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Universal Credit

Universal Credit


What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a new means-tested benefit that is replacing all the following means-tested benefits for most new claimants:

  • Child Tax Credit;
  • Housing Benefit;
  • (Income-related) Employment and Support Allowance(ESA);
  • (Income-related) Jobseeker's Allowance;
  • Income Support; and
  • Working Tax Credit

Other benefits (e.g. Personal Independence Payment) will remain largely unchanged by the new system.

Universal Credit is being rolled out across the UK and those on the old style benefits will be migrated onto UC.

Who can claim Universal Credit?

To be eligible for Universal Credit, you must meet certain basic qualifying conditions applicable to most welfare benefits.

In addition, you must not be in education – unless you are entitled to  Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and you have been assessed as having a limited capability for work.

The process for a full time student to get a work capability assessment in order to be assessed as having a limited capability for work is not straight forward and we would encourage you to contact a Welfare Adviser to navigate through the various stages.

Establishing Limited Capability for Work

If you are claiming Universal Credit as a student who has limited capability for work, you will need to satisfy the work capability assessment (WCA). It is our current understanding that in order to get a WCA you will need to make a claim for New Style ESA before applying for UC.

New Style ESA is normally paid if you have paid enough national insurance contributions in the previous 2 tax years (it can be paid on its own or alongside UC). However, if you are claiming new style ESA in order to be offered a WCA you may need to explain that as a full-time student you are not actually entitled to any ESA payments (as you haven't paid enough national insurance contributions) but you want to make a credits only claim so you can be credited with class 1 national insurance contributions which can be counted for your state retirement pension.

Although not receiving any ESA money, you would go through the motions of making a claim and complying with the other conditions of entitlement, such as sending in medical certificates. You should then be invited to a work capability assessment. Once the work capability assessment has been carried out and a decision has been made that you have a limited capability for work, you would be able to claim Universal Credit as a full time student.

If activities you do as part of your course suggest that you do not meet this test, you could lose this benefit.

What is Limited Capability for Work?

Limited capability for work means that because of your mental or physical condition it is unreasonable to require you to work. This is tested by the ‘work capability assessment’ (WCA). This test has two parts:

Part one - tests whether your capability for work is limited by your physical or mental condition and, if so, whether the limitation is severe enough that it is not reasonable to require you to work.

It looks at physical activities such as mobilising, standing, sitting, picking things up, making yourself understood, understanding communication, navigation, maintaining safety, consciousness and absence of control of bladder and bowel. mental activities are also considered such as the ability to learn simple tasks, awareness of everyday hazards, initiating personal action, coping with change, getting about, social engagement and appropriateness of behaviour with other people.

If you score sufficient points in the difficulties you have doing the above tasks your limited capability for work is determined.

Part two - considers whether you have ‘a limited capability for work related activity’. This determines whether you are placed in the support group or the work related activity group. Which group you are placed in affects the amount of UC you can receive and the responsibilities you must meet to retain the benefit. Those in the work related activity group are required to carry out certain activities while those in the support group are not.

The work capability assessment should take place within 13 weeks following your claim. 

Other ways you can qualify for UC are:

  • you are responsible for a child, or;
  • you have regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person, or;
  • you have taken time out from your course because of illness or caring responsibilites which have ended and you are waiting to return to your course but you are not eligible for a grant or a loan.

In addition, you (and your partner if you are making a ‘joint claim’) must not have capital of more than £16,000 and any earnings or income you have must not be too high for any universal credit to be paid. 

How do you claim?

You can claim Universal Credit online

You can claim New Style ESA - (to get a WCA), this explains how to start your claim and then book an in-person appointment

Joint claims

If you have a partner (including a same-sex partner), you must normally make a ‘joint claim’ for Universal Credit. In a joint claim, you and your partner must usually meet all the basic qualifying conditions above. However, you and your partner may still be entitled to Universal Credit as joint claimants if one of you is in full-time education (as long as you both satisfy all the other basic qualifying conditions).

Your responsibilities

To qualify for Universal Credit, you usually need to meet certain extensive work-related conditions, known as ‘requirements’. These are recorded in a ‘claimant commitment’. you are likely to incur sanctions (where your Universal Credit is reduced or cancelled) if you fail to meet a work-related requirement. But in certain circumstances none of the work-related requirements will apply to you and this could make studying and claiming Universal Credit possible.

