Universal Credit Guide

What is Universal Credit (UC)?

Universal Credit is a new benefit that is being introduced in stages throughout the UK. It replaces existing benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit or Tax Credits etc.

UC is mainly available to people who are unemployed or earn less than £338 a month – but you can get it in some other circumstances. Whilst Universal Credit is currently available in all Jobcentre Plus areas in Great Britain (and is due to be introduced in Northern Ireland in 2017), whether you have to claim UC in your postcode area, or the old benefits, depends on your circumstances.

Will I be moved from my current benefits to Universal Credit (UC)?

If you are already claiming benefits, your local Jobcentre Plus or Tax Credits office will let you know when you have to move to UC.

Will Universal Credit (UC) replace all other benefits?

UC will not replace all benefits. It will replace the following benefits:

Income based Jobseeker’s Allowance

Housing Benefit

Working Tax Credit

Child Tax Credit

Income related Employment and Support Allowance

Income Support

Will benefit cap apply to Universal Credit (UC)?

Yes, the benefit cap limits the total amount of UC you can get. Benefit cap already limits the total amount of benefits that are being replaced by UC.

Who is eligible to claim Universal Credit (UC)?

You may be able to claim UC if you are on low income or out of work. To get UC you must:

+ Be 18 or over

+ Be under State Pension age

+ Not be in full time education or training

+ Not have savings over £16,000

+ Have a right to reside in the UK – for EU nationals this generally means to be working or to have recently stopped work, or to have lived in the UK (working or as the dependent of a worker) for over five years – but there are exceptions. Seek advice.

Can I receive Universal Credit (UC) and work at the same time?

Yes, you can and there is no limit to the number of hours you can work a week if you get UC. Your payment will reduce gradually as you earn more. For every £1 you earn your UC payment will be reduced by 65p.

Can I still apply for current benefits or do I have to apply for Universal Credit (UC)?

Your Jobcentre Plus can advise you whether you have to apply for UC or the older benefits. Whether you have to claim UC depends on the postcode area you live in and your circumstances. Contact us for advice.

Will Housing benefit be the part of Universal Credit (UC)?

Yes, Housing Benefit is part of UC. If you qualify for UC, it will be paid into your bank account as a monthly payment and you will have to arrange to start paying your own rent directly to your landlord. You will need to be careful not to spend the UC that is for your rent on your living expenses.

How Universal Credit (UC) will be paid?

Universal Credit is paid differently from other benefits. It will be paid once a month, usually into your bank account. You will have to make sure that you can manage your own budget and pay your rent on time.

Who can apply for Universal Credit

If you’re single

You can apply for Universal Credit wherever you live in England, Scotland or Wales. You must also meet the other conditions listed below unless you live in an area where these don’t apply.

If you’re in a couple or have a family

You will only be able to apply for Universal Credit in some areas of the UK. You must also meet the other conditions listed below unless you live in an area where these don’t apply.

The first thing you should do is see if you live in a Jobcentre area that accepts applications from couples and families. Follow these steps:

1.Find your nearest Jobcentre

2. Check the list of Jobcentres that accept applications from couples or people with children to find out if your nearest Jobcentre is on the list.

If you can’t apply for Universal Credit, you should look at other benefits – use the Turn2us benefits checker to see what you can apply for or contact East European Resource Centre on 0208 741 1288.

If you’re from a European country

Your eligibility will depend on your personal circumstances and how much you’ve worked in the UK.

You’re likely to be eligible if you’ve had steady work in the UK and you’ve recently stopped working or you’re now earning less. You probably won’t be eligible if you haven’t worked much since moving to the UK.

You’ll still need to meet all the other eligibility rules as well as the right to reside rules.

The ‘right to reside’ rules

You’re only eligible if you meet the ‘right to reside’ rules.

The ’right to reside’ test is a complicated set of rules that determine whether or not you’ll get Universal Credit.

You should make an application if you’re from a European country and you think you meet the rules, even if you’re not completely sure. You’ll be told whether or not you’re eligible.

The rules are different depending on your work history and your personal circumstances. The main categories are:

+ worker

+ self-employed

+ student

+ people responsible for children (eg parents)

+ self-sufficient people

There are other ways to have the ‘right to reside’ that aren’t listed here.

Welfare benefits Guide

I have just arrived in the UK. Can I apply for welfare benefits?

