If you think you may be entitled to an income-related benefit, such as Income Support, Housing Benefit, Jobseeker's Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), or Pension Credit Guarantee Credit, you should make a claim as soon as possible.
You can call 0800 055 6688 (8am-6pm Monday to Friday) to start a claim for most benefits. If you have a speech or hearing impairment, a textphone service is available on 0800 023 4888.
Your basic details will be recorded and you'll be called back to discuss your claim. This usually takes around 45 minutes and you may be sent a statement to sign, based on the information you've given.
If you have trouble using the phone, you can claim most benefits online via GOV.UK.
To avoid delays in your claim, make sure you have your National Insurance number. You may also be asked to prove your identity, your home address, income and savings, so your passport, household bills, wage slips and bank statements should also be to hand.
Couples: who should claim benefits?
If you're in a couple, you may have to think about which one of you should make the claim. You might need advice about which benefit is the best to claim, as you may be eligible for different ones.
Backdating your claim for income-related benefits
Income-related benefits can be backdated for one month before your date of claim if, for example, your local office is closed and you can't make other arrangements for claiming, you couldn't reasonably get to or contact the office, you've claimed after separating from your partner or there were serious postal problems.
In exceptional circumstances, income-related benefits can be backdated by up to three months. These circumstances include language difficulties, being given wrong information by Jobcentre Plus or an advice worker or solicitor, or you were having serious problems as a disabled person or a carer and you weren't able to get help.
Dealing with delays to your benefit claim
If your first payday has been reached and your claim has not yet been decided, you may be able to ask for an advance of benefit.
Advances are discretionary and can only be made to those who satisfy the conditions for an advance, including that the claimant or a member of their family is in financial need.
If your claim or payment is seriously delayed, you may want to make a complaint.
How changing circumstances affect income-related benefits
If something happens that could change your entitlement to a benefit or the amount you're paid, report it straight away. Tell the office that usually deals with your claim for income-related benefit (contact details will be on letters they've sent you).
Some benefits, such as Carer's Allowance or Disability Living Allowance (DLA), may increase the amount of income-related benefits you can get. Make sure you tell the office that deals with your claim, so that you don't lose out on any extra money you may be due from disability or carer premium payments.
It's best to report in writing anything that may change your entitlement to a benefit, in case there's confusion over what you did.
You need to report changes in circumstances straight away because if you're paid too much benefit, it may be claimed back from you. Many overpayments are caused by innocent mistakes, but if you're accused of acting dishonestly or fraudulently, you should seek urgent legal advice.
If you deliberately give incorrect or misleading information or fail to report a change of circumstances, you may be committing benefit fraud.
Benefit fraud is a criminal offence and you can be prosecuted or asked to pay a penalty. If you're being investigated for benefit fraud, your benefit will be suspended. If you're convicted of benefit fraud more than once, your benefit may be reduced or stopped in the future.
Changes in circumstances
The following scenarios are examples of when you may need to report a change in circumstances:
- If you're admitted to hospital as an inpatient, your entitlement to income-related benefits continues, but you may have to report that you're in hospital if you get DLA, Attendance Allowance (AA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This is because payment of these should stop after 28 days in hospital. Any Severe Disability Premium you get should also stop at this point. For more information, read this Age UK leaflet on going into hospital (PDF, 2Mb).
- If you go home for a few days, even just for a weekend, tell the relevant offices that deal with each of your benefits. This is because although benefits may be reduced or stop while you're in hospital, you're entitled to the full rate for any days that you spend at home. You may need to send confirmation from the hospital of the dates that you spend at home.
- If you're a carer and you're getting a carer premium on your benefit and the person you're looking after goes into hospital, your premium will stop eight weeks after their DLA, AA or PIP stops.
- If you're a resident in a care home, your income-related benefit won't stop. However, your benefit will usually go towards paying your costs of staying in the home. You should be left with the "personal allowance" element of your benefit.
- If you enter a care home on a permanent basis, your claim may be treated differently if you're part of a couple or you own your own home.
- If you become a permanent care home resident, you will be treated as a single person for benefit purposes, so you and your partner will need to make separate claims as single people.
If you're a permanent care home resident, your house will be treated as capital, which may mean that you're no longer entitled to your income-related benefit. However, it will not be treated as capital if:
- it's occupied by your current partner
- it's occupied by a relative as their home, if that person is over 60 or "incapacitated"
- it's occupied by a former partner from whom you're estranged or divorced, if they're a lone parent
- you're taking steps to sell the property; in this case, its value is ignored for 26 weeks (or for longer, if it's reasonable under the circumstances) - read about deferred payment agreements
You can claim income-related benefits if you're in part-time education.
