Universal Credit for young people receiving education

13 mins read

Urgent update:

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has introduced new rules to make it more difficult for most disabled students to claim Universal Credit. These new rules apply to Universal Credit claims made on or after 15 December 2021. Students who already get Universal Credit are not affected by these new rules.

From that date, it will no longer be possible for someone who is ‘receiving education’ to qualify for Universal Credit by undergoing a work capability assessment during their course and proving they have a limited capability for work.

Instead, under these new rules a disabled student who is treated as ‘receiving education’ will only normally be able to claim Universal Credit if they had established a limited capability for work before they started receiving education.

Young people who remain in full-time non-advanced education beyond the August after their 19th birthday may be able to convince the DWP not to treat them as ‘receiving education’ and thus still get Universal Credit despite being on a course. See more details.

Young people who are in full-time non-advanced education and who haven’t reached the September after their 19th birthday, alongside students in full-time advanced education, will no longer normally be able to claim Universal Credit under the new rules introduced on 15 December.

It is important to note that a court case challenging pre-existing restrictions on disabled students claiming Universal Credit was heard in late November. A judgement in this case is still to be made. Depending on the outcome of that case, the rules outlined on this page may need to be amended. We will update these pages once the outcome of that court case is published.

In this article

Introduction

There are particular rules that prevent most young people in education from being able to get Universal Credit. Your child will face difficulties getting Universal Credit if they are treated as ‘receiving education’.

As a result, most students in full-time advanced education will be refused Universal Credit, alongside young people in full-time non-advanced education who haven’t yet reached the September after their 19th birthday. See below for information on who counts as ‘receiving education’.

There are some young people in education who can still get Universal Credit despite these rules, and we explain them below.

Note: If your child does get Universal Credit in their own right, any benefits that you receive for them as a dependent child, such as Child Benefit or tax credits, will stop. Before claiming Universal Credit for a child aged 16-19 in education, get advice to make sure that you will not be left worse off as a household.

When is a Universal Credit claimant treated as receiving education? 

Your son or daughter will be treated as ‘receiving education’ if any one of the following apply to them: 

  • They are in full-time advanced education such as university course or NVQ/SVQ level 4 or above.
  • They are on another course for which a loan or grant is provided for maintenance.
  • They are classed as a ‘qualifying young person’. This is someone who is aged between 16 and the 31 August after their 19th birthday and are in full-time non-advanced education (for example a school or college course where Child benefit is payable).

Even if none of the above apply, they can still be treated as receiving education if they are on a course of education of any other type that is not compatible with any work-related requirements attached to their Universal Credit claim. 

When can a young person in education still get Universal Credit? 

There are three main groups of students who may still be able to get Universal Credit. These are certain groups of students who are exempt from the normal restrictions; part-time students; and some young people who remain in non-advanced education beyond the August after their 19th birthday.

Exempt groups

There are certain specific groups who are exempt from these restrictions and allowed to get Universal Credit. This includes:

  • A student who is responsible for a child of their own.
  • A young person in non-advanced education who is aged under 21 (or who turned 21 on their course) and who is without parental support. This means that either they have no parents or they cannot live with them as a result of being estranged or living away from them as their parents are unable to support them because they are disabled, in prison or refused entry to the UK.
  • Someone waiting to return to a course after taking time out due to illness or disability.
  • Disabled students who get Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP), but only if they have also established a limited capability for work before they started receiving education. It is no longer possible to qualify as a disabled student by establishing a limited capability for work during your course. Where a student abandons or is dismissed from their course and then manages to establish a limited capability for work while in-between courses (it currently takes an average of five months for a work capability assessment to be carried out), they should be able to get Universal Credit if they subsequently start a new course. This is because they will have established their limited capability for work before they started receiving education on their new course.

Part-time students

Young people who are in part-time education, regardless of whether this is an advanced or non-advanced course, and who do not qualify for a maintenance grant or loan, should not be treated as receiving education unless the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) believes that their course is incompatible with any work-related conditions attached to their claim.

Whether your child’s course is treated as part-time will depend on the course they are on. For non-advanced education, a course is part-time if it involves 12 or fewer hours of study per week. Different rules can apply to home education. For advanced education, whether a course is part-time will vary depending on the particular course and how it is funded.

Young people who remain in full time non-advanced education beyond the August after their 19th birthday

Someone in non-advanced education who has reached the September after their 19th birthday should be able to claim Universal credit despite being on a course, so long as their course isn’t seen as incompatible with any work-related conditions attached to their Universal Credit claim. Your son or daughter might be able to argue that the course and claim are not incompatible for two reasons.

Minimal or no work-related requirements.

Firstly, depending on your child’s disabilities, DWP staff may agree to apply only very minimal work-related requirements to their claim, or even no requirements at all.

Everyone who claims Universal Credit has a claimant commitment setting out what work-related conditions they need to meet. These conditions vary from person to person. Some claimants are expected to look for work; others may be expected to take part in training or other activities to make them more work ready. Some people may have no work-related conditions.

The DWP staff member dealing with your child’s claim (known as their work coach) can use their discretion to switch off any work-related conditions pending the outcome of medical assessment known as a work capability assessment. If there are no work-related conditions or any conditions are minimal, you should be able to argue that this means that your child’s course isn’t incompatible with their Universal Credit claim.

