‘declaration’ screen when you click ‘submit claim’.  For couples both have to do this. You may have more information to provide but this starts the claim. 

Once you have submitted your claim, you have to arrange an interview with your ‘Work Coach’ at the Jobcentre straight away. The interview will probably be on the phone but can also be in the Jobcentre Plus office or even a home visit. The online account will tell you how to do this and what you need to provide, such as documents to prove who you are (verification) and to support your claim such as tenancy agreement, wage slips and so on. In the interview you will discuss and agree appropriate work related activity called your Claimant Commitment and any outstanding information you need to provide, including online verification. You will also be given a 16 digit personal security number – which you must also remember to be able to access your account. After the interview, you have 7 days to agree the Claimant Commitment via your online journal. If you don’t, your claim might fail.

Verify your identity. You and any partner must do this - usually online. If this is a problem, your Work Coach can help.  More guidance about ID verification from the Government - How to verify your identity for Universal Credit and housing systems

For couples, each has to make a 'linked' Universal Credit  online claim but it will usually be paid to one person, although split payments are possible in certain circumstances. see Extra help and support with Universal Credit below.

See our diagram showing you the steps in claiming Universal Credit

If you try to claim Universal Credit online but you are not eligible, you will be directed to some other benefits you may be entitled to. But it may not be a full list so please check our list of all the benefits on our benefits information page

More information on this claim process and what you are expected to do:

Guidance from the Government: making a Universal Credit claim, Universal Credit and you, How to claim and what you need to apply and YouTube videos

Independent guidance: How to claim by Revenuebenefits and  Starting your Universal Credit claim and going to your interview by Citizens Advice.

If you have difficulty claiming Universal Credit online

If you don't have home internet access or a computer to make a Universal Credit claim online, Jobcentre Plus have some computers in their offices and they may also suggest you get help from family and friends or a professional working with you. 

See Extra help and support with Universal Credit - including Newcastle below. 

The DWP also say you claim via their Universal Credit helpline, which includes a freephone telephone number, Relay UK (if you cannot hear or speak on the phone) or video relay service for British Sign Language users. The telephone number is 0800 328 5644 - available from Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.  More details on the Universal Credit helpline

In answer to a Parliamentary question about the ability of vulnerable households to claim and manage their Universal Credit the Minister of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, Alok Sharma MP said “All Jobcentres across the country have free Wi-Fi, and there are more than 8,000 computers available to support customers who need help with making their claim digitally and applying for jobs online. There will always be people for whom engaging with us digitally is not a feasible proposition. As a result, a freephone telephone helpline and face to face support are also available for claimants to make and manage a Universal Credit claim. Where needed, the Work Coach will provide the claimant with a written note to remind them of the date of their next appointment, especially if the claimant has difficulty accessing or using online services. A home visit can also be arranged to support a claimant in making their initial claim and completing any other administrative tasks required to ensure the claimant receives the correct payment on time.” 

See the government guide: Universal Credit and homeless people which explains how claims can be made over the phone and other support

See also Extra help and support with Universal Credit - including Newcastle below 

Managing your Universal Credit online - your Universal Credit 'account'

Once you have successfully started your Universal Credit claim, you are able to manage it via your online account. As described above, there are three main areas:

  • The ‘home’ page summarises your claim, your monthly payments and how it has been calculated (in arrears) 
  • The ‘to-do' area lists ongoing actions you must do in order to comply with the claim and your work related activity. You will receive notifications of these actions by email or text - which you will have chosen when you set up your account
  • The ‘Journal’ area, lists your completed actions, allows you to start a conversation with your Work Coach and records that conversation. 

If your contact details change, you must notify your Work Coach on the Journal so you do not miss any instructions. And of course, you must notify them of any other changes in circumstances to avoid future overpayments. Your online Universal Credit account can also be accessed via a smart phone. See also the above section  'How do I claim Universal Credit'.  See also 'managing your claim' from gov.uk

How is Universal Credit paid?


Normally Universal Credit is paid to one person in a couple, who you can choose. However,  the DWP can decide differently and you can also request the payment be split. More details from gov.uk under Alternative Payment Arrangements

Help with rent

As described above, Universal Credit replaces Housing Benefit (called Local Housing Allowance for private tenants) for working age tenants. This help with rent - called 'housing costs' is included in Universal Credit and, along with the rest of your Universal Credit is paid direct to you, rather than to your landlord. However, if you are in debt, rent arrears or vulnerable, you can ask for your housing costs element be paid direct to your landlord for a temporary period - called a ‘managed payment’, under the Alternative Payment Arrangements scheme. You can also request an amount of your Universal Credit goes towards paying off rent arrears. 

