Universal credit: Changes of circumstances
Existing tax credit claimants are not affected by Universal Credit (UC) unless they choose to make a UC claim, need to claim another benefit that UC has replaced or they have certain changes of circumstances that cause their tax credits claim to end and they still need to claim support. This page looks further at how changes of circumstances impact on existing tax credit claimants.
- What changes will end a tax credits claim?
- Other changes
- Changes that require claims for other benefits
UC has now fully rolled out and UC is available across the UK which means that most people are no longer able to make a brand new claim for tax credits, and are expected to claim UC (or pension credit) instead, although there are some exceptions. If an existing tax credit claimant has a change of circumstances that ends their tax credit claim, they will not be able to make a new claim for tax credits unless they fall into one of the exception groups.
On our 'making a UC claim' page, we explain how a tax credits award is automatically brought to an end when a UC claim is made. However, even though that process exists, it does not change the obligations on existing tax credit claimants to report relevant changes of circumstances to HMRC for tax credit purposes and they should make this notification to HMRC even if they have/plan to make a claim for UC.
The most common scenario is a change in household status that ends a single claim (and requires a joint claim for support) or a joint claim (and requires a single claim for support). This may happen where a couple separate or two single people form a couple - we explain more about when joint and single claims should be made on our 'understanding couples' page.
Natasha is a lone parent with two children. She claims working tax credit and child tax credit as a single person. Natasha decides to move in with her boyfriend Richard on 1 March 2020. Richard does not claim tax credits or universal credit. Natasha informs HMRC on 2 March 2020 that she has moved in with Richard. HMRC terminated Natasha's working tax credit and child tax credit from 1 March 2020.
Prior to the introduction of UC, the couple would have made a joint claim for tax credits. As UC is now available across the UK, and none of the exceptions apply to the couple, HMRC state they cannot make a new joint claim for tax credits. Instead, if appropriate based on Richard's circumstances, they will need to claim UC.
Other changes that may terminate a tax credits claim and trigger a UC claim are:
- Stopping work or permanently reducing hours below the level required in the claimant's circumstances - In order to claim working tax credit, tax credit claimants must meet minimum working hours thresholds and if they fall below those thresholds or stop work completely then they will need to report this to HMRC. If the claim is for working tax credit only (and there is no entitlement to child tax credit) then this change will cause the tax credit to end. NOTE: Special rules are in place during Coronavirus for people who have temporary change to their working hours during Coronavirus which mean they do not need to report this as a change of circumstances to HMRC. See our WTC section for further information.
- The claimant is no longer responsible for a child or qualifying young person and they are claiming child tax credit for that child only (there is no entitlement to working tax credit) - the CTC award will terminate. If they subsequently become responsible for the child again, or any other child, they will need to claim UC for support unless an exception applies.
Where an existing tax credit claimant is entitled to both working tax credit and child tax credit, any change that affects only one of them will not lead to termination of the whole claim and thus will not necessarily require a claim for UC.
Jacob is a lone parent with two children. He works 20 hours a week and is entitled to working tax credit as well as child tax credit. Jacob is made redundant and is unable to find another job. Although this will mean his working tax credit claim will end, he is still entitled to child tax credit and if he does start working above 16 hours again, he can claim working tax credit again. He will not be required to claim UC (unless he needs to access another benefit that UC has replaced (see below for further information).
Say that Jacob (in the example above) needs to claim out of work support (which would previously have been income-based jobseeker's allowance) and perhaps help with his rent (which would previously have been through housing benefit), then he will need to claim UC and that will terminate his child tax credit. This is because he needs to make a claim for a benefit (or, in this case, two benefits) that have also been replaced by UC. If Jacob claims UC and then returns to work, he will not be able to claim tax credits again and will remain on UC.
There is a useful chart, produced by Newcastle Welfare Rights Unit, which shows changes that trigger a claim for UC. This version was last updated in March 2019.
Last reviewed/updated 2 June 2020