Welfare Benefits

Last modified: 16 August 2016

Welfare benefits are payments given by the government to certain people on low incomes, or to meet specific needs.

If you have Tier 4 leave (or any other leave with the condition stating ‘No recourse to public funds’) you cannot claim most welfare benefits.

However, if you have worked in the UK, then you might be able to claim a benefit based on National Insurance contributions or if you are pregnant or have recently given birth you might be able to claim a maternity benefit such as maternity allowance or statutory maternity pay.

Public Funds

Last modified: 03 December 2015

What are ‘Public funds’?

Public funds’ refers to a specific list in the Immigration Rules of benefits and other payments as listed below. If you have the immigration condition, ‘no recourse to public funds’ stamped in your passport or on your Biometric Residence Permit, it is unlikely that you will be able to receive any of these benefits.

From 1 April 2013, the Immigration Rules list ‘public funds’ as:

  • Universal Credit
  • Personal Independence Payment
  • Help with housing from the local authority
  • Attendance allowance
  • Carers allowance (previously invalid care allowance)
  • Child benefit
  • Council tax reduction (Note that 'council tax reduction' is different from being exempt from council tax. If your dwelling is 'exempt' from council tax, or you are 'disregarded' for the purpose of council tax, then you are not receiving a council tax reduction. See Council tax).
  • Domestic rate relief (in Northern Ireland)
  • Council tax benefit
  • Disability living allowance
  • Housing benefit
  • Income support
  • Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • Income-related employment and support allowance (ESA)
  • Severe disablement allowance
  • Social fund payments
  • Child tax credit
  • Working tax credit
  • State pension credit

Note that the benefits and services listed as ‘public funds’ above do not include access to the National Health Service, education, or any education funding (for example, being assessed as a ‘home’ fee-payer or being eligible for student support). If you are entitled to these, you would not be in breach of your immigration conditions if you claimed them.

What if I do receive ‘public funds’?

If you receive ‘public funds’, you may be in breach of your immigration conditions. Breaching an immigration condition is a criminal offence and could lead to serious immigration problems, including removal from the UK and difficulties with getting an extension of leave or being allowed to come back to the UK for a specified period of time.

Some international students are encouraged to apply for benefits by agencies which are not aware that they are in the UK with immigration permission as a student, and that it would be a breach of their immigration conditions to claim the benefit. For example, if a student or their partner has a baby in the UK, the midwife or hospital or social work staff may encourage them to apply for Child Benefit or Child Tax Credit by providing the application forms, when in fact the student is not usually permitted to claim these benefits.

This would also apply to anyone else with the ‘No recourse to public funds’ condition stamped in their passport or on their Biometric Residence Permit.


Last modified: 03 September 2015

If you have refugee status or Exceptional Leave or Humanitarian Protection or Discretionary Leave in the UK you can claim all welfare benefits, subject to the ‘ordinary’ rules, and you cannot be refused any benefit on the basis of your immigration status. However, if you are studying full-time, as is the case for UK students, you will not be entitled to any of the main income-related benefits listed unless you are in a 'vulnerable group' (for example, if you are a lone parent). If you have Refugee status, you can claim income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit for up to nine months without being required to be available for work if:

  • you are studying English at least 15 hours a week
  • and

  • the course started or starts within one year of your arrival in the United Kingdom.

As staff in many benefit offices may be unfamiliar with this provision, you may need to seek advice from your institution or Students' Union or Citizens Advice Bureau or Law Centre.

The above provision is contained within the Income Support regulations. Your adviser may find it helpful to know that it is based on Income Support regulation 4ZA and paragraph 18 of Schedule 1B of the Income Support regulations.

If you are already in receipt of income-based jobseeker's allowance and are about to start an English course (that is at least 15 hours a week and starts within 12 months of your arrival in the UK), you will need to withdraw your claim for jobseeker's allowance at the same time as making a claim for income support.

When your course finishes or after nine months, whichever of these is the earliest, you will need to claim jobseeker's allowance (unless you come within one of the 'vulnerable groups').

When switching from jobseeker's allowance to income support or the other way around, as above, try to get precise advice on how you should go about doing this so that:

  • there are no gaps between the periods of entitlement, and your housing benefit and council tax benefit, if you are receiving these, are not stopped.

If you have just been granted refugee status or Humanitarian Protection you may be entitled to an integration loan. In addition, as a refugee you may also be entitled to child benefit or child tax credit backdated to the date when you claimed asylum.

You can seek advice on all the above from your institution, Students' Union, Citizens Advice Bureau or Law Centre. The adviser can check with the local benefits office as procedures may vary in different parts of the UK.

Further advice

Last modified: 03 December 2015

If you need more information or advice on your entitlement to benefits, the Students’ Union Student Advice Service or your institution may help. You can also get free advice from any Citizens Advice Bureau, and some Law Centres will also offer free advice if you live locally (see list of websites below). For information on health benefits, please see Health and healthcare.