Universal credit: What is income for UC?

Income for Universal Credit purposes will be treated as earned income or unearned income. If it is not specifically included as either of these then it will be disregarded.

The importance of determining whether income is earned or unearned can be seen in the calculation of UC entitlement. Earned income is subject to a 63% taper whereas unearned income reduces UC maximum entitlement pound for pound.

Earned income 

Earned income for UC is defined as:

1.  The remuneration or profits derived from -

a.  Employment under a contract of service or in an office (including elective office)
b.  A trade, profession or vocation (self-employed earnings – including some limited company directors)
c.  Any other paid work

2.  Any income treated as earned income for the purposes of UC

It also includes surplus earnings.

Notional earned income

The regulations also include provision for ‘notional earned income’ – this is where a claimant has deprived themselves of earned income, or whose employer has arranged for them to be deprived, for the purposes of securing entitlement to UC or an increased amount of UC. Where this is the case, the person will be treated as having the earned income.

It will be treated as being for the purposes of securing or increasing entitlement to UC if in fact, entitlement was given or higher as a result and this was a foreseeable and intended consequence of the deprivation – in the opinion of the Secretary of State.

Similar notional income rules apply in relation to services provided where no payment is received – the UC claimant can be treated as having the earned income that be reasonable for the provision of the service.

Employed earnings

The general rule is that earned income for an assessment period should be based on the actual amount received in that period. There are some exceptions to this general rules that are explained in ADM Chapter H3.

For many employees, DWP will receive these employed earnings figures directly from the HMRC RTI (Real Time Information) system. We have a dedicated RTI section which explains how RTI data feeds into UC, how it is used by DWP and when earnings are taken into account. Earnings which are not reported under RTI will generally be taken into account in the asssessment period they are received by the claimant.

Employed earnings are defined as any amounts that HMRC treat as ‘general earnings’  (as defined in Section 7(3) ITEPA 2003) leaving out any amounts treated as earnings under the benefits code (Chapters 2 to 11, Part 3 ITEPA 2003) and amounts exempt from income tax  under Part 4 ITEPA 2003 (such as approved mileage allowance reliefs, work-related training, no-cash vouchers etc….).

General earnings includes wages, salary and fees. It also includes payments of statutory sick pay, statutory maternity pay, ordinary statutory paternity pay, additional statutory paternity pay and statutory adoption pay, shared parental pay and statutory parental bereavement pay. Some other payments are also included as employed earnings, a full list of these can be found in Paragraph H3072 (ADM Chapter H3).

As noted above, certain amounts are also excluded from being employed earnings. In the early stages of UC, benefits in kind (which HMRC would normally treat as earnings) will NOT be treated as income for UC purposes. However, DWP say they are considering the best solution to reflect benefits in kind in future. A full list of benefits in kind not yet treated as earnings can be found in Paragraph H3081 (ADM Chapter H3).

Deductible expenses under Chapter 2, Part 5 of ITEPA 2003 are disregarded in calculating employed earnings. This ensures any allowable expenses reimbursed by an employer are not taken into account as income.

It is also possible for claimants to deduct any allowable work expenses they incur, which are not reimbursed by their employer, from their earned income. This will reduce their income for UC purposes. This was confirmed via a parliamentary question in 2018. However, the process for doing this is not clear. We advise that claimants put a note in their journal for their work coach and if DWP refuse to make the deduction then a mandatory reconsideration should be requested (for each assessment period affected) as the first stage of an appeal.

Repayments of income tax and national insurance contributions received by a person from HMRC in respect of a tax year in which the person was in paid work are also treated as employed earnings (unless they are already accounted for as self-employed earnings)

Deductions from employed earnings

UC is generally based on net income and therefore from the claimant’s employed earnings can be deducted:

Full details of employed earnings can be found in ADM Chapter H3.

Self-employed earnings

Self-employed earnings are those which derive from a trade, profession or vocation. The claimant does not need to be classed as ‘gainfully self-employed’ for such earnings to be taken into account. Claimants who are director of their own limited company may also be treated as having self-employed earnings where they stand in a position analogous to that of a sole owner or partner in relation to a business that is carrying on a trade or a property business. See our self-employment section for further information.

Under regulations introduced from 21 May 2020, payments from HMRC made under the Self-employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), introduced due to the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK are included in the calculation of self-employed earnings.

Under those same regulations, payments to self-employed claimants from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in respect of any employees are not counted as income – however no expense deduction can be made in respect of salary paid to an employee to the extent that the payment is covered by the job retention scheme.

Our understanding is that the other coronavirus business grants – such as the small business grant and retail/leisure grant are disregarded as income for UC purposes.

We explain self-employed earnings in more detail, including how to treat the SEISS grant, in the self-employment section.

Coronavirus pandemic and income

Payments made by an employer to an employee who is furloughed will be treated as normal earnings for UC purposes. The employer may receive a grant under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which covers 80% of the salary, but that is paid to the employer. If the employee’s earnings are reduced (for example as they are only paid 80% of their usual salary), UC will be adjusted automatically. Earnings will continue to be picked up for UC as usual  - either through the real time information system or via reporting from the claimant (in a small number of cases where RTI is not used). See our RTI section for further information about when the earnings will be taken into account.

Information about the claimant’s earnings under this scheme should be reported by the employer under the RTI reporting system in the usual way but claimants should be aware there may be delays in the normal reporting cycle where the employer’s business is affected by the coronavirus outbreak (March 2020 onwards). This may affect the timing of when DWP receive the earnings information through RTI and can potential cause disruption to UC awards from one assessment period to the next.

There are a number of grants and payments relating to support as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Some of these payments are treated as income for universal credit, others are disregarded and others are included as capital (and, some capital is disregarded for 12 months). There is some information about the payments on the GOV.UK website but we recommend checking directly with DWP where there is any doubt.

Unearned income

Unearned income broadly includes the following types of income:

Further detail about what counts under each heading can be found in ADM Chapter H5. Student income detail can be found in ADM Chapter H6.

Reporting income

Employed earnings

Claimants must provide such information and at such times as DWP require for the purposes of calculating their earned income.

However, in the majority of cases, this will happen automatically as employed earnings will be reported to DWP by HMRC under the Real Time Information (RTI) system. Where the employer does not report RTI earnings to HMRC, the claimant will have to report earnings directly to DWP.  

We look at how RTI information is sent to DWP and how it is taken into account for UC purposes in our RTI section.

Self-employed earnings

Self-employed claimants will be required to submit details about their earnings each month using an online system. More information about this can be found in our self-employed section.

Surplus earnings

Rules from 11 April 2018 that mean some claimants - both employed and self-employed - will be treated as having additional earned income known as 'surplus earnings'.

See our surplus earnings and losses page for more information.

Last reviewed/updated 24 May 2021