When do none of the work-related requirements apply?

In certain circumstances, none of the work-related requirements will apply to you. This will be the case if you:

  • have been assessed in the work capability assessment as having a ‘limited capability for work and work-related activity’; or
  • are responsible for a child under the age of one; or
  • are responsible for a child or qualifying young person and you are getting student finanace as a full time student (but during the summer period you will need to meet work requirements); or
  • have regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person.

The work capability assessment finds out if you are entitled to the ‘work capability element’ and at which rate and what work-related requirements you must meet to keep receiving the benefit in full.

For Universal Credit, the same assessment as for ESA is used to find out which rate of the ‘work capability element’ you are entitled to and exactly what restrictions can be applied to your work-related responsibilities.

The support group

If you are put in this group, you do not have to undertake work-related activities (although you can volunteer to do so if you want). You will receive a higher rate of UC than claimants who are put in the work-related activity group. 

The work-related activity group

If you are put in this group, you have to adhere to strict work-related conditions in order to continue receiving the benefit in full. This will include attending work-focused interviews and possibly undertaking work-related activities.

The work-related requirements

There are four different types of requirement. Your circumstances will determine which of these applies to you.

The work-focused interview requirement

This is a requirement that you take part in one or more work-focused interviews. These are designed to assess your prospects and assist or encourage you to move into or stay in work.

The work-preparation requirement

This is a requirement that you take action to improve your chances of getting work. This can include taking part in training or an employment programme or undertaking work experience.

The work-search requirement

Here you are required to take all reasonable action to obtain paid work (or more work if you are already working part time). This can include: searching for work;applying for jobs;creating and maintaining an online profile;registering with employment agencies; and seeking references. You will be expected to search for work for a minimum amount of time each week. This is usually set at a minimum of 35 hours, although the department for work and pensions (DWP) may agree to a reduced time if you have caring responsibilities or a physical or mental impairment or if you are already working part-time.

The work-availability requirement

You are normally required to be able and willing to take up paid work (or more work if you are already working part time) immediately; you must also be able and willing to attend a job interview immediately.

However, the DWP can allow you up to one month to take up paid work, and up to 48 hours to attend a job interview, if you are caring for a child or someone with a ‘physical or mental impairment’, so that you can make alternative care arrangements.

The DWP can allow you up to one week to take up paid work, and up to 48 hours to attend a job interview, if you are carrying out voluntary work.

Where your ‘physical or mental impairment has a substantial adverse effect’ on your ability to carry out work of a particular nature or in a particular place, you cannot be expected to be available for such work or in such a place.

How much is Universal Credit?

The amount of Universal Credit you are paid depends on your circumstances. It is worked out on a monthly basis by comparing your financial needs with your financial resources. Set amounts for different financial needs are added together to arrive at a figure called your ‘maximum amount’. This is the basic amount the law says you need to live on each month. from this figure amounts are deducted for any earnings and other income you receive (see below). The resulting amount will be your universal credit for that month. This may be restricted by the ‘benefit cap’.  

The maximum amount

The maximum amount is made up of a ‘standard allowance’ and ‘elements’, paid to cover different needs.

The elements are:

  • child element;
  • housing costs element;
  • work capability element;
  • carer element;
  • childcare costs element.

The standard allowance

This is the basic allowance (per month), which is always included in your maximum amount. The amount you are entitled to depends on your age and whether you are claiming as a single person or jointly:

  • Single claimant aged under 25 - £251.77
  • Single claimant aged 25 or over - £317.82
  • Joint claimants both aged under 25 - £395.20
  • Joint claimants where either is aged 25 or over - £498.89 


The calculation of your earnings is based on a net figure after tax, national insurance contributions and any contribution you make to an occupational or personal pension scheme have been deducted. Employer-paid benefits (such as statutory sick pay or statutory maternity pay) are treated as earnings. 

In some circumstance, you may be allowed to keep some of your earnings up to a certain limit before your universal credit is affected; this is known as the ‘work allowance’. earnings in excess of the work allowance that applies in your case will reduce your Universal Credit by 65 pence in the pound. 

