If you’re struggling for work and income as a student or graduate, Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance could help tide you over. Here’s how to check if you’re eligible and apply.
Nobody leaves university hoping to have difficulty finding a job as a graduate, but sometimes these things are out of your control.
And, of course, it’s not exactly plain-sailing while you’re a student either – the perfect storm of an insufficient Maintenance Loan and struggling to work around your studies means your time at university could be one long battle to get by.
Fortunately, you may be able to claim benefits to help fund your living costs. While Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance have been criticised for not providing enough financial support, the money they do provide could prove invaluable for you. Read on to find out if you’re eligible, plus how to apply and how much you could get.
What’s in this guide?
- What is Universal Credit?
- Universal Credit eligibility criteria
- Can students and graduates get Universal Credit?
- How much Universal Credit can you get?
- Applying for Universal Credit
- What is Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)?
- New style JSA eligibility criteria
- Can students and graduates get JSA?
- How much JSA can you get?
- Applying for JSA
What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is a relatively new system, combining several different benefits that previously operated independently. These ‘legacy benefits’ were:
- Child Tax Credit
- Housing Benefit
- Income-based Employment and Support Allowance
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income Support
- Working Tax Credit.
Note that there are three types of Jobseeker’s Allowance, only one of which (income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance) now comes under the umbrella of Universal Credit. We’ll explain the others later.
What are benefits?
People often use the terms ‘benefits’ and ‘Universal Credit’ interchangeably and, while this is sometimes accurate, they do refer to different things.
Benefits describe any type of payment from the government that’s designed to help people on a low income, or those with specific needs or circumstances (like having children, being a carer or having a disability).
Universal Credit is just one type of benefit. Although it now includes some of the most well-known benefits, like Income Support, there are other payments that it doesn’t include, like Housing Benefit.
Who is eligible for Universal Credit?
We wish we could give you a simple answer to this, we really do. But, unfortunately, there are so many stipulations and exceptions over who can claim what, that it’s borderline impossible to quickly summarise who’s entitled to Universal Credit.
That said, there are a few basic criteria that, if you meet them, could allow you to claim Universal Credit:
- You live in the UK
- You’re aged 18 or over (although there are some exceptions for 16 and 17-year-olds)
- You or your partner are under the State Pension age
- You’re on a low income or out of work
- You and your partner’s combined savings come to £16,000 or less.
Beyond this, there are dozens of different reasons why you may or may not be eligible for Universal Credit. Some more of the main ones are listed on this government page, although you may be best just skipping the middle man and using a benefits calculator.
Frustratingly, the government advises that if you’re a student, benefits calculators won’t give you an accurate result – so read on for more details on how you could be eligible as a student.
Regardless of your student status, you’ll also need to sign a Claimant Commitment to start receiving Universal Credit.
A Claimant Commitment is essentially an agreement between you and your local Jobcentre, outlining measures that you need to take to show that you’re willing and able to work.
It will be tailored to your situation (taking into account factors such as having a disability or being responsible for children), and could require you to complete activities like creating a CV or applying for jobs. You can find out more about Claimant Commitments here.
Can students get Universal Credit?
In the majority of cases, full-time students can’t claim Universal Credit. However, there are some individual circumstances which mean you may be eligible, including:
- You’re aged 21 or under, studying for a course which leads to a qualification at the level of A Levels or below, AND you don’t have parental support.
- You’re responsible for a child.
- You live with your partner and they’re eligible to receive Universal Credit.
- You’re receiving Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment or Armed Forces Independence Payment, AND you have a disability limiting your capability to work.
For more details on how to claim Universal Credit as a full-time student, check out this page.
If you’re a part-time student, your chances of getting Universal Credit are a little better, although there are no guarantees.
You need to be able to prove that you’re still able to satisfy any work-related requirements that are relevant to you receiving Universal Credit (this will likely form part of your Claimant Commitment) – in other words, that your part-time course actually is part-time, and not so intense that it will impact on your ability to work.
Regardless of whether you’re a full- or part-time student, it’s worth bearing in mind that your Maintenance Loan will be considered as a form of income, and will reduce the amount of Universal Credit you receive.
Tuition Fee Loans, as well as Special Support Loans and Grants, won’t affect the amount of Universal Credit you’re entitled to.