Flexible course

Alternatively, even if your child does have work-related conditions to meet as part of their claim, it may be possible to argue that their course is flexible enough that the course provider is happy for them to have time away from their course to undertake any work-related activities required by the DWP. This may be more likely in life skills-type courses, where there may not be any set curriculum to follow. Some educational providers may be happy for a young disabled person to take time away from their course in order to have the opportunity to attend DWP-organised work-related activities.

Limited capability for work and work-related activity

Please note that if your child goes through a DWP assessment known as a work capability assessment and establishes they have ‘a limited capability for work and work related activity’ (LCWRA), they cannot have any work-related conditions attached to their claim. This is because are placed in the no-conditionality group of Universal Credit claimants.

Because of this, Contact recommends that when your child turns 16 you make a ‘credits only’ claim for new style Employment and Support Allowance in order to force the DWP to carry out a work capability assessment and establish in advance that your child has a LCWRA (see below).

Making a ‘credits-only’ claim for new style ESA to force a work capability assessment

Why force a work capability assessment?

Establishing in advance that your child has a limited capability for work and work related activity’ (LCWRA) will ensure that if they remain in full time non-advanced education, they will be able to claim Universal Credit from the September after their 19th birthday onwards.

This is because someone who has reached that age and who remains in non-advanced education can only be treated as receiving education and refused Universal Credit if their course is incompatible with work-related conditions attached to their claim. If their claim has no such conditions, there cannot be any incompatibility.

(Note: Before 15 December 2021, any disabled student could qualify for Universal Credit by forcing a work capability assessment and establishing a limited capability for work. However due to changes in the law, establishing a limited capability for work during a course will no longer help you get Universal Credit unless your child remains in non-advanced education past the August after their 19th birthday – see more details.)

Why make a ‘credits-only’ claim for new-style ESA?

If you simply ask the DWP to carry out a work capability assessment, you are likely to find that they refuse to do so. But there is a way that you can make sure that a work capability assessment takes place. This is by completing a claim for a different benefit known as ‘new style’ Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). You will need to submit fit notes from your child’s GP as part of this process.

As part of the new-style ESA claims process, the DWP should carry out a work capability assessment to decide whether or not they are unfit to work. Indeed, they must do this in order to decide whether your son or daughter is entitled to national insurance credits to protect their future entitlement to a state pension.

Please note that unless your child has worked and paid sufficient national insurance contributions in the last two years, they won’t actually qualify for new-style ESA itself. And because a credits-only claim won’t lead to any actual ESA being paid, it won’t impact on any Child Benefit, tax credits or any other benefits you get for your son or daughter as a dependent child.

Nevertheless, it is still very important that you help them to complete this claim. Although their claim for new-style ESA will result in a nil award, this is how you ensure they are sent for a work capability assessment. This needs to take place if they are to establish that they have either a limited capability for work or a limited capability for work and work related activity.

Applying for ‘new style’ ESA with the sole intention of accessing a work capability assessment is known as making a ‘credits only’ claim for new style ESA. 

If the DWP agrees that your child does have a limited capability for work, that decision will also be binding on Universal Credit. This will help your child claim Universal Credit if they end up in a situation where they remain in non-advanced education beyond the August after their 19th birthday.

How do I make a ‘credits only’ claim for new style ESA?

A young person who has mental capacity can make an online claim from the GOV.UK website

If you are acting as an appointee for your child, the DWP will ask you to call the Universal Credit Helpline to make a claim for new style ESA. You do this by calling:

Telephone: 0800 328 5644 (choose option 3)
Textphone: 0800 328 1344 (choose option 3)
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 telephone: 0800 328 1744

Complaining about a failure to process a ‘credits only’ claim for new style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Some parents describe being talked out of making a claim for new-style ESA. Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff might tell you that there is no point in making a claim for new-style ESA as your child will be refused this benefit.

Explain that you know they will not be paid new-style ESA itself, but that you are making a ‘credits only’ claim in order to protect their national insurance record. You have a right to do this under regulation 8B(1) of the Social Security (Credits) Regulations 1975.

In a small number of cases, DWP staff have refused to help parents lodge a claim for new style ESA, claiming it is a waste of time and/or staff resources. They have refused to send the parents a link to the electronic claim form needed to complete a claim.

If this happens to you, try to remain calm and polite. Ask for the name of the worker who is refusing to facilitate a claim. Take a record of their name and the date and time of your call. Ask them for the details of where you should send a complaint to and then seek further advice from the Contact Helpline or from a local benefits advice service in your area.

Getting Universal Credit and other help with education costs in England

Once your child has been awarded Universal Credit they may also qualify for other help with education costs.

For example, a young person aged 16-18 in non-advanced education, who gets both Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment, is eligible to apply to their school or college for a vulnerable bursary of up to £1,200 per year under the 16-18 Bursary Scheme. Whether a bursary is awarded and how much may depend on the extra costs your child incurs in attending education.

A young person who qualifies for Universal Credit and who has no earnings (or earnings below certain levels) is eligible for free school meals. They are also eligible for free lunches in further education placements. This normally applies up until the age of 18. This is extended to cover 19-year-olds if they are completing a course that they started before their 19th birthday. It is also extended to up to age 25 where a Universal Credit recipient has an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan or a Learning Difficulty Assessment.