From 1 January 2014, if you come to the UK from abroad and would like to claim certain benefits, you must have been living in the UK for at least three months in order to satisfy the conditions of a test, known as the habitual residence test (HRT). EU citizens who are in the UK for at least three months and are working have similar access to the benefits as UK citizens.

From 1 March 2014, you will be asked to show that for the three months before your benefit claim your gross earnings from your work have been at least at the level at which employees start paying national insurance contributions, £156 per week from 6 April 2016. This rule also applies to self-employed.

How do I find out which benefits I can claim?

You can use an independent benefits calculator to find out what benefits you might qualify for. Visit http://benefits-calculator.turn2us.org.uk/AboutYou to find out more.

EEA jobseekers cannot claim means-tested Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), Universal Credit, Child Benefit, or Child Tax Credit within the first three months of arriving in the UK.

I have low income. What benefits can I apply for?

You can apply for tax credits that are designed to supplement the incomes of people who are bringing up children or working but are on low income. These tax credits include Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.

You can also apply for Housing Benefit to help you cover your rent payments and Council Tax Support to help you cover your council tax bill.

You can make a claim for Universal Credit. UC is a one single benefit that you apply for and receive, instead of a number of various payments but you have to live in a Universal Credit post code area.

Working Tax Credit

You may be entitled to Working Tax Credit if:

+ You or your partner is working enough hours a week and your income is below certain level.

+ You are over 25 years old with or without children.

+ You’re aged from 16 to 24 and have a child or a qualifying disability

You don’t need to have children to qualify. How much you receive depends on your income and circumstances.

Working Tax Credit is now included in Universal Credit for all new claimants.

Child Tax Credit

You may be entitled to Child Tax Credit for each child you are responsible for if they are:

+ under 16 years old

+ under 20 years old and stay in approved education or training

You are usually responsible for a child if they:

+ live with you all the time

+ they normally live with you and you are the main carer

+ they live in Europe but are financially dependent on you

You don’t need to be working to claim Child Tax Credit

How much you receive depends on your income and circumstances.

Child Tax Credit is now included in Universal Credit for all new claimants.

Child Benefit

You should normally qualify for Child Benefit if you are responsible for a child:

+ under 16

+ under 20 if they stay in approved education or training. Visit https://www.gov.uk/child-benefit-16-19 to find out which courses are approved.

+ you also have to live in the UK.

Remember that only one person can get Child Benefit for a child.

You will immediately stop receiving Child Benefit if your child:

+ Stops attending approved education or training

+ Starts paid work for 24 hours a week

+ Starts receiving certain benefits in their own right.

I disagree with my benefit decision, what should I do?

If you disagree with your benefit decision, there is usually an option of appeal. This will, however, depend on the type of benefit you have applied for and the date the decision was made.

Usually, you have to make an appeal within one month of the date of a decision about most benefits. The first stage of an appeal process is called mandatory reconsideration.

Once you have asked for a mandatory reconsideration within a month of the date of a decision, your original decision will be reconsidered. You will receive a mandatory reconsideration notice informing you whether the decision has been changed.

If you are not satisfied with the outcome, you can appeal to the tribunal within one month of the date of your mandatory reconsideration notice.

My benefits have stopped, what can I do?

This depends which benefits are affected. Some benefits, for example Jobseekers’ Allowance, stop automatically after 6 months unless you can prove that you have genuine chance of finding job that has to be evidenced by a job interview letter or a job offer. Others are linked to your level of income. DWP, HMRC or local authorities should explain a reason for changes in your benefit, usually in the letter they send you to let you know about the change.

I have received a letter saying my benefit has been overpaid and I am not sure what to do?

There could be a few reasons for benefit to be overpaid. This might be a mistake made by the benefit office, or the fact you didn’t inform them about your change of circumstances.

The benefit office should always give reasons why you have been overpaid. This is usually done in the form of a letter. If you think the reasons presented are not correct, you may contact the benefit office and ask for explanation. You can also provide relevant information and evidence in support of your claim. In most cases, this should sort out the problem. In case if the department doesn’t change their decision, you have again one month from the date of the decision letter to request a review.

Remember that different rules apply for different benefits.

For overpayments of (most) benefits paid by the Department for Work and Pensions issued after 28 October 2013, you should ask for a mandatory reconsideration of the decision before you can appeal it.