How income-related benefit is worked out
How much of the income-related benefit you get depends on the weekly amount the government thinks you need to live on. This is known as your "applicable amount" for most income-related benefits except Pension Credit Guarantee Credit.
The applicable amount varies for each person because it's made up of different elements, which depend on your circumstances. First, there's a basic amount called the "personal allowance". This has different rates, depending on your age and whether you're a single person or part of a couple.
Extra sums for extra costs
As well as personal allowance, some people are allowed extra amounts called "premiums". These are paid if you have a disability or you're a carer or an older person.
Some housing costs for your mortgage or home loan interest can also be added to your personal allowance and any premiums you're entitled to. Added together, these amounts make up your applicable amount.
The amount of benefit you will be paid is the difference between your applicable amount and your income. In other words, income-related benefits tops up your income to the level the government thinks you will need to live on.
You will only be entitled to the benefit if your income is less than your applicable amount. If you have no income, or all your income is disregarded, you will get the benefit at the level of your applicable amount.
Otherwise, your benefit level will be your applicable amount minus your income. This means that any extra income you receive each week, if it's taken into account, will reduce the amount of benefit you're paid.
Pension Credit Guarantee Credit works in a similar way, but is based on a standard minimum guarantee, with additions for things such as disability and housing costs.
Premiums are extra amounts for special needs, such as those caused by disability or if you're a carer. If you add together your personal allowance, any premiums you qualify for and any mortgage help that you qualify for, this will give you your applicable amount, which is the amount that the law says you need to live on.
A disability premium can be added if:
- you or your partner receive disability benefits
- you or your partner are registered blind
- you have been incapable of work and on statutory sick pay for 196 days, and you're terminally ill
To qualify for disability premium, you must be under the age for Pension Credit eligibility.
For couples, a couple rate of disability premium will be paid, even if only one of you qualifies. If you're claiming because you have been incapable of work for a year, the claimant must be the disabled person, otherwise a disability premium will not be paid.
Severe disability premium
A severe disability premium is added for people who are receiving certain disability benefits and who meet other conditions. You will qualify if you receive the middle or highest rate of the care component of DLA, or you receive AA at either rate, and you live alone (or are treated as living alone) and no one is paid Carer's Allowance for looking after you.
Severe disability premium is payable at the single rate in most circumstances. However, you may get the couple rate if both of you receive the middle or highest rate of the care component of DLA, AA or PIP at either rate, and nobody is paid Carer's Allowance for looking after you.
Enhanced disability premium
An enhanced disability premium can be added to the other premiums if you (or your partner) are under pension age and getting DLA or PIP at the highest rate for care needs. A couple rate will be paid even if only one of you qualifies.
A carer premium can be added if you receive Carer's Allowance for looking after a disabled person. It's possible to get this premium if you care for your disabled partner. It's also possible for both members of a couple to receive a carer premium if they meet the rules, as you could be each other's carers.
Occasionally, it may be worth you claiming Carer's Allowance even though you receive another benefit that means you don't get any money for being a carer, because the two benefits overlap.
Capital and income
When the amount of an income-related benefit you will get is worked out, your income and capital will be taken into account.
You will need to give details of all your income and capital when you claim. Not all of it will count, but you should still show all the details.
What is 'capital'?
Capital includes most things that you have saved up, such as money in the bank or building society, premium bonds, unit trusts, investments or stocks and shares. If you own property, the value of this may count. However, the house you live in, even if you own it, doesn't count.
If you've sold your home and you're going to buy another one, the sum you set aside for this will not count for six months. For more information, see care homes.
The rules about what counts as capital can be complicated, so you may wish to get further advice. Don't be tempted to "get rid" of money (such as giving it to relatives) to get below the capital limits. Unless you have a good reason for spending the money, you may be treated as still having it, and you may still be refused benefit or receive reduced benefit.
Income is the money that you and your partner (if applicable) get from - for example:
- part-time work
- other benefits
- rent from lodgers
Most benefits and pensions that you receive will fully count as income. However, some benefits are either completely or partly ignored. This is called a "disregarded benefit".
Payments from some charitable trusts, including the Macfarlane Trust, the Eileen Trust, the Skipton Fund, Independent Living Funds and the London Bombings Fund are ignored. Other regular charitable or voluntary payments are also ignored as income.
If someone rents a room from you, but you don't provide food for them, some of this rent is ignored and the rest counts as income. If you rent a room out and provide food (known as "board"), some of this rent is ignored, and half of the remainder will be counted as income.
Now read about how to challenge a decision regarding your income-related benefits.
The government's official online source of information on ESA is GOV.UK.
Article provided by NHS Choices