Can graduates get Universal Credit?
As a graduate, you should be eligible for Universal Credit as long as you meet the standard requirements that apply to all applicants.
Don’t worry if your graduation ceremony is a few months after you finish university – for the purposes of benefits, you’re no longer considered to be a student after the last day of term in the final academic year of your course (check with your uni if you’re unsure when this is).
How much Universal Credit will you get?
How much you’ll get depends on your personal circumstances, and the standard amount can be topped up if you have children, have a disability, or are having problems paying rent.
The standard Universal Credit allowances are as follows:
|Your personal circumstances||Monthly standard allowance|
|Single and aged under 25||£342.72|
|Single and aged 25 or over||£409.89|
|In a couple where you’re both aged under 25||£488.59*|
|In a couple where at least one of you is aged 25 or over||£594.04*|
* This money is intended to be shared between you and your partner – you will not receive this amount each.
As we mentioned a moment ago, the amount of Universal Credit you receive can increase depending on other personal factors.
This typically includes caring for children, having a disability or needing help with housing costs, and could increase your monthly payments by several hundred pounds. More information on the specifics of the extra allowances is available here.
How is Universal Credit paid?
Universal Credit payments usually go straight into your bank account every month. Your first instalment will usually take around five weeks to arrive, although if you’re struggling with living costs in the meantime, you can apply for an advance while you wait for the initial payment.
After your first payment, you’ll receive your payments on the same day each month (although in Scotland you can be paid twice a month if you’d prefer), and you’ll also get a monthly statement detailing how much you’ll receive.
For claimants that are working part-time, how often your employer pays you can also affect how you receive your payments. This is because your wages can affect the assessment periods, although, unless you’ve been notified to say otherwise, this shouldn’t affect the amount you receive. See here for more info.
How to apply for Universal Credit
You should be able to complete your Universal Credit application online, but make sure you’re prepared – you’ll need a fair amount of personal information to hand, including:
- Your bank account details
- Housing information, such as how much rent you pay
- Income details, such as payslips
- If you have any savings or investments, including shares and property
- How much you pay for childcare (if you’re applying for help with this).
To verify your identity online, you’ll also need to submit a copy of a document proving you are who you say you are, such as your passport, driving licence or debit card.
If you’re unable to apply online, particularly if you have a disability that makes the process difficult, you can call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644. It’s also recommended that you dial this number if you have any questions or problems with your application.
And, if you disagree with a decision made concerning your application for Universal Credit, you can make an appeal.
Should you claim Universal Credit?
There’s a bit of a stigma surrounding claiming benefits, but you shouldn’t think twice about applying – if you’re out of work, we’d strongly advise you to claim.
The extra money could really help you with costs such as attending job interviews or buying suitable clothes, and when you claim Universal Credit you could get some great advice from your Jobcentre Plus advisor.
So, although it’s best to view Universal Credit as a short-term arrangement while you try to get work, claiming this benefit could actually prove to be the difference between finding work and staying unemployed!
What is Jobseeker’s Allowance?
Confusingly, there are three different types of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA):
- Contribution-based JSA
- Income-based JSA
- New style JSA.
As we explained earlier, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance has now been merged into Universal Credit.
What’s more, along with contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, you can only apply for income-based JSA if you receive the severe disability premium, or have received it within the last month and are still eligible for it.
Crucially, no matter which type of JSA you claim, the amount you receive will be the same.
However, as the majority of applicants will only be eligible for new style JSA, that’s what we’ll focus on in this guide. If you think you may be eligible to receive income- or contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, more information is available on the government’s website.
Who is eligible for new style Jobseeker’s Allowance?
The eligibility criteria for new style Jobseeker’s Allowance is a lot more straightforward than it is for Universal Credit. You should be eligible to claim new style Jobseeker’s Allowance if you:
- Are aged over 18, but under the State Pension age (although there are some exceptions for those aged 16 or 17)
- Live in England, Scotland or Wales and have the right to work in the UK
- Are unemployed or working less than 16 hours per week (on average)
- Aren’t in full-time education
- Are available to work full-time, and are taking measures to find a job
- Don’t have a disability or illness which stops you from working (other benefits, including the other types of JSA, are available if you have such an illness or disability)
- Have worked and paid Class 1 National Insurance in the last two to three years.
