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Eligibility for Universal Credit if you’re not a British or Irish Citizen

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

If you want to speak to someone about changes to benefits, you can phone the independent welfare changes helpline for free on 0808 802 0020 or contact your local Citizens Advice.

Universal Credit is a new benefit that’s being introduced gradually in Northern Ireland from September 2017.

Get help to find out if you're eligible

The rules for getting Universal Credit are complicated. They’re summarised below, but it’s a good idea to get help from an expert to see if you can apply. You can do this by:

  • calling the Universal Credit helpline on 0300 123 3017 (Textphone: 0300 123 3018) Calls to these numbers can cost up to 10p a minute from a landline, and between 3p and 40p a minute from a mobile (your phone supplier can tell you how much you’ll pay). It should be free if you call from your mobile and have landline calls included in your contract. When you call, you can ask them to call you back.
  • contacting your local Citizens Advice

If you're from a European country

Your eligibility will depend on your personal circumstances and how much you've worked in the UK.

You’re likely to be eligible if you’ve had steady work in the UK and you’ve recently stopped working or you’re now earning less. You probably won’t be eligible if you haven’t had a lot of work since moving to the UK.

You'll still need to meet all the other eligibility rules as well as the ones listed here.

What country you're from

You’ll need to be from one of the following countries:

  • any EU country
  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Norway
  • Switzerland

The ‘right to reside’ rules

You’re only eligible if you meet the ‘right to reside’ rules.

The ’right to reside’ test is a complicated set of rules that determine whether or not you’ll get Universal Credit.

You should make an application if you're from one of these countries and you think you meet the rules, even if you're not completely sure. You'll be told whether or not you're eligible. But don't apply if you're subject to immigration control.

The rules are different depending on your work history and your personal circumstances. The main categories are:

  1. worker
  2. self-employed
  3. student
  4. people responsible for children (eg parents)
  5. self-sufficient people

There are other ways to have the ‘right to reside’ that aren’t listed here. You should get help to find out out if you’re eligible if you’re not sure - your nearest Citizens Advice can help with this. 

1. Workers

You have a ‘right to reside’ if:

  • you're in work that is considered to be ‘genuine and effective’
  • you were in work but had to stop because of temporary illness
  • you lost your job less than 6 months ago and are looking for work (it can be longer than 6 months ago if your previous job lasted over a year and can show you have a good chance of getting another job)
  • you lost your job and started training to help you get more or better work
  • you’re on maternity leave
  • you had to give up work due to the late stages of pregnancy (only if you can return to work or find another job within a reasonable period)

What ‘genuine and effective’ work means

The work you’ve done needs to be considered ‘genuine and effective’ for you to have a right to reside. This tests whether the work you’ve done is enough to make you eligible for benefits.

You're automatically considered to be in work which is ‘genuine and effective’ if you earned £157 a week before tax for 3 months before you apply for Universal Credit. If you haven't earned this amount, you can still be considered to be in ‘genuine and effective’ work based on how regular your work is, how much you've earned and how many hours you've worked.

You won’t be considered a worker if the work you’re doing (or did) was infrequent or occasional. For example, if you worked in a shop for a few hours now and again, this might not be viewed as ‘genuine and effective’ work.

You can be a part time worker and still be considered to have had ‘genuine and effective’ work.

If you think you should be classified as a ‘worker’ but aren’t sure you should get help from Citizens Advice to find out if you’re eligible.

2. Self-employed

You'll be considered self-employed if all of the following apply:

  • you don't have a boss who decides what work you can do, your working conditions or how much you get paid
  • you're responsible for finding - and doing - your own work
  • you get paid directly by the people or companies you work for

You'll have to show that you're self-employed, eg by advertising your services, doing accounts, and trying to get work. You must also show that your self-employment is ‘genuine and effective’ (see above).

3. Student

You need to be attending an education institution in the UK.

You also need to be able to support yourself financially, ie show that you’ll only need to be on Universal Credit for a limited time. For example, you have skills or experience that means you’ll be able to get work, or you’re ill and you’ll be able to work when you get better. You’ll also need comprehensive medical insurance.

4. You're responsible for a child

If you’re responsible for a child, you’ll have the ‘right to reside’ if all the following apply:

  • you must be the main carer for the child
  • one of the parents must be a national of the UK, EU, Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein or Iceland who has been in the UK as a ‘worker’
  • the child must have been in the UK when the parent was in the UK as a ‘worker’
  • the child is in education

5. Self-sufficient person

You’ll be in this group if you can show that you have enough money to be self sufficient and that you'll only be on Universal Credit for a limited time while you’re in the UK.

You’ll also need to have comprehensive medical insurance.

If a family member has a ‘right to reside’

You might have the right to reside if you’re a family member of an EEA national who has a right to reside. The rules are complex depending on the nature of the relationship, so you should get help from your nearest Citizens Advice to see if you have right to reside.

If you're not from a European country

Don’t apply if you have a visa that says “no recourse to public funds” or you’re subject to immigration control. Your immigration status is at risk if you do.

If you’re not sure whether or not you’re subject to immigration control you should get help to find out. Your local Citizens Advice can help with this.

You can only apply for Universal Credit if all the following apply:

You might not have to meet the 'habitual residence test’ in some cases. For example, if you have discretionary leave, you have humanitarian protection or you’ve experienced domestic abuse. You should get help with your application from your nearest Citizens Advice if you’re not sure.

Asylum seekers

If your asylum application has been successful you can claim Universal Credit, providing you meet all the other eligibility rules.

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

Get help

Call the Universal Credit helpline to find out if you're eligible for Universal Credit.

Universal Credit helpline

Telephone: 0300 123 3017
Textphone: 0300 123 3018
Monday to Friday 8.00am to 6.00pm

Calls can cost up to 10p a minute from a landline, and between 3p and 40p a minute from a mobile (your phone supplier can tell you how much you’ll pay). It should be free if you call from your mobile and have landline calls included in your contract. When you call, you can ask them to call you back.

You can also contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help.

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