How to apply for Universal Credit

Here’s how to apply for Universal Credit for the first time, what paperwork you’ll need and how to get help if you’re having difficulty getting online. The guide also includes where to get free help before you apply to make sure Universal Credit is right for you.

Before you apply for Universal Credit

Help to Claim

If you’re claiming Universal Credit for the first time, Citizens Advice has a dedicated service to help you. Call 0800 144 8444 in England or 0800 024 1220 in Wales.

Find out more about applying on the Citizens Advice website

In Scotland, call 0800 023 2581, via webchat on the Citizens Advice website or contact your local branch.

In Northern Ireland, Universal Credit works differently. Find out more on the nidirect website

Before applying for Universal Credit for the first time, it’s important to check how it can affect other benefits you’re already getting or might be entitled to.

In some cases, it might make sense to apply for a different benefit instead of, or alongside Universal Credit.

And if you – and your partner if you’re in a couple – are already getting certain benefits or tax credits, it might not always make sense to move to Universal Credit. In some cases you could end up worse off and unable to go back.

If you’re already claiming a ‘legacy benefit’, and nothing changes in your life you’ll eventually be moved onto Universal Credit. The DWP will tell you when it's time.

However, if you have a change of circumstances, such as losing your job, having a baby or your partner moving in or out of the home, this could mean you now have to claim Universal Credit instead.

Legacy benefits include:

  •  Working Tax Credit
  •  Child Tax Credit
  •  income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  •  income Support
  •  income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  •  Housing Benefit.

Single or joint application – how it works

Universal Credit awards are based on your household income and savings:

  • If you live alone or share a flat or house but are not part of a couple, you’ll be making a single online application.
  • If you live with or move in with someone as a couple, you’ll need to make a joint online claim. You’ll have to do this even if your partner isn’t already getting Universal Credit. Only one of you has to complete the online claim form – but whoever does it will need to enter details for both of you.

Universal Credit application paperwork

You’ll need to provide the following information as part of your application:

  • bank, building society or credit union account details
  • an email address
  • housing costs, such as rent or mortgage payments and service charges
  • employed or self-employed income
  • savings and investment details – for example, shares or a property that you rent out
  • any current childcare costs
  • your P45 form, if you've lost your job.

To verify your identity online, you’ll also need proof of identity. This could be:

  • passport
  • debit or credit card
  • driving licence.

Find out more about what you need before you start your claim on the GOV.UK website

If you can’t find any of this paperwork, or you don’t have photo ID, don’t let this delay your claim. You can get support from a Help to Claim adviser who can help you find what you need to claim.

Citizens Advice Help to Claim service

If you’re claiming Universal Credit for the first time, Citizens Advice Help to Claim service is free and confidential. They can help you:

  • check if you’re entitled to Universal Credit
  • get your important paperwork and documents together to speed up your application
  • fill out your application online.

England and Wales

For more details, and to find your nearest branch, go to the Citizens Advice website.

Or, in England, call 0800 144 8444. In Wales, call 0800 024 1220

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Universal Credit works differently. Find out more on the nidirect website

When should I claim Universal Credit?

Claims for Universal Credit can only be backdated for one month. So if you’re not expecting any more income, it’s a good idea to claim as soon as you can.

However, if you're moving from legacy benefits and you're not sure what the impact will be for you, check with a Help to claim adviser that it's right for you because once you've moved onto Universal Credit, you usually can't move back onto legacy benefits.

The date you submit your claim marks the start of a one calendar month ‘assessment period’. At the end of this period, you then have to wait up to seven days for the payment to reach your bank account.

This means it can take up to five weeks before you get your first payment.

An example of the time it takes between making a claim and getting your first payment

  • Ben has lost his job and makes a new claim for Universal Credit on 22 July.
  • He needs to wait one assessment period – one calendar month – to 21 August. This is because Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears.
  • He also needs to allow up to seven days for the money to reach his account.
  • He should expect his first payment of Universal Credit no later than 28 August. He will be paid on the 28th of each month.
  • If 28 August is a bank holiday Monday, he should get his payment on the last working day (Friday) before the holiday.

