If you’re part of a couple and are claiming Universal Credit, you’ll need to submit a joint claim rather than applying for it on your own.
This rule doesn’t just apply to married couples and civil partners – the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) counts two people as being in a couple if they are living together as if they were married.
Here, we explain what Universal Credit is, how it works when you are in a couple and some points you might want to consider around managing your money together.
What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is a benefit to help you with your living costs if you are on a low income or unable to work. It was fully rolled out in December 2018 to replace six legacy benefits, including:
- Child Tax Credit
- Housing Benefit
- Income Support
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Working Tax Credit
Unlike previous benefits schemes, Universal Credit is paid to a household in a single payment, rather than individuals, and is made up of a standard allowance plus any additional elements you are eligible for.
Universal Credit is paid monthly or twice a month for some people in Scotland. If you live in Northern Ireland, there is a different process you will need to go through via Universal Credit in Northern Ireland. If you are over 18 and are living in the UK, you and your partner may be eligible if:
- You are on a low income or out of work
- You are under State Pension age (if you are State Pension age you may be eligible for Pension Credit – you can read more about this in Pension Credit Explained)
- You do not have more than £16,000 in joint savings
If you want to find out more about Universal Credit, and how to claim it, have a look at our guide to Everything you need to know about Universal Credit.
How is universal credit worked out for a couple?
If you are living with your partner, regardless if you are married or not, your Universal Credit payment will be joint, and you will receive a single standard allowance for both of you, plus any additional elements you are entitled to.
Your joint Universal Credit is worked out in three steps:
1. Your household’s maximum Universal Credit amount is calculated: If you and your partner are eligible for Universal Credit, you will be given a single Standard Allowance for both of you. For a couple over 25, the Standard Allowance is currently £596.58 per month. You may also be eligible for certain additional elements which will supplement the total amount you receive, dependent on your situation. These include housing element, child element, disabled child element, disabled child element, limited capability for work and work-related activity element and carer for a severely disabled person element.
2. Your and your partner’s earnings, income and money from savings are taken into account: Money may be taken off the maximum amount depending on your income. Any savings between £6,000 and £16,000 will mean you receive a reduced Universal Credit amount, and if you have savings of more than £16,000 you won’t be eligible to make a claim.
3. Deductions are made: Money may be taken out of your Universal Credit entitlement before it reaches your bank account to:
- pay back any advances or loans you have taken out
- pay back any debt or overpayment on other benefits
- pay your utility bills direct to the provider
- for child maintenance payments (if arranged through the Child Maintenance Service).
How is a joint Universal Credit claim paid?
Universal Credit is designed to prepare people for getting back into work so is paid monthly (or twice a month if you are in Scotland), as this is how most people will be paid once they start working.
Your joint Universal Credit payment will usually be paid into a single account, either a joint account you have with your partner, or an account held in one of your names.
It is important to jointly decide what account your money will go into, and only make the decision if you are comfortable with it, not because you have been forced into it.
If neither of you likes the idea of the money going into an account held in one of your names and you don’t yet have one, a joint account can make it easier to budget and gives you both access to your money. So, if you and your partner are aligned with your views on money, can budget effectively together and can talk about your finances constructively without conflict this could be a good option. A joint account might not be so good for you and your partner if either one of you has a problem with overspending, or has a poor credit history. When you open a joint account with someone and their score is particularly low, this could impact yours and affect your ability to borrow money further down the line.
There are several free budgeting tools available that can help you work out how much you’re earning and spending – for example, the Money Advice Service’s Budget Planner and the Citizens Advice Budgeting Tool.
Other payment options if you are worried about joint payments
If having a single Universal Credit payment is causing issues, and you don’t want to open a joint bank account with your partner, it may be possible to have your payment split between the two of you through what’s known as an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA).
