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Accessing Universal Credit and other Social Welfare Benefits

Find out the latest information on claiming benefits during the COVID-19 outbreak

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This page was updated on 10 July 2020.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic there have been changes to the entitlements and related benefits available to support individuals. Please visit the Department for Work and Pensions’ dedicated website for regular updates. In this article you will find information on eligibility and how to claim.  

If you have lost your job or are working reduced hours you may be able to claim: 

  • Universal Credit(UC)
  • New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance (New Style JSA)
  • New Style Employment and Support Allowance (New Style ESA)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

For information on all schemes see here.  

Additional measures for COVID-19   

On 31st March 2020, the Chancellor announced that from April for claimants over 25 years: 

  • The Universal Credit Standard Allowance for the next 12 months to be increased by £1,000 a year
  • Working Tax Credit Standard Allowance for the next 12 months to be increased by £1,045 a year 
  • For private renters, the Housing Allowance element of Universal Credit is being increased to cover up to 30% of rent for people claiming benefits.

The Minimum Income Floor has been temporarily relaxed during the coronavirus outbreak. This change applies to all Universal Credit claimants and will last for the duration of the outbreak. 

If you need to claim Universal Credit, New Style ESA or ESA because of coronavirus, you will not be required to produce medical evidence to start your claim. Depending on your circumstances you may need to provide medical evidence later. You should begin your online claim as soon as possible. 

If you are affected by coronavirus, you will be able to apply for Universal Credit and can receive up to a month’s advance upfront without physically attending a jobcentre. If you are suffering from coronavirus – or have been advised to stay at home in line with government guidelines – and want to apply for ESA, the usual 7 waiting days for new claimants will not apply. ESA will be payable from day one. 

People who may use these schemes during the Coronavirus pandemic  

  • Freelancers not in a union and who do not qualify for their union hardship funds
  • Self-employed people experiencing a drop in their income. There is no limit on continuing to work whilst receiving Universal Credit, but the amount of UC you receive may be reduced. If you are self-employed but also work for an employer, you should seek Job Retention Scheme
  • Temporary, Zero Hours Contract or agency workers not on PAYE scheme with no recourse to being furloughed.
  • Self-employed directors for more than 12 months who pay themselves via dividends not salary, and do not qualify for the Job Retention Scheme.
  • Self-employed directors for less than 12 months and who do not qualify for the Self-Employed Income Support Grant Scheme.
  • Those who have recently been made redundant.  
  • Couples who are both self-employed can claim UC jointly into a single bank account.

Universal Credit  

Universal Credit (UC) is a monthly payment made for low-income workers or unemployed.  To be eligible, you must be: 

  • Under state pension age
  • Over 18 years old
  • Low or no income
  • Less than £16k in savings
  • Live in the UK

Full Rates for Extra Amounts for Children, Disability or Health Conditions and Rental Housing Costs can be found here.  

Due to COVID-19, people are advised to make their Universal Credit claim online. You’ll need: 

  • Your bank, building society or credit union account details (call the Universal Credit helpline if you do not have one)
  • An email address
  • Information about your housing, for example how much rent you pay
  • Details of your income, for example payslips
  • Details of savings and any investments, like shares or a property that you rent out
  • Details of how much you pay for childcare if you’re applying for help with childcare costs

You also must verify your identity online with proof of identity, for example your: driving licence, passport, debit or credit card. You do not need to call DWP to arrange an appointment and you shouldn’t attend the jobcentre unless directed to do so for an exceptional purpose. DWP will never text or email asking for personal information or bank details. 

Information is available here for new claimants and here for existing claimants. While more face-to-face meetings are expected to be introduced as lockdown restrictions are eased, wherever possible, customers are encouraged to continue using telephone, email and journal messaging to communicate with Jobcentre staff.

If you cannot use digital services at all, Universal Credit applications can still be made over the phone via the Universal Credit helpline: 0800 328 5644.  

It can take up to five weeks to receive the first payment, so apply sooner rather than later. Universal Credit is paid once a month.  

New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance (New Style JSA) 

To claim this benefit you must be unemployed or working for less than 16 hours per week. This can be claimed with or instead of universal credit. To qualify you must have paid National Insurance for two full years prior. Your personal savings or the income of your partner will not affect your ability to claim, but your pension may be considered. Applicants will need to take reasonable steps to look for work while following the guidance on working safely during coronavirus. For full details on eligibility and to apply for New Style JSA, see here 

New Style Employment and Support Allowance (New Style ESA)  

If you have a disability or illness that affects your ability to work, you may be able to claim this benefit. This can be claimed with or instead of universal credit. To qualify you must have been working and paid National Insurance in the past 2-3 full years prior. Your personal savings or the income of your partner will not affect your ability to claim, but your pension may be considered. If you are unable to claim Statutory Sick pay, but you or your child is ill, you are self-isolating from Coronavirus, or been identified as high risk by the NHS, then you may be able to claim this benefit. More information on eligibility can be seen here. 

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) 

If you have a disability or illness that affects how much you can work, you may be able to claim this benefit. You cannot claim at the same time as Job Seekers Allowance or whilst receiving Statutory Sick Pay; but you can work AND claim this benefit although restrictions apply. Additional information on eligibility can be seen here


Related benefits and entitlements  

If you are eligible for Universal Credit or any other benefit, you may also be entitled to discounts and grants from utility companies. Many are working with customers to provide support. Examples are given below:  


More information is available on the UK Government’s Coronavirus Business Support website. For more personalised advice call us on: 0161 237 4128 or email us at: 

The information provided is meant as a general guide only rather than advice or assurance. GC Business Growth Hub does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information and professional guidance should be sought on all aspects of business planning and responses to the coronavirus. Use of this guide and toolkit are entirely at the risk of the user. Any hyperlinks from this document are to external resources not connected to the GC Business Growth Hub and The Growth Company is not responsible for the content within any hyperlinked site.


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