If you’re worried about how you’ll manage for money until you get your first payment, read our guide Support while waiting for benefit payments.

However, if you’ve been made redundant or are expecting customers to pay you, it can be better to wait until you’ve received your final money before you make a claim.

This is because any income you get during the assessment period after you’ve made your claim could affect your Universal Credit payment. It might mean you’re not even entitled to a payment.

Your final pay cheque might also be higher than normal because it has redundancy pay, holiday pay or pay in lieu of notice added to it.

An example of how fluctuations in your income can affect your Universal Credit payments

  • Ben makes a claim for Universal Credit on 22 July, and then receives his final pay cheque on 31 July. This will be included as income in the assessment period from 22 July to 21 August.
  • His first Universal Credit payment due on 28 August is zero. This is because his income is too high to qualify for Universal Credit this month.
  • He has to live off his final pay cheque until 28 September, when he gets his next full Universal Credit payment. This payment is based on zero income in the assessment period between 22 August and 21 September.
  • If he waits until 1 August to make the claim, his income will be assessed as zero during the assessment period between 1 and 31 August. So he should get his first full Universal Credit payment five weeks later – on 7 September.

Working out when to claim when you’re expecting extra income can be complicated. So if you’re not sure how it will affect you, contact a Citizens Advice Help to Claim adviser to check first.    

England and Wales

For more details, go to the Citizens Advice website.

Or, in England, call 0800 144 8444. In Wales, call 0800 024 1220

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Universal Credit works differently. Find out more on the nidirect website

Find out more about leaving work and needing to claim Universal Credit on the Low Income Tax Reform Group (LITRG) website

If you need help getting online to apply for Universal Credit

Citizens Advice Help to Claim service

If you’re claiming Universal Credit for the first time, Citizens Advice Help to Claim service is free and confidential. They can help you:

  • check if you’re entitled to Universal Credit and that it's the right move for you
  • get your important paperwork and documents together to speed up your application
  • fill out your application online.

England and Wales

For more details, go to the Citizens Advice website.

Or, in England, call 0800 144 8444. In Wales, call 0800 024 1220

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Universal Credit works differently. Find out more on the nidirect website

Making a claim

If you’re worried about using a computer to make your Universal Credit claim, it’s important you get help.

This is because your claim won’t start until you’ve sent your online form. There’s then a five-week wait for your first payment. Any delays can mean you have to wait longer than this.

If you don’t have access to a computer at home, you might be able to use one for free at your local Jobcentre, library, Citizens Advice or council.

Many Jobcentres now offer extra support for people who are struggling to claim online. They can also help you get together all the paperwork you need.

Find your local council in England and Wales on the GOV.UK website

Find your local council in Scotland on the MYGOV.SCOT website

Find your local council in Northern Ireland on the NIDIRECT.GOV.UK website

If you’re new to computers or haven’t felt confident about using them in the past, now is a really good time to build on your knowledge and confidence using them.

You can find free digital skills support in your area from the National Careers Service on 0800 100 900.

Visit the Online Centres Network to find your nearest training centre and LearnMyWay.com offers free online course to help beginners develop digital skills.

If you can’t claim online because of sickness or disability

Claiming Universal Credit online might be more difficult if you have an illness or disability that makes it hard for you to use the internet or manage things yourself.

If you need help, you can call the Universal Credit helpline to book an appointment for someone to call you back to make the claim over the phone.

The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) also run a visiting service if you are unable to leave your home or are in hospital.

Find out more about the DWP Home visits service on the GOV.UK website

A Citizens Advice Help to Claim adviser can also support you throughout your claim for Universal Credit. They can also help you arrange a DWP home visit.

The Universal Credit helpline

If you need help with your claim, you can call the Universal Credit helpline free on:

Telephone: 0800 328 5644

Textphone: 0800 328 1344

Welsh language: 0800 328 1744

8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (closed on bank and public holidays). Calls are free.

The helpline is very busy because of the current crisis. It’s best to use your online account if you can. Find out more on the GOV.UK website

 

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impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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