For more details, see Get help with debt and rent arrears if you're on Universal Credit  from Citizens Advice, Universal Credit and rented housing: guide for landlords from the Goverment and Extra help and support with Universal Credit - including Newcastle below 

If you live in ‘specified’ accommodation such as a hostel, women's refuge or supported accommodation, you get Housing Benefit instead of housing costs in your Universal Credit.

If you receive Housing Benefit when you apply for Universal Credit, your Housing Benefit will continue for two weeks. This should happen automatically but if you move home you should contact the council to check. 

See also Universal Credit and landlords from the Government and Housing costs under Universal Credit from Shelter

See also Extra help and support with Universal Credit - including Newcastle below for Universal Credit and homeless people and those at risk of homelessness 

Payments and delays

If you are entitled to Universal Credit, payments will be made one month in arrears.  It can mean a five week or longer wait for the first Universal Credit payment. There may be additional delays with administrative or verification issues. If so you can ask for an 'Advance payment of Universal Credit' described below. If you have difficulty with monthly payments in arrears, see also Extra help and support with Universal Credit - including Newcastle below

Advance payments of Universal Credit

Under Universal Credit there are two main kinds of discretionary recoverable advance payments:

  • Universal Credit Advance (new claim, moving from 'legacy benefits' or a change in circumstances): can be requested from Jobcentre Plus for delays in payments of Universal Credit if you are in financial hardship. The advance can be requested and can be paid straight away to provide emergency funds during the first five weeks of a new claim for Universal Credit, when having to claim Universal Credit after being on 'legacy benefits' or if there is a change in circumstances where Universal Credit is likely to go up (such as the birth of a child) or if there is a delay in payment due to a technical reason.
  •  Universal Credit Budgeting Advance: for one-off expenses like furniture or household equipment, clothing, rent in advance, essential home improvements, travel to work costs, maternity and funeral expenses and help to obtain or remain in work such as upfront child care costs. You must have been on Universal Credit for six months or more and do not have the resources to meet the item. This replaces the Social Fund budgeting loans for people on Universal Credit.

For more details see Get an advance payment of Universal Credit and budgeting advances from Citizens Advice and Universal Credit advances from the Government. 

Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears. What happens if my circumstances change part way through the month?

This monthly period is called an ‘assessment period’. Universal Credit payments are calculated based on the claimant’s circumstances at the end of each assessment period. Where there is a change of circumstances part way through an assessment period, the claimant’s next payment reflects their new circumstances. The change is not applied ‘pro-rata’  proportionality and can result in winners and losers. For example:

  • If a you move to a new property with a higher rent part way through an assessment period, your next Universal Credit payment - for the past month - is calculated based on your new rent (so long as you notify the change in that month). This means you gain. 
  • On the other hand, moving to a property with a lower rent means your next Universal Credit payment covers your new, lower rent. It’ll be the same if you leave a property – no housing costs are included in the Universal Credit payment for that past month. This means you lose.

How do I receive my Universal Credit?

To receive Universal Credit you will need an account with a bank, building society or credit union. The credit union for people in the North East of England is Moneywise.  If you can't use an account, Jobcentre Plus may use a Payment Exception Service.  Each have their own criteria and limitations. For more details, see Choosing a bank account for your benefit payments from Money Helper

The amount of Universal Credit paid may also be reduced in several ways. 

For example,

Work related activity you may be expected to do and what may happen if you fail to do it

There are various levels of work-related requirements that most claimants and their partners have to do in return for receiving Universal Credit, depending on their circumstances. This can range from being fully available for and seeking full time work and taking part in mandatory work activities to having no work related requirements. These requirements are included in the Claimant Commitment agreement that you have to go through with the Jobcentre Plus ‘Work Coach’ after your claim

You can ask the Claimant Commitment and your work requirements be reviewed and changed if they do not match your situation. 

Many of these work-related requirements exist for benefits like JSA but under Universal Credit they are extended to more people such as  partners and some people who are in work but not working enough. No work-related requirements can be imposed on you if you work and your earnings are above a certain threshold amount, which depends on whether you are single or a couple and what work requirements you are expected to undertake

For more details, see the DWP's Universal Credit and your Claimant Commitment and Check you’re in the right Universal Credit work-related activity group by Citizens Advice

If you don't comply with your work-related requirements a ‘sanction' may be applied

This means your Universal Credit 'standard allowance' is stopped or reduced for a length of time. This can be from two weeks and up to 26 weeks. This will not affect the amount of the Universal Credit payment that is given for a child or housing costs. Unlike 'legacy benefits', sanctions under Universal Credit run consecutively rather than concurrently. Also, the hardship payment that may be claimed during the sanction is a repayable loan. This means that under Universal Credit, you will face longer periods on reduced benefit if you don't comply with the requirements of your Claimant Commitment. You have a right to challenge and appeal against these decisions

See our leaflet 'benefit sanctions and how to avoid them' on our benefits information page

