What are working-age benefits?

Working-age benefits are a range of benefits you can claim if you're below State Pension age and you meet the criteria. You've probably heard of some, such as Jobseeker's Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance or Working Tax Credit. Most people claiming working-age benefits will have to claim through Universal Credit, which replaced the old system of claiming and receiving each benefit separately.

Since May 2019, you may have to claim working-age benefits even if you're above State Pension age. If your partner hasn't reached State Pension age, neither of you will qualify for Pension Credit. This means you'll have to apply for working-age benefits instead.

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a means-tested monthly payment that could help if you're on a low income or out of work. You have to meet some extra criteria to qualify for it, for example, you usually have to be looking for work if you’re under State Pension age.

Universal Credit replaces the following benefits (called legacy benefits):

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

Contribution-based ESA and JSA aren't part of Universal Credit, and are not included as legacy benefits. You can’t make new claims for them. However, if you’re already receiving them, they’ll carry on until either the end date or until your circumstances change.

If your circumstances change, you'll need to apply for Universal Credit. In some situations, you may also qualify for the New Style ESA and New Style JSA. These are based on your National Insurance contributions and are paid alongside Universal Credit if you qualify for them. However, they’ll be considered when calculating how much Universal Credit you’re entitled to.

Who can claim Universal Credit

To qualify for Universal Credit, you must:

  • be on a low income, or not working
  • have less than £16,000 in savings, including your partner's savings, if you have one
  • be below State Pension age, or have a partner who's below State Pension age.

If you're currently claiming any of the legacy benefits listed earlier (apart from contribution-based and New Style ESA and JSA), you'll eventually be moved to Universal Credit. You don't need to do anything now. You cannot make a new claim for any of the legacy benefits, you'll need to claim Universal Credit instead.

Check if you should be applying for Universal Credit by using the Citizens Advice eligibility checker.

What happens when you reach State Pension age

If you and your partner (if you have one) are over State Pension age, you'll be able to make a claim for Pension Credit. See our guide on Pension Credit.

If you're part of a mixed-age couple – where one of you is below State Pension age – you’ll be considered as a ‘working age’ couple, so you’ll have to claim Universal Credit instead. This may be significantly lower than Pension Credit. If you think this might affect you, contact Citizens Advice.

Once you both reach State Pension age, your Universal Credit would stop and you may be able to claim Pension Credit or other benefits. Find out what you could be entitled to by using our Benefits calculator or calling our Helpline to arrange a benefits check.

How to apply for Universal Credit

You usually need to apply online for Universal Credit. You may be able to apply over the phone or get someone to visit you at home if you:

  • have a sight impairment
  • have a long term physical disability or mental health condition
  • have a physical condition that stops you from using a computer or smartphone
  • can't read or write.

To apply you need to prove your identity, and your partner's identity if you have one. You'll also need to provide information about your income and assets, such as savings or investments.

Next steps

Find out more about Universal Credit online or by calling the Universal Credit helpline.

You can also contact your local Citizens Advice for more information.

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