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 to get them. You've probably heard of some, such as New Style Jobseeker's Allowance or New Style Employment and Support Allowance.

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. Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance are still claimed on their own, but elements of them are covered by Universal Credit. To find out more, contact Citizen’s Advice.

What is Universal Credit?

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

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

  • Housing Benefit (unless you are in supported, sheltered or temporary housing)
  • 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 Contribution based JSA  were not replaced by Universal Credit and are not included in these legacy benefits. You can’t make new claims for them. However, if you’re already receiving them, they’ll carry on until either their end date or until your circumstances change.

If you're currently getting one or more legacy benefits and your circumstances change, you might have to claim 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 NI credits from the last two to three years. They can be paid alongside Universal Credit if you qualify for them. However, if you get them, 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:

  • live in England, Wales or Scotland
  • have less than £16,000 in money and 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. It is usually better to wait to be moved over to Universal Credit, instead of claiming Universal Credit yourself. This is because once you claim Universal Credit, you can’t go back to claiming legacy benefits.  You cannot make a new claim for any of the legacy benefits.

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 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, call our free Helpline on 0800 319 6789.

If you want to claim Pension Credit or pension age Housing Benefit but your partner is under State Pension age, you may have to claim working-age benefits even if you are above State Pension age.

Once you both reach State Pension age, your Universal Credit will 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 can also apply by phone, by calling the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644. You may also be able to 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.

If you're worried that you cannot apply for Universal Credit without help, Citizens Advice have a Help to Claim service that you can use.

To apply you need to prove your identity, and your partner's identity if you have one. To do this, you will usually be asked to provide two of the following:

  • your national insurance number
  • your last payslip
  • a valid passport
  • your last P60
  • a valid driving licence with your photo on it
  • information on your tax credits.

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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