Universal Credit for young people receiving education

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There are particular rules that make it more difficult to get Universal Credit if you are still in education. Claiming Universal Credit for young people in education is a complex process, so we recommend that you read our factsheet on claiming Universal Credit for a young disabled person.

This webpage also has recordings of webinars for parents that you may find useful, as well as three template letters that you can use to challenge failures or delays by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Follow the last three bullets below for these letters.

Note: If your child gets 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, get advice to make sure that you will not be left worse off as a household.

In this article

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 aged between 16 and the September after their 19th birthday and in full-time non-advanced education (e.g. 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 that is not compatible with any work-related requirements placed upon them by the Universal Credit work coach. 

If your child has already past the September after their 19th birthday and is still in non-advanced education, this is the only way that they can be refused Universal Credit on the basis of receiving education. This is because the other types of education listed don’t apply to them. In this scenario, you may be able to challenge the decision that your child’s course is not compatible with their Universal Credit claim. See below.

When will a young person in education be refused Universal Credit ? 

If your son or daughter is on one of the types of course mentioned above and is treated as receiving education, they should still make a claim for Universal Credit. They need to submit fit notes from their doctor as part of this process.

However, that claim for Universal Credit is likely to be refused unless they meet two tests:

1. They receive DLA or PIP; and

2. They are assessed as having a limited capability for work.

This second test means that if your child is treated as receiving education they won’t be able to get Universal Credit until after they have first been put through a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) assessment – known as the work capability assessment. This assessment is used to decide whether or not they have a limited capability for work.

Once your child has been assessed and it is agreed they have a limited capability for work, they should then be able to make a second claim for Universal Credit that is successful. However, that award will not be backdated.

The problem is that some parents struggle to get the DWP to agree to organise a work capability assessment for their child. However, there is a way that you can make sure that this happen. See below for information on making a ‘credits only’ claim for new style ESA

Different rules apply to some specific groups of students, for example those who are estranged from their parents or who have a child of their own. If this applies, your child is likely to qualify for Universal Credit straightaway.  

Is there any point in lodging a claim for Universal Credit for my child before they’ve been assessed as having a limited capability for work?

In most cases, a young person receiving education is going to be refused Universal Credit initially and then have to make a second successful claim after they have established a limited capability for work.

However, we still think it is worth making an unsuccessful initial claim to force the DWP to make a decision on their entitlement. In a small number of cases, young people have been awarded Universal Credit despite receiving education. In addition, having made a claim that was refused may help your child in the event that there is a later successful legal challenge to these rules in the Courts.

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

If you simply ask the DWP to carry out a work capability assessment, you are likely to find that they refuse to do so. However, 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.

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. 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 the work capability assessment that needs to take place if they are to claim Universal Credit.

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. 

As part of the new style ESA claims process, the DWP should send your son or daughter for the 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.

If they agree that your child does have a limited capability for work, that decision will also be binding on Universal Credit. At that point your son or daughter (assuming they get PIP) will be eligible to claim Universal Credit despite the fact that they are treated as receiving education. 

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

However, if you are acting as an appointee for your child the DWP 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. 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.

Use the template below to send either a letter or an email to the DWP, complaining about the fact that your child was denied the opportunity to make a ‘credits only’ claim for new style ESA.

This template was adapted from a letter produced by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) for use by advice workers in threatening judicial review. If you’re unhappy with the DWP’s response to your complaint and you live in England or Wales, you may wish to speak to a local advice service about the possibility of using CPAG’s judicial review pre-action letter as a next step in taking your case forward.

Complaining about a failure to carry out a work capability assessment within a reasonable amount of time

Even if the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) agrees to process a ‘credits only’ claim for new style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), many parents report that they have faced lengthy delays waiting for the DWP to complete a work capability assessment and to decide that their child has a limited capability for work.

This is a problem, as the longer it takes the DWP to make a decision, the more money your child will miss out on. Remember, if your child is treated as receiving education they cannot be paid Universal Credit until after they are assessed as having a limited capability for work. Their Universal Credit award will not be backdated.

