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. These new rules don’t affect students who already get Universal Credit.
From that date, it is no longer 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 “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 below for more details.
Young people 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.
A recent legal challenge to the Universal Credit disabled student rules was unsuccessful. However, the Courts only considered the rules that existed before 15 December 2021 and not the new more restrictive rules.
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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 the benefits system treats them as ‘receiving education’.
Most students in full-time advanced education won’t be able to get Universal Credit. Neither will 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. 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. Make sure that you will not be worse off as a household.
When is a Universal Credit claimant treated as receiving education?
The benefits system will treat son or daughter as ‘receiving education’ if any one of the following apply to them:
- They are in full-time advanced education, such as a 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 a ‘qualifying young person’. This is someone between 16 and the 31 August after their 19th birthday and 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. This is if they are on a course incompatible 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.
- Some young people who remain in non-advanced education beyond the August after their 19th birthday.
Whether they qualify also depends on their individual circumstances. This includes what types of student income they have.
There are certain specific groups who are exempt from these restrictions. They are eligible to apply for Universal Credit despite their course. This includes:
- A student who is responsible for a child of their own.
- A young person in non-advanced education aged under 21 (or who turned 21 on their course) and without parental support. This might mean that they have no parents. Or it might mean their parents cannot 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.
A student might abandon or be dismissed from their course and establish a limited capability for work while in-between courses. (It currently takes an average of five months for a work capability assessment to take place). 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.
Young people in part-time education, whether on an advanced or non-advanced course, and who do not qualify for a maintenance grant or loan, should not be treated as receiving education. This is unless the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) believes their course is incompatible with any work-related conditions attached to their claim.
Whether your child’s course counts as part-time depends 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 its funding.
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. This is so long as the DWP doesn’t see their course 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.
Depending on your child’s disabilities, DWP staff may agree to apply only very minimal work-related requirements to their claim. They may even apply 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 is known as their work coach. They can can use their discretion to switch off any work-related conditions pending the outcome of medical assessment known as a work capability assessment. If they do, or conditions are minimal, you can argue that your child’s course isn’t therefore incompatible with their claim.
Alternatively, it may be possible to argue that the 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 be no set curriculum to follow. Some educational providers may allow a young disabled person to take time away from their course to attend DWP-organised work-related activities.
Limited capability for work and work-related activity
Please note: There is DWP assessment known as a work capability assessment. This can establish ‘a limited capability for work and work related activity’ (LCWRA). If your child goes through the assessment and establishes a LCWRA, they cannot have any work-related conditions attached to their claim. They will be in the ‘no-conditionality group’ of Universal Credit claimants.
We recommend that when your child turns 16, you make a ‘credits only’ claim for new style Employment and Support Allowance. This forces the DWP to carry out a work capability assessment. This could 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?
If your child establishes a limited capability for work and work related activity’ (LCWRA), they will be able to claim Universal Credit from the September after their 19th birthday onwards if they remain in full time non-advanced education.
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. 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, they are likely to refuse. 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 the work capability assessment. Indeed, they must do this to decide whether your son or daughter qualifies for national insurance credits to protect their future entitlement to a state pension.
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 they won’t get any actual ESA payment, it won’t impact on any Child Benefit, tax credits or any other benefits you get for them as a dependent child.
Nevertheless, it is still very important that you help them to complete this claim. This is how you ensure they get a work capability assessment. This needs to take place if they are to establish a LCWRA.
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 LCWRA, 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 won’t get this benefit.
Explain that you know they will not get new-style ESA itself. Instead, 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. They have claimed 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. 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 gets Universal Credit, they may also qualify for other help with education costs.
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 they get a bursary 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 extends to 19-year-olds if they are completing a course they started before their 19th birthday. It also extends up to age 25 where a Universal Credit recipient has an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan or a Learning Difficulty Assessment.
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