Home Advice for Parents & CarersBenefits for carers of disabled adults Benefits you can claim if you are not working or are on a low income

Benefits you can claim if you are not working or are on a low income

Last updated: 4 Apr 2022

If you are not working or are on a low income there may be several benefits you can claim, however, this will depend on your circumstances.

If you have recently had a baby or adopted a child please see our page on maternity pay and benefits.

If you are caring for a disabled child see benefits for parents and carers of disabled children.

If you are caring for a disabled adult see benefits for carers of disabled adults.

If you need help paying for childcare please see the childcare support section of our website.

If you are over State Pension age see what can I claim if I am over State Pension age or if I have a partner over State Pension age.

An easy and quick way to check what benefits you might be entitled to is to use a benefits calculator.

Benefits for you

Statutory Sick Pay

If you are an employee and you are unable to work due to ill health, you may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for the first 28 weeks that you are off sick. To qualify for SSP you must earn an average of £123 a week. SSP is administered and paid by your employer.

If you are not entitled to SSP or your SSP has run out you may be able to claim New-Style Employment and Support Allowance or Universal Credit instead.

New-Style Jobseeker’s Allowance

If you are not working, or working less than 16 hours a week and are looking for work, you may be entitled to New-Style Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). To qualify for JSA you must have paid sufficient Class 1 National Insurance contributions in the last 2-3 years. JSA does not take into account your household income or savings, however, if you are working less than 16 hours a week, your earnings may affect the amount you get. Additionally, if you have a private pension this can reduce the amount of JSA you get. You can only get JSA for a maximum of 6 months.

JSA does not include extra amounts for children, a partner if you live together, or rent. For extra financial support you might be able to claim Universal Credit. You can claim both JSA and Universal Credit at the same time, but your Universal Credit will be reduced by your JSA amount.

New-Style Employment and Support Allowance

If you are unable to work due to ill health or disability, you might be entitled to New-Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). You cannot get ESA at the same time as SSP, however, you can apply for ESA up to 3 months in advance. If you are on SSP and think you will be off sick for more than 28 weeks it is worth making a claim for ESA in advance as this will mean your ESA will start being paid as soon as your SSP ends.

To qualify for ESA you must have paid sufficient Class 1 or Class 2 National Insurance contributions in the last 2-3 years. ESA does not take into account your household income or savings, however, if you have a private pension this can reduce the amount of ESA you get. Some people on ESA are allowed to do permitted work. If you are doing permitted work your earnings may affect the amount of ESA you get.

After you apply for ESA you will have a work capability assessment where the DWP assess how your condition affects your ability to work. You usually have to fill in a form and might have a medical assessment. After you have been assessed the amount of ESA you get might increase. Some people can only get ESA for a maximum of 1 year.

ESA does not include extra amounts for children, a partner if you live together, or rent. For extra financial support you might be able to claim Universal Credit. You can claim both ESA and Universal Credit at the same time, but your Universal Credit will be reduced by your ESA amount.

Universal Credit

You might be entitled to Universal Credit if you and your family are on a low income and are not already on other means-tested benefits or Tax Credits. If you are on other benefits or Tax Credits you should get further advice as you could end up worse off if you claim Universal Credit. Universal Credit can be claimed by people in lots of different circumstances and can be claimed if you are working, unemployed, too sick to work or are caring for a disabled person.

Universal Credit is usually a monthly payment to cover your living costs. How much you get will depend on your circumstances. It takes into account your whole household income and savings. If you you live with a partner you have to claim jointly (even if your partner is working full-time) and their income and savings will be taken into account. You can’t get Universal Credit if you and/or a partner you live with have more than £16,000 in savings or other assets.

Your Universal Credit payment is made up of a ‘basic allowance’ but you may get more money if you have children, pay for childcare, rent your home, have a disability or health condition, or if you are a carer or care for a disabled child. You will not usually get extra Universal Credit for a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017, unless an you qualify for an exception to the two-child limit.

There are no minimum number of hours you need to work in order to claim Universal Credit, however, it is a benefit that has work-related requirements, unless you are unable to work due to long-term illness or disability, caring for a disabled person or responsible for a child under 3.

Tax Credits

It is no longer possible to make a new claim for Tax Credits as they have been replaced with Universal Credit. If you try to make a new claim for Tax Credits you will be told to claim Universal Credit. You can add Working Tax Credit to an existing Child Tax Credit claim and vice versa and you can also add a new child to an existing Child Tax Credit claim, but you won’t usually be able to claim for a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017.