To dispute a Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction overpayment, contact your local authority.

To dispute an overpayment of Tax Credits or Child Benefit, contact HMRC.

To find out more about overpayments, please visit https://www.gov.uk/benefit-overpayments for more information.

I’m looking for work. Can I get Jobseekers’ Allowance?

If you are unemployed but capable of work, you may be able to apply for Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), if you meet certain conditions.

You are 18 or over but below state pension age, you are not in full-time education and you must have £16,000 or less in savings.

You will normally have to live in the UK for at least 3 months before – you will be accepted as habitually resident/ you can pass the ‘habitual residence test’(HRT) in order to claim income-based Jobseekers’ Allowance during this period. This is because from 1 January 2014 you will not be able to satisfy the conditions of the HRT until you have been living in the UK for at least three months.

To claim JSA, you must either not be working at all, or working less than 16 hours a week.

You will have to actively look for work, be available to work, have a genuine chance of finding it and commit to the current Jobseekers’ Agreement or Claimant Commitment with the Jobcentre Plus Office.

Usually, once you are able to claim income-based Jobseekers’ Allowance as a jobseeker you can only have jobseeker status and claim benefit for 6 months. Your benefit may stop after 6 months if you do not provide evidence that you have a genuine chance of finding work. You will have to prove your genuine chance of finding work by providing a job offer or have a letter inviting you to dated job interviews. If you pass this test, your JSA may be extended for further three months but will stop after that.

Full-time students can’t usually get JSA until their course has officially finished – check the date with your college or university. You may be able to claim JSA during the summer holiday if you have children.

Part-time students. You can get JSA while studying part time (including part-time Open University courses) as long as:

+ you take a job if it’s offered to you

+ you do everything you can to look for work, as agreed with your work coach in Jobcentre Plus.If you want to take a short course (2 weeks or less), check with your work coach before you start.

Income based Jobseekers Allowance is now included in Universal Credit for all new claimants where full (digital) UC service applies.

Due to changes in law from 1 Apr 2014 you will not be able to claim housing benefit with your JSA unless you have a permanent residence status in the UK or you were a worker or self-employed person earning minimum £156 per week three months prior to your JSA claim.]

I am sick or disabled, or I look after someone who is – can I get any help?

You cannot receive Jobseekers’ Allowance if you are too ill to work. If you are too ill to work, you may be able to get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or other benefits for people who are sick or disabled.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)is a benefit for people aged 16-64 who are ill or disabled, and are unable to work.

You may be eligible for ESA if: 

+ you are under State Pension age

+ you do not receive Statutory Sick Pay or Statutory Maternity Pay

+ you do not receive Jobseekers’ Allowance

You can apply for ESA if you are employed, self-employed, unemployed or a student on Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment.

Remember, that there are certain rules when claiming ESA if you work.

Usually your ESA is not affected if you:

+work and earn up to £20 a week

+ work and earn up to £115.50 a week doing work as part of a treatment programme, local council or voluntary organisation

+ work less than 16 hours, and earn up to £104 a week for up to 52 weeks. This is called ‘permitted work’

There are two types of ESA, contribution-based ESA and income-related ESA. First one is based on your National Insurance contributions and the second one is based on your income and capital.

How much you will receive depends on your circumstances, for example your income, the type of ESA you qualify (that is what group you will be placed in) and finally where you are in the assessment process.

For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance/overview

Income based Employment and Support Allowance is now included in Universal Credit for all new claimants where full (digital) UC service applies. See our Universal Credit guide here . (link) 

Rights at Work Guide

At the moment, all EU citizens (except Croatians) are allowed to work freely in the UK, without a work permit or certificate to prove their right. There are 3 ways of working, for tax and employment purposes:

+ Employed

+ Self-employed

+ Worker

It is really important to know which of these 3 is your status in your workplace, to be able to pay the right taxes, and be able to understand what are your rights.

How do you know? It should say in your contract, if it doesn’t, you can check different criterias as well: who decides how the work is done, how regular the payment is, or who provides materials.

Please have a look at the self-employed section to see the definition of self-employment.

National Minimum Wage (NMW)

Most workers in the UK entitled to be paid at least NMW – an hourly rate, differs depending on the employee’s age. It changes each April.

