Universal Credit: further information for families

Updated 8 April 2024

1. The definition of a family

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) classes a family as a single claimant or couple claimants who are responsible for one or more children or qualifying young persons. A qualifying young person is someone aged 16 to 19 in full time non-advanced education or training.

If you are a family and friends carer, also known as a kinship carer, which is someone who has taken responsibility for a child or stepchild who is not your own because:

  • the child has no parents or has parents who are unable to care for the child
  • it is likely that the child would otherwise be looked after by a local council because of concerns in relation to the child’s welfare

Anyone can apply for Universal Credit – not everyone can get Universal Credit, it depends on the circumstances.

2. How Universal Credit supports you and your family

Universal Credit supports your family through regular monthly payments, which do not necessarily stop when you start work.

Universal Credit will help you combine work with being a parent. It makes it easier to take part-time, flexible or temporary jobs to help you gain valuable skills and avoid CV gaps.

Your Universal Credit payment is based on your earnings, not how many hours you work – which means greater flexibility for you. You can apply for a wider range of jobs and get back to work sooner because Universal Credit tops up your earnings if you’re on a low income.

Depending on your circumstances, you could still get support and advice on increasing your earnings when you’re in work.

3. Support for children

Universal Credit is paid as a single monthly payment. This includes amounts to help support your children.

You can get an extra amount for more than 2 children if:

  • the children were born before 6 April 2017
  • you were already claiming for 3 or more children before 6 April 2017
  • other exceptions apply

You might get the extra amount if you start caring for another child, depending on when they were born and how many children you have.

Universal Credit will include this additional amount for your children until:

  • the end of August following each child’s 16th birthday, or
  • the end of August after their 19th birthday for each child still living at home and in eligible education or training

Eligible education or training means they’re either:

  • enrolled on a course for more than 12 hours a week during term time, and studying for qualifications like GCSEs, A levels, BTEC, Scottish Highers, SVQ or NVQ up to level 3
  • accepted on approved training (check with the training provider if you’re not sure)

4. Support for disabled children

The disabled child addition of Universal Credit helps with the extra costs of bringing up a disabled child.

The disabled child addition will be paid at either a lower or higher rate.

The lower rate is for a child who:

  • receives any rate of either part of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), except the highest rate of the care part
  • receives any rate of either part of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), except the enhanced rate of the daily living part

The higher rate is for a child who:

  • receives the highest rate of the care part of DLA
  • receives the enhanced rate of PIP daily living part
  • is blind or severely sight impaired

5. Support with childcare

If you’re a parent you can claim back up to 85% of your actual paid out childcare costs.

In any month this payment is capped. You could receive a maximum childcare payment of:

  • £1,014.63 for one child
  • £1,739.37 for 2 or more children

If you’re claiming with a partner both of you normally need to be in work to receive help with registered childcare costs. This help is available no matter how many hours you work.

When you have a job offer, tell us straight away. You can claim childcare costs for at least a month before your job starts.

You can claim childcare costs for at least a month after your employment ends.

Read more about childcare costs and Universal Credit.

You must tell us when your circumstances change by signing into your online Universal Credit account.

6. Who can claim

To get Universal Credit you must:

  • be living in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland
  • be 18 or over
  • be under State Pension age
  • not be in full-time education
  • not have savings or capital over £16,000

Anyone can apply for Universal Credit – not everyone can get Universal Credit, it depends on the circumstances.

If you’re over Pension Credit qualifying age, you can claim if you have a partner who’s under Pension Credit qualifying age. From 15 May 2019, most couples will not be able to claim Pension Credit until both partners have reached Pension Credit qualifying age.

You may in some cases get Universal Credit if you’re 16 or 17 or a full-time student.

You must make a joint claim as a couple if you live with your partner. If one of you is not eligible, their savings and income will still be taken into account.

If you and your partner are claiming as a couple you must also:

  • live at the same address
  • be married to each other, civil partners of each other, or living together as if you were married

Find out if you can make a claim.

Students and people on tax credits who have received a Migration Notice from DWP

If you receive a Migration Notice from DWP, then some normal Universal Credit eligibility rules do not apply to you. These are:

  • if you receive tax credits, you can make a claim even if you have money, savings or investments of more than £16,000. After 12 months normal eligibility rules will apply
  • if you’re a student, you can make a claim if you or your partner are in full-time advanced education, such as attending university

Find out more about moving to Universal Credit if you’ve received a Migration Notice.

7. In return for your Universal Credit

If you have children and make a Universal Credit claim, you will need to nominate a main carer. If you are a lone parent, you will automatically be the main carer.

If you’re not the main carer, and not working full-time, you’re usually expected to look for full-time work.

If you’re the main carer, what’s expected of you in return for getting Universal Credit will depend on the age of the youngest child in your household:

Age of your youngest child Your responsibilities
Under 1   You will not be expected to look for work.
Age 1   You will not be expected to look for work. The only work-related activity you will be expected to do is to have regular appointments to discuss a future move into work.
Age 2   You will not be expected to look for work. The work-related activities you will be expected to do are having regular appointments with Universal Credit and work preparation activities, such as writing your CV.
Age between 3 and 12   You will be expected to work up to 30 hours a week, or spend up to 30 hours a week on work-related activities such as applying for jobs.
Age 13 and above   You will be expected to work up to 35 hours a week, or spend up to 35 hours a week on work-related activities such as applying for jobs.

Your work-related requirements could be further reduced or removed if:

  • you have a health condition
  • you have caring responsibilities for a disabled person
  • your child or foster child has exceptional care needs
  • there is a lack of available free, appropriate or affordable childcare in your area

Discuss your personal circumstances with your work coach. The type of work, location, travel times and hours you need to be available will be based on your situation. 