Income other than earnings

If you have income other than earnings, such as other benefits, these will usually be taken into account in full, so that your Universal Credit is reduced pound for pound. some benefits are disregarded in full, for example Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Personal Independence Payment. Student Finance is counted but certain elements are disregarded.

Capital and savings

Universal Credit has a ‘lower capital limit’ and an ‘upper capital limit’. If you have savings or capital over the upper limit of £16,000, you cannot get universal credit. This figure applies if you are claiming as a single claimant or as a couple. If you have savings or capital at or below the lower limit of £6,000, your Universal Credit is unaffected.

If your capital is between these limits, it is treated as generating a monthly income of £4.35 for each £250 (or part of £250) above the lower limit of £6,000. For instance, if you have capital of £6,300, it is treated as generating a monthly income of £8.70.


The elements

The child element

This (monthly amount) is included in your maximum amount if you are responsible for a child or qualifying young person who normally lives with you:

  • first or eldest child or qualifying young person - £277.08
  • each other child or qualifying young person - £231.67

A ‘qualifying young person’ is someone aged 16 to 18 (or 19 in some cases) who has enrolled on (or been accepted for) a course of full-time non-advanced education or approved training, who is not getting an existing means-tested benefit (such as income-related employment and support allowance) or universal credit themselves.

An additional amount is included for each child or qualifying young person who is disabled. It is set at two different levels:

A higher rate - £383.86 for a child/qualifying young person who is entitled to the highest rate of the care component of disability living allowance (DLA), the enhanced rate of the daily living component of personal independence payment (PIP) or who is certified as severely sight impaired or blind; and a lower rate - £126.11 for a child who is entitled to any other rate of DLA or PIP.

The work capability element

This is paid a two different levels as a monthly amount. It is included in your maximum amount if you have:

  • a limited capability for work - £126.11; or
  • a limited capability for work and work-related activity - £328.32

The tests for these are the same as those for the work capability assessment for employment and support allowance (the ‘limited capability for work’ and ‘limited capability for work-related activity’ assessments).

The carer element

A carer element of £160.20 is included in your maximum monthly amount if you have ‘regular and substantial caring responsibilities’ for a severely disabled person. you are considered to have such responsibilities if you are eligible for carer’s allowance, although you do not have to actually claim that allowance.

You are not normally entitled to this element as well as the work capability element (see above) if you would otherwise be eligible for both; only the highest paid element will be included in your maximum amount. however, if you have a limited capability for work and your partner is a carer, both elements could be payable.

The childcare costs element

This will be included in your maximum amount if you pay for registered child care in order to stay in work. There is no set number of hours you need to work to get this element. You will get 85% of your relevant childcare costs met, up to a maximum monthly amount of:

  • £646.35 for one child; and
  • £1108.04 for two or more children

If you are claiming jointly, your partner must also be in paid work, unless they are unable to look after the child because they:

  • have a limited capability for work;
  • have  regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person; or
  • are temporarily absent from your household (ie are in prison, hospital or a care home).

Generally the childcare must be provided by someone who is registered for child care or an equivalent. Relevant childcare is not care provided by a close relative of the child wholly or mainly in the child’s home. You cannot get both the child care costs element of UC and the chilcare grant (CCG) from student finance.

The housing costs element

A housing costs element may be included in your maximum amount if you pay rent or have a mortgage.


Private tenants

If you are a private tenant, your housing costs element will depend on where your home is situated and the number of rooms you are deemed to need in the same way as the current housing benefit scheme.

Deductions will be made if you have non-dependants living with you (these do not include your spouse or parnter but are are other adults that are not full-time students). 

Social housing tenants

If you are renting social housing (from your local authority or from a housing association), your housing costs element may be reduced if the property you rent is considered to be under occupied. Deductions will be made if you have non-dependants living with you.

If you are in ‘specified accommodation’ (e.g. a refuge if you are fleeing domestic violence or accommodation where care, support or supervision is provided to you), your housing support will continue to be met through housing benefit rather than universal credit.


if you own your home, the housing costs element may cover mortgage interest on loans secured on your property. There is normally a ceiling of £200,000 on the amount of loan that can be covered; this does not apply in the case of any loan taken out for the purpose of adapting your property to the needs of a disabled person. 

