What benefits could I claim?

Many people at work do not claim their full benefit entitlement, as they don't know what it is. Some benefits depend on your income and savings. These are called means-tested benefits.

Other benefits depend on your National Insurance contributions (NICs) in the past. These are called contributory benefits. Here are the benefits you might be able to claim if you aren't working:

  • Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) – if you are looking for a new job;
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – if you are too sick or disabled to work;
  • Income Support (IS) – if you are a single parent with a child under 12, or a carer;
  • Housing Benefit – to help pay your rent; and
  • Council Tax Benefit – to help pay your Council Tax.

If you are still working for at least 30 hours a week, you may qualify for Working Tax Credit, depending on your income and personal circumstances. You might get it even if you only work between 16 and 30 hours and:

  • you have a child; or
  • you are disabled; or
  • you are over 50.

You may also be able to claim Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit if you are still working. There are other benefits your family may get if you have children. These include:

  • Child Benefit;
  • Child Tax Credit;
  • cold weather payments;
  • Educational Maintenance Grants if your children stay on at school after 16; and
  • help with childcare costs if you are getting Working Tax Credit.

Depending on your means, you may also qualify for:

  • free prescriptions;
  • free school meals;
  • help with school clothing;
  • help with travel to school;
  • Healthy Start food vouchers;
  • payments from the Social Fund;
  • a Sure Start Maternity Grant;
  • a funeral payment;
  • energy efficiency grants;
  • help with travel costs to job interviews; and
  • help with legal costs or court costs.

However, these benefits and tax credits are gradually being replaced by a new single regime for those on low incomes, whether in or out of work, called Universal Credit. Universal Credit is a new system for those on low incomes which is being rolled out across England, Scotland and Wales.

When it is fully rolled out, it will replace:

  • income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support

Universal Credit will be available to people who are out of work and to people in work and on a low income. Payments are reduced gradually as people earn more and they won’t lose all their benefits at once if they’re still on a low income.

Claims are made by households rather than individuals and the amount awarded depends on the income and circumstances of all the household members.

Whether you claim Universal Credit or the individual benefits and tax credits depends on where you live, whether you are a single claimant or family and whether you are making a new claim or are being transferred from the benefits that are being replaced.

There are lots of websites that can help you work out what benefits you are entitled to, including comprehensive benefits information from GOV.UK and Turn2Us, a charity for people in financial hardship.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.