Not entitled:

+ Volunteers

+ Self – employed

+ Students and others on work experience placements

+ Company directors

Non-family members living in the employer’s home who share in the work and leisure activities, are treated as one of the family and aren’t charged for meals or accommodation, for example au pairs.

Service charges, tips must be paid in addition to the NMW, not as a part of NMW. Employee should know how these will be paid e.g. cash at the end of a shift; weekly, divided between all the staff; monthly in their pay packet.






Contracts for payments below the minimum wage are not legally binding. The worker is still entitled to the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage. It’s a criminal offence for employers to not pay someone the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage, or to fake payment records.

Contract of employment

A contract is full terms and conditions of employment. A legally binding agreement between an employer and an employee which is formed when: an employee accepts the offer of employment in return for pay and both parties intend to create legal relations.

Verbal contracts are legal. Written statement of employment particulars is minimum. By law, employer must set out the main employment terms & conditions in a written statement (up to 2 months) and it should cover:

+ Name of employer and employee

+ Address of employe

+ Date employment will begin/ began

+ Job title / description

+ All pay details including pay dates and intervals of pay, bonus and overtime details, sick and holiday pay

+ Hours of work/ working time

+ Holiday entitlement

+ Job location

+ Details of any collective agreement that may affect employee’s conditions of employment

A contract doesn’t  need to include:

+ Too obvious to mention (stealing)

+ Necessary to make the contract workable (driver – driving licence)

+ Customs, practice within organisation

+ Company policies and rules (handbook)

+ Statutory rights (SMP, SSP)


If you start working for yourself you’re self-employed – even if you haven’t yet told HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). You’re probably self-employed if you:

+ run your business for yourself and take responsibility for its success or failure

+ have several customers at the same time can decide how, where and when you do your work

+ can hire other people at your own expense to help you or to do the work for you

+ provide tools

+ are responsible for finishing any unsatisfactory work in your own time charge an agreed fixed price for your work

HMRC says:

+ There is a low indication of substitution.

+ There is a high indication of control over the worker.

+ There is a high indication of financial risk.

The table below explains the difference between different types of work:

Types of work

Bogus (false) self – employment

Bogus self-employment is a situation when a person who should have an employee status is asked by employer to register as self-employed. False self-employment means that your employer won’t have to pay you National Minimum Wage, sick pay, holiday pay or maternity pay.

At the moment only Employment Tribunal can confirm the status as employee if e.g.:

+ you are required to work regularly unless you are on leave

+ you are paid hourly rate

+ you’re required to do a minimum number of hours

+ your manager decides when and how you work

+ you can’t send someone else to do your work

+ your employer provides the materials and equipment for your work.

Umbrella companies

If you work in the construction industry, chances are that you are employed by an umbrella company. This is not ideal as these companies have hidden fees and you might loose money.

How can you spot them:

+ Job is advertised with pay £12 per hour but workers are paid NMW (expenses, “performance related pay”)

+ Wage slips are confusing and hard to understand.

+ Holiday pay is included in the hourly rate

+ Most contracts are for zero hours

+ A fee of up to £30 a week is taken from the pay weekly to pay for the umbrella company’s services

+ The worker is required to pay both the employers’ and employees national insurance contributions (25% of eligible earnings)

The right to work of EU citizens in the UK will change after the UK exits the EU next year on 20 March 2019. Please find out more, by reading our Brexit guide here.

Stop changes to NHS up-front charging!

We call all Eastern Europeans, our supporters and all members of the general public to sign in the petition to stop changes to the way how NHS charges for health services. To add your name to the list of signatories before the 2nd of October 2017 please go here. Do not wait – it is in your interest.

The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, MP, Secretary of State for Health lays before the Parliament the changes to the way how NHS charges people with no right to free health services. We believe that many of Eastern Europeans can be adversely affected by these changes.

What do these changes mean?

Changes mean that the NHS will apply up-front charges to everyone who may be not eligible for free NHS treatments. GP and A&E services would stay free for everyone. We believe that there is a significant group of people who would suffer from these changes. Among them are disadvantaged and vulnerable people, such as older people, mental health sufferers, people fleeing domestic violence and modern slavery, and those who are excluded and exploited.

A patient approaching a NHS service will have to evidence that they have right to use services without cost. It means, for example, presenting residency documents, visas, proof of living and working in the UK and so on.

