If you are not working, or only working a few hours a week, there are several benefits you may be able to claim. However, remember that your immigration status and residence can mean you are not able to claim certain benefits, or your right to claim may depend on your circumstances. The benefit cap may reduce your benefits by reducing your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit if your total benefits would otherwise be more than the cap, and you don’t meet any of the rules which exempt you from the cap.
Universal Credit (UC) is now the main income-based benefit for people of working age (below state pension age) making new claims. This means that you will not usually be able to make a new claim for income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Tax Credits or Housing Benefit, and you may have to claim UC instead. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as people who are ‘frontier workers’ or live in ‘specified’ or ‘temporary’ accommodation. If you are not sure, get advice before claiming UC as it will stop payment of any of the benefits it replaces.
Benefits for you
If you have paid national insurance contributions in the last few years then you should check contributory (usually ‘new style’) Jobseeker’s Allowance if you are able to look for work. If you are not able to look for work, you may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay or contributory (usually ‘new style’) Employment and Support Allowance. If you are not entitled to these, or need more help, you will usually have to claim Universal Credit. However, you should also check in case you are able to claim any other benefits. For example, if you are caring for a disabled person who is on disability benefits (not as a job), you may be able to claim Carer’s Allowance.
Benefits for your children
As well as benefits for yourself, you may need to claim benefits for your children, such as Child Benefit. You can no longer make a new claim for Child Tax Credit, however, if you already get tax credits, you can add a child to your claim. Otherwise, you may have to claim Universal Credit to get extra money for your children.
If you are pregnant or have a child under four, you may be able to claim Healthy Start vouchers to help with the costs of milk, fruit, pulses or vegetables. Healthy Start has been replaced with Best Start Foods in Scotland.
If you are pregnant with your first baby or have recently had your first child, you may be entitled to the Sure Start Maternity Grant. If you are based in Scotland you may be entitled to Best Start Grant – pregnancy and baby payment instead.
Benefits for housing costs
You will usually have to claim Universal Credit to get help with paying the rent (unless you are in temporary or certain types of supported accommodation). Exceptions include people of pension age (if you are in a couple, you must usually both be of pension age), in which case you can claim Housing Benefit.
If you pay a mortgage, help with this is only available after 9 months (39 weeks) on benefit and it is a loan from the DWP which has to be repaid. It is not part of your benefits and has to be applied for separately. You are entitled after 9 months on certain benefits (for UC, you must also not have any earnings) and the DWP should write to you to offer you the loan. If you are of state pension age and on Pension Credit, different rules apply and you can get the loan payments straight away, if you choose to take the loan.
Benefits to help with the council tax or rates
Council Tax Reduction can help you with the costs of your council tax bill. This is a separate application to Housing Benefit. Council Tax Reduction (sometimes called Council Tax Support) depends on your local authority (council) and so you should check on their website to find out more. Council Tax Reduction is not being replaced by Universal Credit, so you can receive it while also claiming Universal Credit. If you live in Northern Ireland, you can get help with the rates instead.
Checking your benefit entitlement
Challenging a benefits decision
If you have applied for any of the benefits listed above and you have been told that you are not entitled and you disagree, you can challenge it. To do so, you need to request what is called a “mandatory reconsideration” within one month of the date of the decision. You can request it verbally over the phone by calling the number provided on the decision letter, however, it is always best to make a request in writing (on the relevant GOV.UK form or your Universal Credit online account if this is about Universal Credit). If you’ve missed the deadline, it is still worth applying, there are circumstances where you may be able to make an out of time request if you have good reasons for why you are late. For more detailed advice, contact the Citizens Advice, and for more information see: www.gov.uk/mandatory-reconsideration or in Northern Ireland, https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/publications/mandatory-reconsideration-request-form-mr2ni.
This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.