The last point on this list is part of what distinguishes new style Jobseeker’s Allowance from the other types of JSA, and if you haven’t paid Class 1 National Insurance in the last two to three years, you probably won’t be able to claim new style JSA.
But how do you know if you’ve paid Class 1 National Insurance? Good question.
Any employee earning more than £183 a week will automatically pay Class 1 National Insurance, although this threshold often changes when we enter a new tax year (which runs from April – April). Use this table of weekly thresholds to see what the figure was when you were working (you’ll want to look at the row labelled ‘Primary Threshold’).
Can students claim new style Jobseeker’s Allowance?
As the list of criteria above suggests, the vast majority of full-time students won’t be eligible for new style Jobseeker’s Allowance. There are a few limited exceptions to this, though, including if you are:
- A lone parent
- In a couple, where both of you are full-time students, you have a child together, and you’re claiming JSA during your summer holidays
- Taking time out from study, particularly if it’s due to ill health or needing to care for someone else.
Note that you’ll still need to meet the other, standard criteria for new style Jobseeker’s Allowance (listed above), even if you’re among the limited number of full-time students who could be eligible.
Part-time students should have a little more luck in applying for new style JSA, however it’s important to remember that you will need to be willing and able to work full-time.
This means that, if you’re offered a full-time job that clashes with your part-time degree, you may have to choose between accepting the job and continuing with your studies. If you decide to stick with uni, the fact that you turned down work may mean you become ineligible to claim JSA.
Can graduates claim new style Jobseeker’s Allowance?
As with Universal Credit, graduates should be eligible to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance as long as they meet all of the standard criteria that apply to all prospective claimants. And again, in this instance you’re no longer considered a student after the final day of the last academic year of your course.
The main stumbling block is likely to be how much Class 1 National Insurance you’ve paid in the last two to three years.
If you’re a recent graduate and you worked during uni, you should hopefully be eligible to claim JSA – but if you didn’t have a job while you were studying, you’ll probably be rejected for JSA and you’ll need to apply for Universal Credit instead.
How much Jobseeker’s Allowance will you get?
The exact amount of Jobseeker’s Allowance that you’ll receive will vary depending on your personal circumstances, such as whether or not you’re working part-time.
The maximum amount of new style JSA you can claim is:
- £58.90 per week if you’re aged 18–24
- £74.35 per week if you’re aged 25 or over.
You can claim new style JSA for up to 182 days (approximately six months) – after this point, you’ll need to speak to your work coach (assigned to you when you start claiming JSA) about your options going forward.
How is Jobseeker’s Allowance paid?
How to apply for new style Jobseeker’s Allowance
You can apply for new style Jobseeker’s Allowance online (contact Jobcentre Plus if you’re unable to do this) and, as is the case with Universal Credit applications, you’ll need some information to hand when you do.
When you’re applying for JSA, you’ll need your:
- National Insurance number
- Bank details
- Employment details for the past six months (including dates and contact details for your employers).
If you think you’ve been entitled to JSA for a while now, you can backdate your claim by up to three months when you apply. To do this, you’ll need to submit the date from which you’d like your claim to start, as well the reason your claim has been delayed.
The official advice states that your claim may be rejected unless you have a “good reason” for not applying sooner, with examples including the death of an immediate family member (i.e. a sibling, parent or child) or incorrectly being advised that you couldn’t get JSA.
Finally, if you disagree with a decision that’s made regarding your application for new style Jobseeker’s Allowance, you can make an appeal.
Should you claim Jobseeker’s Allowance?
As a type of benefit, there is still some stigma around claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. However, we’d encourage you to ignore this as much as possible and apply for JSA if you meet the eligibility criteria and need the cash.
We explained earlier how Universal Credit could prove to be the difference between finding work and staying unemployed, and while we’re not talking about huge sums of money here, every little helps when you’re struggling to make ends meet.
It is worth noting, however, that if you’re eligible for both Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit, the amount of JSA you claim will reduce your Universal Credit payments.
For every £1 of new style Jobseeker’s Allowance you receive, your Universal Credit payment will reduce by £1 – so while you won’t be any worse off for claiming both at the same time, you likely won’t be any better off either.
If you’re still studying, make sure you’ve claimed all of the bursaries, grants and scholarships available to you.