Universal credit: Pensioners

This section of the website explains the interactions between Universal Credit, Pension Credit and tax credits for people who have reached state pension credit qualifying age. There is a tool on the GOV.UK website that gives the qualifying date based on an individual's date of birth.

Pension Age and UC claims

Generally, claimants who have reached their qualifying state pension credit age are not entitled to UC because they do not meet the basic conditions of the benefit (age grounds). There is an exception to this rule for couples where one member of the couple is below state pension credit qualifying age and the other member has already reached that age. This scenario is often referred to as a 'mixed age couple'.

From 15 May 2019, most mixed-age couples can no longer make a new claim for pension credit and are generally expected to claim UC instead. However, mixed age couples who were claiming housing benefit under pension age rules on 14 May 2019 can make a new claim for pension credit if the housing benefit award has been paid continuously since this date. Our understanding is that there is nothing technically stopping a UC claim form these mixed age couples, but they may be better off financially claiming pension credit rather than UC. Specialist welfare rights support should be obtained before any claim is made to understand the correct position. Further information is available from Age UK factsheet.

Mixed age couples who were entitled to pension credit on 14 May 2019 can stay on pension credit provided there is no break in claim. Our understanding is that there is nothing technically stopping such couples from claiming universal credit but if they do their pension credit claim will terminate and they won’t be able to claim it again and instead will have to rely solely on UC which may be a lower amount. This is because a claimant is usually not entitled to state pension credit in respect of any period when the claimant is entitled to UC (although there are a few exceptions to this rule).

If someone is claiming pension credit as a single person because they have reached state pension credit age and they become a couple with someone who is under state pension credit age then their pension credit claim will stop and they may have to claim universal credit instead.

Pension Age and tax credits

From 1 February 2019, people who have reached their state pension credit qualifying age can no longer make a new claim for tax credits. If someone who has reached state pension credit qualifying age is part of a couple with a younger partner (a mixed age couple) HMRC state they cannot claim tax credits either.

This also means that anyone in this situation having a change of circumstances that ends their tax credit claim will not be able to make a new tax credit claim at a later date.

For example, if a single claimant aged 68 currently receiving working tax credit moves in with a new partner, their tax credit award will end because they will need to make a new joint claim for support. They cannot make a new joint claim for working tax credit. What they can claim depends on whether they are a 'mixed age' couple or if they have both reached state pension credit qualifying age.

Mixed age couples

Mixed age couples can claim UC. Until 15 May 2019, they were also able to claim pension credit which, from 1 February 2019, also includes child elements. The rules are similar  to the child elements in CTC, although there is no support towards childcare costs provided through pension credit. It should also be noted that the 2 child limit does not apply to pension credit. From 15 May 2019, most mixed age couples can no longer claim pension credit (although with some limited exceptions to that broad rule as explained above where pension credit can still be claimed), and they will be expected to claim UC instead. 

Those who have reached state pension credit qualifying age

For couples where both partners have reached state pension credit qualifying age or for single people who have reached this age, the only option for support is pension credit (with housing benefit if appropriate). From 1 February 2019, it is no longer possible to make a brand new claim for tax credits.

It is expected that pension credit will be further enhanced to include support towards housing costs and in the Budget 2018, it was stated that implementation of this change would not be introduced before October 2023. Currently, pension claimants are expected to claim help towards their housing costs through housing benefit.

Capital

In pension credit, for each £500 of capital over £10,000, £1 is added to the person's income when calculating their entitlement.

In UC, for each £250 of capital over £6,000, £4.35 a month is added to the person's income when calculating their entitlement. Once capital reaches £16,000, there is no entitlement to UC.

There is no limit on capital in tax credits. In tax credits, actual capital is ignored and instead income from investments (e.g. interest on the capital or savings) is taken into account.

Existing tax credit claimants

Existing tax credit claimants who do not move voluntarily or naturally due to a change of circumstances will be moved to universal credit or pension credit. The process for moving claimants to UC started to be piloted with up to 10,000 claimants from July 2019. Although  the pilot was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, it restarted in May 2022. It is expected that the formal migration exercise will be complete by the end of 2024. See our 'existing tax credit claimants' section.

We expect most mixed age couples will be moved to UC. It is not clear what will happen to those mixed age tax credit claimants who are also in receipt of pension age housing benefit (and have been since 14 May 2019) and who can claim pension credit instead. Pension credit may provide a higher level of financial support than universal credit.

For those tax credit claimants who have reached state pension credit age, we expect that they will be moved to pension credit but there are no details about how this will work and whether it will be a managed move similar to the move to UC. It is also not clear what transitional protection may be offered.

Last reviewed/updated 23 May 2022