Universal Credit and volunteering

There are specific rules under Universal Credit for volunteers. For more information and avoid problems, please read our leaflet on Universal Credit and volunteering, which we have produced with the DWP and the Volunteer Centre Newcastle

Other benefits, help and general rules

Other benefits

As described above, Universal Credit is replacing six working age 'legacy benefits' but many other benefits continue. They include all the 'non-means tested' benefits like Personal Independence Payment, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, Retirement Pension, Child Benefit and also the 'means tested' benefits for older people such as Pension Credit and so on

Contributory ESA is called ‘New Style ESA’ if you get it with Universal Credit. ESA details from this Government guide and flowchart and independent information. Similarly, Contribution based JA is called ‘New Style JSA’ if you get it with Universal Credit. JSA details from this Government guide and flowchart and independent information

Benefits will also interact with Universal Credit, for example a child getting Disability Living Allowance leads to an extra amount of Universal Credit and benefits such as Maternity Allowance can reduce Universal Credit entitlement as it is classed as income. See Information on all benefits 

Free school meals

You can get free school meals  if you are on Universal Credit and your household income is less than a set amount. More details from the government's free school meals webpage and in Government guidance

Legacy benefits 'run-on'

Housing Benefit and (from 22 July 2020) other 'legacy benefits' like Income Support, Income related ESA and Income based JSA (but not Tax Credits) will continue for two weeks following a claim for Universal Credit. 

Challenging a Universal Credit decision

As with all other benefits, if you are unhappy with a Universal Credit decision, you can ask the DWP to reconsider their decision (called a 'mandatory reconsideration') and if still unhappy, in most cases you can appeal to an independent tribunal. See problems with benefits and tax credits

More details on other benefits

Extra help with Universal Credit - including in Newcastle

Alternative Payment Arrangements

The government recognises that the move to a single monthly household payment is a significant change to the way most benefits are currently paid and for those who have difficulty with this, has introduced the Alternative Payment Arrangements scheme which provides the following help on a temporary basis:

  • Paying the housing costs element of Universal Credit direct to the landlord instead of direct to the claimant
  • Paying Universal Credit weekly or fortnightly rather than monthly
  • Splitting payment between partners instead of to just one person

For details see the DWP webpage  Universal Credit - Alternative Payment arrangements and guidance from CPAG

Help with claiming Universal Credit (and help with budgeting) - in Newcastle

If you need help claiming or support with Universal Credit see our webpage:  Universal Credit - support in Newcastle

See also Universal Credit advice for YHN tenants

The Money Manager for Universal Credit claimants from Money Helper helps you with budgeting on Universal Credit

Speaking to the Jobcentre on behalf of a Universal Credit claimant:

Details on this are provided by the DWP and revenuebenefits

Universal Credit and homeless people and those at risk of homelessness

The government have produced this guidance for claimants and organisations which describes the support such claimants can get

Will my benefit go up or down when I move to Universal Credit?

'Natural migration'

The above section ‘How this roll out is happening in...’ describes ways in which those on 'legacy benefits' might have to claim Universal Credit if they have a particular change in circumstances. This is called 'natural migration'. If that happens, and their Universal Credit is a lower amount they will drop down to that amount. There is no ‘transitional protection'  apart from those who are 'more disabled' as described above. For advice on this, see our special page called  the move to Universal Credit

'Managed migration'

In stages, those still on 'legacy benefits' are being invited by letter to claim Universal Credit, called 'managed migration'. If their 'legacy benefits' are higher than Universal Credit, they will keep the difference, called ‘transitional protection'. However, this amount is frozen until the Universal Credit amount catches up with it with inflation and it can also be lost with a change in circumstances such as a partner leaving or joining the household or if earnings fall below a certain level

More details on our special page called  the move to Universal Credit

For news on this, sign up for our Benefit Bulletins

Toolkits for employers and landlords

The DWP website provides these useful set of resources:

Further information about Universal Credit

You can find lots of information about Universal Credit from the Government's  ‘Universal Credit guides’ ,  'Universal Credit and you' and 'understanding Universal Credit'.  Most Government information on Universal Credit has been collected into one webpage: Universal Credit: detailed information for claimants

To help you understand what changes you may need to make, the government have also produced an online Universal Credit personal planner, 'getting ready for Universal Credit'

Get independent information about Universal Credit from - for example Disability Rights UKEntitledtoCitizens Advice, and revenuebenefits.org.uk

For news on Universal Credit and benefit changes, see our page changes to the benefit system and sign up for a benefit bulletin from our professionals and volunteers page

YHN and some housing associations can also provide advice and support to their tenants. See also our webpage which describes the Benefit advice services in Newcastle and benefit offices that may also help

Scams advice

How to recognise and avoid a scam from Money Helper

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