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Check if you're eligible for Universal Credit

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

Universal Credit is being introduced across Northern Ireland in stages.

Whether you should apply depends on where you live and what your circumstances are.

You can check if you live in a Universal Credit area on nidirect.

You might get Universal Credit if you’re unemployed or struggling to get by. For example, you could get Universal Credit if you have a low-paid job, high rent or childcare costs. There’s no set level of income where you stop being eligible for Universal Credit - it depends on your situation.

You can also get Universal Credit if you can’t work because of disability, illness or caring responsibilities.

Don’t apply for Universal Credit if you have a visa that says “no recourse to public funds” or you’re subject to immigration control. It could affect your right to stay in the UK.

If you’re not sure whether you’re subject to immigration control you can contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help.

When you can get Universal Credit

To get Universal Credit, you’ll need to:

  • be responsible for less than 3 children - otherwise there are other benefits you could claim instead
  • be 18 or over - or in some cases if you’re 16 or 17
  • be under State Pension age 
  • have less than £16,000 in savings
  • not be in full-time education or training - though there are some exceptions
  • live in the UK - and there are extra rules if you’re not a British citizen

Find out how to apply for Universal Credit.

If you’re responsible for 3 or more children

You’ll need to have had a Universal Credit payment in the past 6 months. Otherwise you’ll stay in the old benefit system - you might be able to claim child tax credits instead of Universal Credit. It’s also worth checking what other benefits you might be entitled to.

A child is anyone under 16, or someone under 20 who’s in education or training.

If you live with your partner and they’re over pension age

You can choose between Pension Credit and Universal Credit. You’ll probably get more money claiming Pension Credit - check if you can get Pension Credit instead

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you’re not sure which benefit to claim - an adviser can help you work out when you’ll be better off. 

If you’re 16 or 17

You might be able to claim Universal Credit if you meet all the other conditions and also one of these: 

  • you can’t work because you’re disabled or ill - you’ll need to give the DfC medical evidence showing this
  • you have a child - or are expecting a baby in the next 11 weeks
  • you care for a severely disabled person
  • your parents have died or it’s not possible for you to live with them - for example if your relationship has broken down or your health would be at risk      

You won’t need to look for work as part of your Universal Credit claim.

If you’re in full-time education or training

You can only claim Universal Credit if at least one of these applies:

  • you live with your partner - if they’re also in full-time education at least one other thing on this list has to apply to them
  • you’re old enough to get Pension Credit and you’re living with a partner who’s below Pension Credit age
  • you get Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment and the DfC have said you have ‘limited capability for work’
  • you look after a child under 16, or under 20 if they’re also in full-time education or training
  • you’re waiting to return to a course after taking time off because of illness or caring responsibilities
  • you’re a single foster parent and have a child placed with you
  • you’re under 21 (or are 21 and were under 21 when your course started), not in higher education, and you don’t have parental support

Not having parental support means your parents have died or you can’t live with them - for example if your relationship has broken down or your health would be at risk.

If you’re self-employed

You'll need to look for other work while you're claiming Universal Credit, unless all of these apply:

  • self-employment is your main job
  • you get regular work from self employment
  • you can show your work is organised, eg you have invoices and receipts, or regular accounts
  • you expect to make a profit

You’ll need to show evidence that you’re likely to make money. For example, you could show a business plan if your business is new, or records from previous years if you’ve made a profit in the past.

If you’ve had your business longer than a year and it doesn’t make money you might not get much Universal Credit. The DfC will assume you’re earning at least the minimum wage for the hours they expect you to work - usually 35 hours a week. They’ll reduce your Universal Credit payments because of this - even if you’re earning less.

Find out more about how Universal Credit works when you’re self-employed.

If you’re a UK citizen who’s been living abroad

If you’ve just come back to the UK after more than 3 months away it’s worth checking you’re still habitually resident.

If you’re not a UK citizen

If you’re from a European country

You’ll need to be from an EU country or:

  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Norway
  • Switzerland

You should still apply if you’re not sure if you’re eligible - you'll be told whether or not you can get Universal Credit. You’ll need to check if you have a ‘right to reside’. You can’t get Universal Credit if your only right to reside is as a jobseeker.

Right to reside depends on your work history, personal circumstances and family’s rights. The rules are complex, so contact your nearest Citizens Advice to find out more if you’re not sure.

If you’re from a country outside Europe

You can’t apply for Universal Credit if you’re subject to immigration control.

You’ll also need to meet or be exempt from the ‘habitual residence test’.

If you’re an asylum seeker

You can claim Universal Credit if your asylum application has succeeded.

You can’t claim Universal Credit if you’re waiting for a decision on an asylum application. You might be eligible for asylum support instead.

If you’re already claiming benefits

Universal Credit replaces 6 other benefits (called ‘legacy benefits’). You won’t be able to get these benefits any more if you apply for Universal Credit. Find out more about moving to Universal Credit from other benefits if you get any of:

  • Housing Benefit
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Income Support

If you’re appealing a legacy benefit decision

It can be worth waiting for a decision on your appeal or mandatory reconsideration before claiming Universal Credit. You might not be able to go back to your other benefit even if your appeal succeeds.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you’re not sure whether to claim Universal Credit or wait for your appeal or mandatory reconsideration result.

Get help

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice to get help claiming Universal Credit or other benefits.

You can also contact the DfC by calling the Universal Credit Helpline:

Universal Credit helpline
Telephone: 0800 012 1331
Textphone: 0800 012 1441

Monday to Friday 8.00am to 6.00pm
Calls to this number are free from a mobile or landline within the United Kingdom.

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