There will normally be a ‘qualifying period’ of nine months before the element can be included in your Universal Credit award. you will not be entitled to the element if you are in paid work.

Discretionary housing payments

You may be able to get ‘discretionary housing payments’ (DHPS) if your Universal Credit does not cover all your housing costs and your local authority accepts that you require some further financial assistance.

You must claim a DHP from your local authority; most local authorities will have a form on which to claim. You can find these by searching at

The work allowance

Some of your earnings may be disregarded by applying a ‘work allowance’. this will only apply if you or your partner:

are responsible for one or more children or qualifying young people (see above); or have a limited capability for work (see above).

There are two different rates:

  • a ‘lower work allowance’ of £198; and
  • a ‘higher work allowance’ of £409.

The lower work allowance will apply if a housing costs element is included in your maximum amount (see above). If a housing costs element is not included in your maximum amount, the higher work allowance will apply instead. In each case, the same rate will apply whether you are a single claimant or claiming jointly with your partner. These are monthly figures.

The benefit cap

There is a cap on the total amount of benefits, including Universal Credit that you can claim

  • The benefit cap within greater london is:
    £296.35 per week if you are a single person (with no children)
    £442.31 per week in all other cases
  • the benefit cap will not apply if you, your partner or a dependent child are getting certain benefits, including Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment. It will also not apply if the higher level of the work capability element has been included in your Universal Credit award.

Payment of Universal Credit

Normally, your Universal Credit is paid as a single payment each month. If you have a partner; you can choose who receives the payment. Alternative payment arrangements (e.g. bi-monthly payments) would only be made if the DWP considered that you could not manage with a single monthly payment; such arrangements would usually only be made for a temporary period.

For more infomation see

If you or your partner have student income , it may count as income for UC.  Student loans for maintenance count as income if you could get a loan by taking 'reasonable steps', Even if you chose not to apply for one. The maximum loan you could be entitled to (for a postgraduate master's or doctoral loan, 30% of the maximum) is taken into account as income. This is the case even if the loan is reduced because of assessed parental contribution, or if part of the loan is replaced by a grant. However, if you are entitled to the special support element this element should be disregarded. a special support grant should also be disregarded.

UC is paid for 'an assessment period' of one month. student income counts as income in assessment periods that fall during the course as well as the assessment period in which the course begins. Student income is ignored in the assessment period in which the last week of the course or the start of the summer vacation falls. Student income is also ignored in any other assessment period that falls completeley within the summer vacation. In each assessment period £110 of student income is ignored.

To work out how much of your student income is taken into accont:

1. Calculate your annual loan or grant (minus the special support element or SSG) or (30% for the postgraduate master's loan).

2. Work out how many assessment periods apply for the year. For most undergraduate students in 2019/20  the academic year starts on the 16th September and ends on the  29th May. This means the assessment period would start on the 16th September to the 15th October and 7 periods would count student income in the calculation. From the 15th May until the start of the next acaedmic year the 16th September, no student income would count.

3. Divide your annual student income from step one by the number of assessment periods in step 2.

4. Deduct £110.

For example, if your loan was £12,729, minus a speacial support element of £3783 this  leaves £8946 which is divded by 7 = £1278 - £110 = £1168. UC would be calculated on £1168 a month from 16th September 2019 to 15th May 2020. Zero would be counted from 16th May 2020 until the 15th September 2020.

To work out how much UC you might get you then add up the standard allowance (single or joint, under or over 25) and add the elements you qualify for such as 'the work capability element' and 'the housing costs element' (relevant caps apply). The difference between your counted income and your standard allowance plus elements should be the amount of UC you can recieve in each monthly assessment period.

If you were previously claiming Universal Credit prior to starting your studies at Queen Mary University of London, then your assessment period is likely to be different as your claim would have an earlier start date than 16th September.

As Universal Credit calcluations can be complicated, you can request that your universal credit casework manager provides you with an email explanation of how your award has been calculated. You need to request this within one month of receiving that month's award notification. Once you receive your caseworker's explanation, if you still have questions,  see a Welfare Adviser who can check your Universal Credit award is correct.

Law, regulations and policies can change quickly. The information on our website is given in good faith and has been carefully checked but QMUL cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions. QMUL is not responsible for the content or reliability of the linked websites which are provided for further information.

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