If you are claiming Working Tax Credit and the number of hours you work reduces below the minimum required, your Working Tax Credit entitlement will end, but you will get a four week run on. If your Working Tax Credit stops for this reason you will continue to get any Child Tax Credit you are already receiving, but you might be better off claiming Universal Credit. If your working hours increase again to the minimum required for Working Tax Credit, you can add Working Tax Credit back on to an existing Child Tax Credit claim. You should get further advice if you are in this situation as you may be better off on Universal Credit in the short-term, but could end up worse off in the long-term and you will not be able to go back on to Tax Credits if you claim Universal Credit.

You continue to be treated as working for 28 weeks if you are getting Statutory Sick Pay, New Style Employment and Support Allowance, or National Insurance Credits due to being incapable of work or having limited capability for work. You are also treated as being in paid work in other circumstances such as periods when you are being paid Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance, Statutory Paternity Pay, Statutory Shared Parental Pay or Statutory Adoption Pay.

Benefits for your children

Child Benefit

You can get Child Benefit if you are responsible for bringing up a child who is under 16, or under 20 if they are in approved education or training. Child Benefit is a set amount of £21.80 a week for your first or only child, and £14.45 a week for your second or subsequent children. You do not get extra Child Benefit if you are out of work or are on a low income but you can claim it alongside other benefits.

Healthy Start Scheme

You may be entitled to the Healthy Start scheme (Best Start foods in Scotland) if you are on benefits including Tax Credits or Universal Credit and you meet other conditions. This can help with the costs of certain items, including fruit, vegetables, milk, and infant formula.

Sure Start Maternity Grant

If you have recently had your first baby or adopted a child and don’t have other children under 16, you may be able to claim a Sure Start Maternity Grant if you are on benefits including Tax Credits or Universal Credit. If you live in Scotland, you may be able to claim a Best Start Grant instead (payable for other children too, not just your first baby, and payable at other stages in a child’s life).

Free school meals

You may qualify for free school meals if you’re on benefits, including Universal Credit, however, if you are on Tax Credits, you’ll only qualify if you get Child Tax Credit, not Working Tax Credit.

Benefits for housing costs

Housing Benefit

You cannot make a new claim for Housing Benefit unless you are over State Pension age or live in certain types of supported or temporary accommodation. If you already have an existing claim for Housing Benefit you can continue to get it unless you have a change of circumstances such as moving to a new local authority area, or you stop being entitled to Tax Credits or other means-tested benefits and need to make a new claim for Universal Credit. If you try to make a new claim for Housing Benefit you will be told to claim Universal Credit.

The housing element of Universal Credit

If you are not already on Housing Benefit and need help with rent and/or have service charges, you may be able to claim help with housing costs through the housing element of Universal Credit. The amount of help you can get with rent depends on your circumstances and may be different depending on whether you are renting from a council or housing association or from a private landlord.

Help with mortgage costs

If you pay a mortgage you may be entitled to Support for Mortgage Interest which is a DWP loan that has to be repaid. Support for Mortgage Interest is only available after 9 months on certain benefits (for Universal Credit, you must also not have any earnings). It is not part of your benefits and has to be applied for separately. 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 council tax or rates

Council Tax Reduction/Support

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.

Other Support

Help with health costs

You may be eligible for help with health costs, such as prescriptions, glasses and dental treatment if you are on benefits, including Tax Credits and Universal Credit.

Warm Homes Discount

You could get a discount off your electricity bill for winter under the Warm Home Discount Scheme if you get certain benefits or if you have a low income.

Benefit calculators and further advice

If you need advice about what you can claim if you are responsible for a child you can ring our helpline or contact us on our advice form.

To work out what benefits you might be entitled to you can use a benefits calculator.

You can also get further advice from Citizens Advice.

If you are a lone parent, you can contact GingerbreadOne Parent Families Scotland, or in Northern Ireland, GingerbreadNI.

If you are a carer, Carers UK may be able to help you. If you are an older parent or carer, you could contact Age UK.

If you need advice about benefits for families of disabled children, you can contact Contact helpline 0808 808 3555.

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 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 form or your Universal Credit online account. If you’ve missed the deadline, it is still worth asking for a mandatory reconsideration as 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. In Northern Ireland see here.


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.

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The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.

We cannot provide advice on employment rights in Northern Ireland as the law is different. You can visit the Labour Relations Agency or call their helpline Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.