Foster carers

If you’re the main foster carer in a fostering couple, or a lone foster carer, you need to attend interviews to discuss plans for a future move into work until the child is 16.

‘Family and friends’ carers

In England and Wales a family and friends carer is also known as a connected person or kinship carer. In Scotland they are known as a connected persons carer or informal kinship carer. 

As a family and friends carer, you do not need to work or do work-related activity if the child joined your household within the past 12 months, and the child is aged between one and 16 years old.

If you’re not already working, you must attend interviews to discuss plans for a future move into work.

If you’re already working or choose to start work, Universal Credit may help cover your childcare costs.

At the end of the 12-month period, the work-related things you need to do will be based on your youngest child’s age.

With Universal Credit, you will get help identifying your skills and the types of activities that will help you find work. These will be set out in your claimant commitment.

Work-related activities you might need to do include:

  • phoning your work coach
  • creating and maintaining an online profile
  • improving your job seeking skills
  • registering with an employment agency
  • searching for jobs
  • applying for jobs
  • getting references
  • taking part in training courses
  • other agreed actions which increase your likelihood of getting a job

8. Claimant commitment

A claimant commitment is your record of the responsibilities that you have accepted in return for receiving Universal Credit and the consequences of not meeting them. Your Universal Credit payments may be cut if you do not meet your responsibilities.

If you claim Universal Credit as a couple both of you will need to accept a claimant commitment. You will each have your own claimant commitment, and yours may be affected if your partner starts work or their circumstances change.

9. Sanctions

If you do not do what you’ve agreed to in your claimant commitment to find work – for example, if you fail to attend appointments or turn down job offers – you may receive a sanction.

A sanction is a reduction in your benefit which is imposed if we think you have not completed a mandatory activity you agreed on your claimant commitment and you cannot give a good reason to explain why. Sanctions are a last resort and you will always be asked for your reasons for your actions before a decision is made.

If a sanction is applied to your Universal Credit we will tell you how much you will lose and for how long.

10. If you currently receive tax credits

Universal Credit is replacing Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.

If you’re getting tax credits, you do not need to do anything unless:

You cannot claim Universal Credit and tax credits at the same time.

11. Universal Credit payments

You will receive one monthly Universal Credit payment – twice a month for some people in Scotland.

If you are claiming with a partner, this will cover both of you. This will be paid into a suitable account of your choice, which could be a joint account or a single account in either your name or your partner’s name.

Other adults living in the same household who are claiming Universal Credit will be paid separately.

Monthly payments match the way most salaries are paid. This can help you prepare for and manage the world of work as you get used to handling your money on a monthly basis.

12. How the payment is made up

Your Universal Credit payment will be made up of different amounts depending on your circumstances. It can include support for the cost of housing, children and childcare, as well as support for disabled people and carers.

If your Universal Credit payment includes help towards your rent you will be responsible for using this money to pay your landlord yourself.

If you live in Scotland you’ll be asked if you want the housing amount to be paid straight to your landlord.

Your Universal Credit payment is based on your earnings, not how many hours you work. This means the system is more flexible and makes it easier for you to take work, safe in the knowledge that you will be better off if you do.

As your earnings increase, your Universal Credit payment will gradually reduce.

13. If your partner will not allow you access to the payment

If you have any concerns about accessing your payments and need to discuss alternative payment arrangements, you can contact your work coach by signing in to your Universal Credit account.

Alternative payment arrangements are considered on a case-by-case basis and assessed on their individual merits. This allows for the household payment to be split. Wherever possible, these alternative payment arrangements will be temporary whilst you take steps to improve the way you manage your money.

14. How Universal Credit works with the Tax-Free Childcare scheme

Information on the Tax-Free Childcare scheme and Universal Credit childcare costs is provided to help you to make an informed choice.

15. Child Benefit

Child Benefit will continue to be paid separately. It will not affect your Universal Credit payments.

16. Child maintenance payments

Any child maintenance payments you receive will not affect your Universal Credit payments.

17. What happens if you or your partner get a job

You must tell DWP when your circumstances change, including when you start work, earn more or work more hours. Depending on your circumstances, you could still get support and advice on increasing your earnings when you’re in work.

You can earn a certain amount before your Universal Credit payments are reduced. This is known as your work allowance. If you earn less than this anything you earn is additional income which you can keep.

If you do not tell DWP that you have started work, they will not know why you are no longer attending your appointments, and will assume that you no longer wish to receive Universal Credit. This may mean that you miss out on benefit payments that you are entitled to.

18. Change of circumstances you need to tell us about

You need to report changes to your circumstances as soon as they happen, so you keep getting the right amount each month.

Your claim might be stopped or reduced if you do not report a change of circumstances straight away.

Changes relating to your family or children

You may get an extra child amount if, for example, you have a baby or start to care for a child or disabled person.

You may stop getting the extra child amount if, for example, your child:

  • leaves full-time, non-advanced education or approved training
  • leaves home
  • goes into local council care (except for respite care)
  • is in prison, or in custody awaiting trial or sentence

Other changes you must tell us about

Changes to your household or personal details, including:

  • moving in with your partner
  • moving to another address
  • changing your email address or phone number
  • changing your bank details

Work and money changes, including:

  • your earnings going up or down
  • your rent going up or down
  • finding or finishing a job
  • changes to your money, savings and investments

Health changes, including:

  • changes to your health condition
  • becoming too ill to work or meet your work coach

How to report a change

You can report a change of circumstances by signing into your online Universal Credit account.