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Check if you can get working tax credits

This advice applies to England

You might be able to get working tax credits if you’re on a low income and work at least 16 hours a week.

What counts as a low income, and how many hours you need to work depends on your circumstances.

Getting Universal Credit instead of tax credits 

Universal Credit is replacing tax credits in some areas of the UK. You might need to apply for Universal Credit instead of working tax credits, depending on where you live.

Check if you should apply for Universal Credit instead of tax credits on GOV.UK.



If you're under 25

You can only claim tax credits if you work at least 16 hours a week and are either:

  • responsible for a child under 16
  • eligible for the ‘disability element’

You can use the tax credits disability helpsheet on GOV.UK to check if you’re eligible for the disability element.

If you're single

You might be able to choose between claiming Universal Credit or tax credits if tax credits are still available in your area. The best option for you depends on your circumstances - for example if you claim other benefits.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice to check if you should claim UC or tax credits.

If you get other benefits

Tax credits can have a knock-on effect on other benefits you claim. For example, if you claim tax credits you might stop getting Income Support - this could mean you’re no longer automatically eligible for Housing Benefit.

This means claiming tax credits might leave you worse off. If you're over 18, you can use the Turn2us benefits calculator to check if it’s worth claiming tax credits. You’ll need to enter details of the other benefits you claim.

If you'd rather speak to someone in person, contact your nearest Citizens Advice. An adviser can help you work out if claiming tax credits would leave you better off. 

If you get help with childcare costs

You can’t get tax-free childcare at the same time as working tax credits.

If you use childcare vouchers you can apply for tax credits, but you won’t be able to get the childcare element of working tax credit.

You can find out whether you’ll be better off with tax-free childcare, childcare vouchers or tax credits on GOV.UK.

If you’re not from the UK

Claiming working tax credits could affect your right to stay in the UK if you’re not from a country in the European Economic Area (EEA)Contact your nearest Citizens Advice before you apply.

You can usually claim tax credits if you're from a country in the EEA and currently work in the UK.

If you're not working, you need to have lived in the UK for 3 months before you can claim. There are some exceptions to this rule - find out more on GOV.UK.

Your tax credits estimate 

The amount you could get in tax credits depends on your income as well other factors such as whether you have children. To get an estimate, use the the tax credits calculator on GOV.UK.

If you’re self-employed, you need to work out your income from your taxable profits. For help with this, see how to claim tax credits if you’re self-employed.

You can still apply if your income is slightly too high to be eligible for tax credits. If your income goes down later in the year, your tax credit claim can be backdated to when you made your claim. This is because tax credit amounts are worked out across a full year.

This is called a ‘protective claim’ - the application process is the same.

How many hours you need to work

You’ll need to work a certain number of hours to get working tax credits, depending on your circumstances. 

Your circumstance Hours a week you need to work
Aged 25 to 59 At least 30 hours
Aged 60 or over At least 16 hours
Disabled At least 16 hours
Single and responsible for a child or young person At least 16 hours
In a couple and responsible for a child or young person At least 24 hours between you (with 1 of you working at least 16 hours)

If you usually work more than your contracted hours

Use the number of hours you normally work instead. For example if you're on a zero hours contract, but usually work 30 hours a week, put 30 hours on the claim form.

You need to tell HMRC if your regular hours change, as this might mean you don't qualify for tax credits any more. If HMRC ask for proof of the hours you work, you can send payslips or a letter from your employer.

If your hours change regularly

If the number of hours you work from week to week are predictable, HMRC call this a 'normal working pattern', even if your hours are different each week. You can give HMRC your average weekly hours over whatever period your normal working pattern is. For example, if it's common for you to work 20 hours and 40 hours on alternate weeks, you could put your normal working hours as 30 hours per week.

If your working hours are unreliable and irregular, you might not be able to say what hours are normal for you. If this is your situation, contact HMRC to get advice on how to describe your weekly hours. Or you can contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

Clients who have no obvious working pattern

A decision by the Social Security Deputy Commissioner in 2006 said claimants and HMRC should take a 'common sense' approach to working out their normal working hours. You can check the decision on Rightsnet - type 'CTC 2103 (2006)' into Google to find it.

Try to get as much information as possible about your client's working hours in the past 12 months. Make a list of the number of hours they've done each week. This will help you see what number of hours is most common for your client to work throughout the week. You can use this number of hours as their normal working week.

The Deputy Commissioner said the claimant doesn't have to work the correct number of hours every week - it would be OK for them to work below the eligibility limit at times, as long as this wasn't normal.

He also said it wouldn't always be appropriate to calculate a normal working week by averaging out their hours over a set period.


Jan is a 30 year old without children. In the last 2 months she worked 6 x 30-hour weeks and 2 x 15-hour weeks. Her average hours over those 8 weeks are therefore 26.5 hours. This is under the 30 hours so if she used this figure, she wouldn't be entitled to tax credits. However, you could argue that Jan's normal working week is actually 30 hours, because that's what she works most of the time.

Who counts as responsible for a child or young person

You’re responsible for a child if they either:

  • live with you all the time
  • usually live with you and you’re their main carer

If you share responsibility for a child, for example if you and your partner are separated, only one of you can claim tax credits for the child. This should be the person who’s mainly responsible for the child.

The child you’re responsible for will need to be either under 16 or between 16 and 20 and in full-time approved education or training.

A 16-year old who’s not in approved education or training is considered a young person until the 31 August after they turn 16 unless:

  • they work 24 or more hours a week

  • they’re entitled to income-based Jobseekers’ Allowance, Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance

Making sure you're in paid work

You can get working tax credits if you’re in paid work that’s expected to last at least 4 weeks. This doesn’t include being paid:

  • expenses while volunteering
  • a grant or allowance for studying or training
  • for work done while in prison

The rules are the same if you’re self-employed, but there are a few things you should know before you apply.

If you’re not working

In some circumstances, you can get tax credits when you’re not working. For example if you’re on maternity or sick leave, or if you’ve recently lost your job.

You can also start claiming tax credits 7 days before starting work if you’ve accepted a job offer - your tax credits will start from the date work begins.

GOV.UK has a list of circumstances you can claim tax credits when not working and how long you can claim for.

If you're a foster carer

You might be able to claim working tax credits as a self-employed person if you’re:

  • getting a fostering allowance
  • registered as self-employed with HMRC

The other rules for eligibility still apply, such as your age and how much you earn.

Who counts as a couple for working tax credits

If you’re in a couple, you’ll need to make a joint claim with your partner. You’re counted as a couple if you’re married or in a civil partnership, or if you live together.

If you’re temporarily separated, but still legally married, you’ll need to make a joint claim. HMRC treats you as a couple unless you’re either:

  • divorced
  • legally separated under a court order
  • permanently separated - ie you don't plan to get back together

How much you’ll get is based on you and your partner’s combined income. If you're over 18, you can use the Turn2us benefits calculator to work this out.

Check if you can get other benefits

If you can get working tax credits you might also be able to get other benefits. If you're over 18, you can use the Turn2us benefits calculator to check which benefits you can get. 

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