You will need to ask your Jobcentre Plus to do this for you and they do not have to agree to do it. APAs are there to prevent financial harm, so if your issues are simply that you struggle to budget effectively together, it is unlikely that they will split your payment. The situations where your payment might be split are if:
- One of you has a problem with overspending or trouble managing money and it is causing financial issues
- It is in the best interest of a child or children you’re responsible for
Other potential arrangements include:
- Paying housing costs portion of your payment directly to the landlord
- Organising more frequent rather than monthly payments
It’s important to know that if your partner is taking the whole payment and not giving you any access to money, this is financial abuse and domestic abuse. You do not need to suffer in silence, and there are a number of places you can turn for help. For example, in every JobCentre Plus there are trained domestic abuse support officers who can help you deal with these situations. You can also talk to your work coach, or call the Universal Credit Helpline (0800 328 5644).
How will claiming Universal Credit affect your or your partner’s current benefits?
Universal Credit has been brought in to replace six legacy benefits and while anyone who has been receiving these legacy benefits will continue to do so, anyone applying for new benefits, or whose circumstances have changed, can only make a claim for Universal Credit.
So, if you or your partner is currently receiving any of the legacy benefits and you want to apply for Universal Credit as a couple, your legacy benefits will stop once you start the Universal Credit claim process.
It’s also important to know that you won’t be able to claim Universal Credit and tax credits at the same time. So, If either of you currently claims tax credits you should contact the Tax Credit Helpline (0345 300 3900) or write to the Tax Credit Office to tell them you have claimed Universal Credit as a couple.
How will your Universal Credit claim be affected if one of you is working?
Universal Credit is designed to make sure you are better off working than claiming benefits, so if you or your partner gets a job, your benefits will be gradually reduced in line with your new household income – for every £1 you earn, your payment will be reduced by 63p.
If you or your partner is responsible for a child or young person or are living with a disability or health condition that affects your ability to work, you should be eligible for a work allowance, which is the amount you can earn before your benefits payments are reduced. This allowance is reduced if you get help with housing costs.
If you get help with housing costs, your monthly work allowance should be £292. If you don’t get help with housing costs your monthly work allowance is £512.
The best way to see how getting a new job could affect the amount you get is to use one of the government recommended benefits calculators. These include Turn2us, which can assess your eligibility for benefits through its Turn2us benefits calculator or by phone on 0808 802 2000. The site Entitledto.co.uk also has a free benefits calculator which you can use to see what you qualify for. Policy in Practice also has a benefit and budgeting calculator to show you how much you are eligible for, how earning may impact your budget, and how changes in your household budget can affect your income.
It’s very important that you tell the Department for Work and Pensions if you or your partner has started work as this may change the benefits you are entitled to.
How will it affect your Universal Credit claim if one of you is over State Pension Age?
Universal Credit is only available for those between 16 and State Pension Age, with Pension Credit available for those who have reached this age.
The rules are slightly different however if you are in a mixed-aged couple, with one of you over State Pension Age and one under. In this situation, you can continue to claim Universal Credit until you both reach State Pension Age, at which point you would need to start claiming Pension Credit if you needed to.
You can find out more about Pension Credit in our article Pension Credit explained.
Will sanctions affect the amount you both get?
When you make your claim for Universal Credit, you will sign a Claimant Commitment, in which you will agree what you will do to prepare for and look for work, or increase your earnings. If you do not do these mandatory activities, sanctions can be imposed, which will reduce the amount of benefits you receive for a period of time.
As a couple, if either of you, or both of you, receive a sanction, the reduction will be applied to the joint payment you receive.
Further help and advice
If you need any further help or advice on your Universal Credit claim, you can call the Universal Credit helpline on:
- Telephone: 0800 328 5644
- Textphone: 0800 328 1344
- Relay UK (if you cannot hear or speak on the phone): 18001 then 0800 328 5644
- Video relay service for British Sign Language (BSL) users – check you can use this service
- Welsh language: 0800 328 1744
- Monday to Friday, 8 am to 6 pm
Have you recently made a joint Universal Credit claim for the first time or do you have any tips for those applying for Universal Credit as a couple? If so, we’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the money conversation on our Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.