Benefits for families on a low income

Income Support

Income Support is a means-tested benefit paid to certain groups of people who do not have enough money to live on.

Income Support is a non-contributory benefit. This means that it does not depend on national insurance contributions you have paid.  If you get Income Support you will also be entitled to Housing Benefit, and other help, for example, with your council tax, health costs and free school meals. If you have a mortgage, you can get some help towards your interest payments (usually after 13 weeks).

If you are over pension age, you will not be able to claim Income Support but can claim Pension Credit instead .

To get Income Support, you must either not be working at all or work less than 16 hours a week. If you have a partner who lives with you, they must work under 24 hours a week. You can qualify for Income Support if you are bringing up a child aged under 5 (or a foster child aged under 16) on your own, or receiving Carer’s Allowance.  There are other categories of people who do not have to be available for work and may be able to claim Income Support if their income is very low. You can contact our advice service to find out whether you might be able to claim.

To claim Income Support phone 0800 055 6688 or download a form at:

Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)

JSA is a benefit for people who are unemployed but capable of work or who are working less than 16 hours a week. To get JSA you must show that you are looking for work.

JSA is a benefit in two parts.  If you have paid enough national insurance contributions in the past, you could qualify for contribution-based JSA.  This is paid at a flat rate for the first six months you are unemployed and can be paid even if your partner is working or you have savings .

Income-based JSA can be paid to top up any contribution-based JSA or on its own.  It is means-tested and the amount you get will depend on your financial circumstances.  If you have a mortgage, you can get some help towards your interest payments (usually after 13 weeks).

If you are living with a partner and claiming income-based JSA, your partner must either not be working or working less than 24 hours a week.

You can claim Jobseeker’s Allowance online at: You can claim on the phone by calling Jobcentre Plus: 0800 055 6688.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a new benefit for people of working age which is being introduced in stages across the country. Currently, in some places – known as pathfinder areas –  you may have to claim Universal Credit instead of Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income Support. However, this will depend on your circumstances.  You can check here whether you live in one of these areas and you can find out here whether you meet the current eligibility conditions.

You can claim Universal Credit online at or contact the Universal Credit helpline on 0345 600 0723 if you need help making your claim.

Working Tax Credit

If you are single and work at least 16 hours a week, you may be entitled to Working Tax Credit.  If you have a partner, you must work at least 24 hours a week between you (with some exceptions).

Enitlement to Working Tax Credit depends on your circumstances and how much money you have coming in. Self-employed people as well as people who are employees can apply.  Working Tax Credit can include extra amounts for disabled workers and people who work more than 30 hours a week.  It can also help towards childcare costs, for example for a registered  childminder, after school club or nursery.

If you are a foster carer, you can be treated as self-employed and you may be able to get Working Tax Credit. Your foster allowance will not be treated as income unless it is above certain limits.  Some foster carers can choose whether to claim Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Working Tax Credit. Contact our advice service if you think this might apply to you.

There is an online calculator you can use to find out whether you might qualify for Working Tax Credit.

To apply for Working Tax Credit, contact the tax credit helpline for an application pack. The helpline number is 0345 300 3900.

Housing Benefit

This benefit helps people on a low income to pay their rent. You may be able to get Housing Benefit even if you are working. The amount of help you get depends on your income and savings and your family circumstances.

Housing Benefit  will be worked out differently once you’ve reached the age at which you qualify for Pension Credit so you may become entitled to Housing Benefit even if you weren’t before.

If you have a private landlord, your Housing Benefit will normally be based on the Local Housing Allowance.The Local Housing Allowance is based on rent prices for the area you live in and limits the maximum amount of help you can get. The amount you get also depends on the number of rooms the Housing Benefit rules say are needed for your household. This may not be the same as the number of rooms you are actually living in.

If you’re thinking of moving into private rented accommodation, you can ask the local authority’s Housing Benefit office to tell you which Local Housing Allowance figure will be used to calculate your Housing Benefit or you can check  here.

If the amount of Housing Benefit you are entitled to doesn’t cover all your rent, you may have to make up the difference out of any other income you have, or find cheaper accommodation. Your other options could include applying to the council for a discretionary housing payment to cover the shortfall, or negotiating a cheaper rent with your landlord.

From April 2013 certain limits have been placed on the amount of Housing Benefit that some people can receive:

  • Housing Benefit restrictions for working age council and housing association tenants whose home is considered to be too big for them – the ‘bedroom tax’.
  • A cap on the total amount of benefits that can be claimed by people of working age.

If you are affected by these limits on Housing Benefit, see our page on the  Welfare Benefits Changes or contact our advice service.

Housing Benefit is a local authority benefit which means you need to contact your local council for a claim form.

Housing Benefit is gradually being phased out, to be replaced by Universal Credit.  At present, whether you claim Housing Benefit or Universal Credit depends on your circumstances and where you live – see above. The bedroom tax and benefit cap apply to Universal Credit as well as to Housing Benefit.

Council Tax Reduction

From April 2013, a local system of Council Tax Reduction (also known as Council Tax Support) has replaced the previous national system of Council Tax Benefit for people who can’t afford to pay a full Council Tax bill. The amount of money the Government has given councils for Council Tax Reduction is less than was available for Council Tax Benefit.

Under the new system, each local council can decide which groups of people it will help and how much help to give.  Pensioners are protected from the changes, so councils may have less money available to help people of working age.  Many councils have set up a hardship fund providing discretionary payments to people facing difficulties paying their Council Tax.

You should contact your local council for details of the scheme in place where you live.

The Social Fund

Until April 2013, families living in difficult circumstances and on a low income could apply to the Social Fund for help in the form of discretionary community care grants and crisis loans. The money which used to pay for these schemes has now been given to English local authorities and to the Scottish and Welsh governments to provide ‘local welfare assistance’ to support residents in their area. You can contact your local council for details of their scheme. However, other elements of the Social Fund remain.

Budgeting Loans continue to be available. They can be paid to people living on means-tested benefits, to help with essential lump sum expenses. These include costs of moving home or buying household equipment, furniture and clothing.  Budgeting loans have to be paid back to  the Social Fund, but they are interest-free.  You won’t necessarily get a budgeting loan just because you are eligible to apply.  The decision will be made following a review of your circumstances.

You can apply for a budgeting loan on form SF500, which is available from local benefit offices.  You can download a copy of the form at

For people in receipt of Universal Credit, budgeting loans have been replaced by budgeting advances.

There are other types of Social Fund payments including funeral payments and maternity grants. For more information about the Social Fund, contact our advice service.



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