Usually, it takes at least 4 months for a decision to be made on a young person’s capability for work. However, in many cases parents report it taking significantly longer than this. There is an argument that young students should have their assessments prioritised, as unlike other benefit claimants they don’t receive any payments of Universal Credit while awaiting an assessment. This puts them at higher risk of financial hardship than other benefit claimants awaiting an assessment.

What should I do if there has been a very long delay? 

Use the template below to lodge a complaint against the DWPs failure to complete a work capability assessment within a reasonable amount of time. Call the office dealing with your child’s assessment and ask them for the address where you should send your complaint.

You may also wish to ask your local MP if they will also contact the DWP on your behalf to raise their concerns about the delay.

This template is modelled on material produced by the Child Poverty Action Group in challenging delays in work capability assessments for other types of claimants.

Lodge a credits-only claim for new style ESA in advance

To avoid delays we recommend that your child lodge a ‘credits only’ claim for new style ESA well in advance of when are likely to want to claim Universal Credit e.g. shortly after they reach the age of 16. Serving their waiting period now and establishing in advance that they have a limited capability for work, should ensure that when they eventually come to claim Universal Credit payments can start straightaway without any further delays. Because a ‘credits only’ claim will not lead to any actual award of ESA, it won’t interfere with any benefits you are currently getting for them as a dependent such as Child Benefit or child tax credit.

Challenging a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decision refusing Universal Credit to a young person in non-advanced education who has passed the September after their 19th birthday

Will a 20 year old who is still in non-advanced education be able to claim Universal Credit? 

This depends. Someone who has reached the September after their 19th birthday should be able to claim Universal credit despite their course, so long as their course isn’t seen as incompatible with their Universal Credit claim. Your son or daughter might be able to argue that they are not incompatible for two reasons. 

Firstly, depending on your child’s disabilities their work coach may have agreed to apply 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 a work capability assessment. They may be more likely to agree to this during coronavirus lockdowns. 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 can’t be incompatible with their Universal Credit claim.

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.

In this situation you can do things. Firstly, you should make a ‘credits only’ claim for new style ESA in order to force a work capability assessment.

Once your child has established that they have a limited capability for work, they should be able to make a second claim for Universal Credit that will be successful. However, that second successful claim will not be backdated.

Alongside this making a ‘credits only’ claim for new style ESA, you should also consider asking for a revision of the DWP’s decision to refuse your child Universal Credit. Your child should only have been refused Universal Credit if the DWP is able to show that their attendance on their course isn’t compatible with any work-related conditions attached to their claim.

You may be able to show that this is not the case. For example, if your child has little or no work-related conditions attached to their claim, it will be difficult for the DWP to argue that their course is not compatible with the requirements of the claim.

Use the template letter below if your child has little or no work-related conditions or if they are on a course that is flexible enough that they can have time away from their course to take part in any work related activities requested by the DWP.

This template only applies to young people who are still in non-advanced education and who past the September after their 19th birthday. Unfortunately, it cannot be used if your child has not yet reached the September after their 19th birthday or if they are in advanced education (e.g. university level or similar).

Resources to help

In 2020 Contact ran a webinar for parents across the UK on benefits for disabled children aged 16 and above. This webinar included information on claiming Universal Credit and the barriers faced by young people on education, which features in the second half of the webinar. There is a seperate webinar for parents in Scotland.

Watch our webinar if you live in England, Northern Ireland or Wales.

Watch the webinar if you live in Scotland.

Download our factsheet

We have a factsheet on claiming Universal Credit for a young disabled person. The rules are complex so we strongly recommend reading this factsheet.

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 and who gets both Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment is eligible to apply to their school or college for a vulnerable bursary of up £1200 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 is receipt of Universal Credit is also likely to be eligible for free lunches at school or in further 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. However 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 UC recipient has an Education Health and Care plan or a Learning Difficulty Assessment.

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