We believe that there are other, more efficient ways of ensuring that patients have or don’t have a right to the free NHS services. We, as well as many of our friends in other charities, civic organisations and members of the general public, would be happy to consult with the government on how to enable fair access to the free NHS services. We don’t think that up-front charging is the right approach.

There is a number of issues with this approach.

Firstly, some non-British citizens may have problems evidencing their right to free NHS service. Among those may be older people, the homeless, people with mental health issues and learning disabilities, young migrants and refugees, victims of human trafficking, and others who experience disadvantage or vulnerability.

For example, a Polish woman who is fleeing domestic violence may feel she is not eligible for the free health service because for the last few years she has been a stay-at-home mum supported by her partner, so now her right to reside can be challenged. It shouldn’t matter but she doesn’t know the law well and fears that whatever she does, she would be charged. She may have left all her documents at the premises she fled from so she can’t even evidence that she is an EU national. If she suffered physical and mental traumas as a result of domestic violence, she needs to access specialist services.

Secondly, we believe that not every non-British citizen living in the UK would know what paperwork is necessary to prove the right to free health service. It may mean that many of them would voluntarily pull out of the health system. It’s not potentially dangerous only for them but also for all of us.

For example, a Lithuanian man who suffers from TB may have doubts if he is eligible for the free service and to avoid high up-front charges he may choose not to go to the specialist service. TB is a highly infectious disease. TB sufferers who are not treated spread the disease to all of us.

Thirdly, we believe that the pressure put on the NHS personnel would adversely affect the services’ capacity to provide treatments and care needed. The NHS staff will, in effect, be required to conduct immigration checks on potential patients. To avoid unintended racial profiling (i.e. making judgements about person’s nationality and race based on superficial indicators, like the colour of skin, an accent or sounding of the name) NHS people would have to check everyone. Time and effort consumed by this exercise should be spend in providing high-quality services to patients. There is a risk it would cause additional queuing and delays.

For example, a Slovak man has been residing in the UK for the last 12 years. Because his name indicate an origin other than British and he may speak with feint Slovak accent, the NHS staff may be poised to control his immigration status to establish if he needs to be charged up-front or not. As he is an EU national, he doesn’t have a visa or other immigration document (he doesn’t need to) so he needs to present a portfolio of documents proving his work and residence. Regardless of how well trained the NHS person dealing with him is, the process would take at least half an hour to an hour. If he has a patchy employment history, for example a bit of employment and a bit of self-employment, and he moved house a lot, this process can take two or more hours. This is time that could have been spent on supporting other patients.

We have faith that there are other ways of ensuring that the free NHS services are accessed only by those people who have a right to do so. But up-front charging is not one of them. Please sign the petition here – let’s work with the government to find a better way.

Good news: Free English Classes at East European Resource Centre

Good news everyone! After spending a few months finding the perfect English teacher (we did, two of them), we are now finally able to provide free English classes for Eastern Europeans, in our offices.

We know that the most important step towards integration and leading a fulfilled life as full members of the community, is for people to speak English. We are very happy to announce that our free classes, funded by the Big Lottery Fund will start in October.

There will be several classes per week, as follows:

Intensive day-time classes (2 x 2h per week, 4.5 weeks)

  • Beginners – Mondays and Thursdays between 10.15 am and 12.15 pm; first group starts 9 October, second group starts in November
  • English for job seekers: pre-intermediate level – Mondays and Thursdays between 12.45 pm and 2.45 pm; first group starts 9 October, second group starts in November

Evening classes (2h per week for 10 weeks)

  • Beginners – Mondays 6pm to 8pm, start on 9 October
  • English for job seekers: pre-intermediate level – Wednesday between 6 pm and 8 pm, start on the 10 October

All interested learners have to attend an entry test dayThis is just to asses people’s levels of English. The tests for groups starting 9 October will be held on 4 October, between 3 pm and 6pm. We will ask learners to fill in a short grammar test and have a short conversation with tutors to assess both grammatical and oral fluency.

Anyone interested in learning more please call the office on 020 8741 1288 Monday to Friday between 9.30 am and 5 pm, send email at english@eerc.org.uk or ask during our drop-in surgeries every Monday and Thursday mornings.

The classes are open to all Eastern European nationals of working age, willing to improve their career or looking to get back into work and who are on low income.


East European Resource Centre
POSK, Ravenscourt Park
238 – 246 King Street
London, W6 0RF