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Social security benefits

Some people find that they literally pay for having a disability in terms of the extra costs that can be incurred. There can, for example, be extra heating costs if you are less mobile; you may have to put money into buying a wheelchair; or you may need to travel by taxi because public transport facilities are not accessible to you.

The social security benefits which are available are, in many people’s view, inadequate compensation for these extra costs. They are, however, a right in law to those who fit the entitlement criteria. If you are not sure whether you are eligible for a particular benefit, make a claim anyway.

Some benefits are related to a person’s care or assistance needs (Attendance Allowance, the care component of Disability Living Allowance and Invalid Care Allowance), or their mobility needs (the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance), or reduced earnings (Disabled Person’s Tax Credit). Others are specifically for people unable to work (Statutory Sick Pay, Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance), while others are general means-tested benefits to top-up income (Income Support, Housing Benefit, Working Families Tax Credit, the Social Fund). Some benefits overlap each other, so that if you get one you cannot get another (for example, you cannot receive Incapacity Benefit as well as Retirement Pension), while others are a passport to another (for example, receipt of Income Support entitles you to a range of other benefits such as free prescriptions).

The social security system is frequently reviewed and adjusted. The following information should, therefore, be checked with the Enquriy Line given at the end of this section, or with RADAR or any of the other specialist organisations listed under "Useful Addresses".

Disability Living Allowance (care component)

People are eligible to apply for the care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) from birth to the day before their 65th birthday. Once in receipt of the benefit it may be payable for life, provided that the qualifying conditions continue to be met. Children under 16 must show they need more care than would normally be expected with a child of the same age. Applicants must have needed help for at least three months before they claim and be likely to require it for at least another six. The Allowance is not means-tested and can be paid in full on top of any other social security benefits, neither is it taxable. It may, however, be taken into account by local authorities when assessing your ability to meet any charges for services provided by them.

DLA care component is paid at three rates. The lower rate is payable to people who require assistance with their bodily functions from another person for a significant portion of the day, or who cannot prepare a cooked main meal for themselves. Bodily functions include hearing, seeing, eating, drinking, dressing, bathing, shaving, etc. The "cooking test", as it is known, encompasses all stages of meal preparation from planning, through the preparation and cooking of fresh vegetables and meat (including lifting hot, heavy pans) to serving the meal. The cooking test does not apply to children under 16. The middle rate is payable to people who need EITHER frequent attention in connection with their bodily functions, or continual supervision in order to avoid substantial danger to themselves or others throughout the day, OR prolonged or repeated attention in connection with their bodily functions, or to have another person awake for a prolonged period in order to watch over them throughout the night. People who require dialysis two or more times a week and normally require some help with this may qualify automatically for the middle rate.

The higher rate is payable to people who satisfy both the day time AND night time attention or supervision requirements above.

People who receive DLA care component and who are living alone (or with someone who cannot provide all the care the required), and who have incomes at or about Income Support level, may be able to receive payments from the Independent Living (1993) Fund (ILF) for personal care. The ILF is only for people aged between 16 - 66 and applicants have to apply to their local authority social services department first. The ILF will supplement local authority services up to a limit of £500 per person. For further information see: Care in the Community.

Attendance Allowance

Attendance Allowance (AA) is a tax-free benefit, similar to the care component of DLA but for people over 65 who need frequent assistance with bodily functions, or supervision to avoid danger to themselves or others. There are two rates of benefit, higher and lower, depending on whether you need assistance or supervision by day and by night, or by either day or night. You do not have to live with someone else or have a carer in order to qualify, but you must have been in need of assistance for six months before the benefit can begin to be paid.

The Allowance is not means-tested and can be paid in full in addition to other benefits, such as Retirement Pension and Income Support, and it is ignored as income for means-tested benefits. Getting AA can passport you on to extra help with other benefits, for example a higher pensioner premium or severe disability premium with Income Support and Council Tax Benefit or Housing Benefit.

Carer's Allowance

Carer's Allowance is a taxable benefit to help people who look after someone who is disabled. You do not have to be related to, or live with, the person that you care for. You may be able to get Carer's Allowance if you are aged 16 or over and spend at least 35 hours a week caring for a person getting Attendance Allowance, or Disability Living Allowance (at the middle or highest rate for personal care), or Constant Attendance Allowance (at or above the normal maximum rate with an Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, or basic (full day) rate with a War Disablement Pension).

You cannot get Carer's Allowance if you are in full-time education with 21 hours or more a week of supervised study or earn more than £95 a week after certain deductions have been made (such as Income Tax). The weekly rate is £50.55. This is reduced by the amount of certain other benefits, including State Pension, that you receive. If you receive certain other benefits at £50.55 or more a week, Carer's Allowance cannot be paid to you as well. You may have to pay tax on the amount you receive. You may be able to get an additional amount for your husband, wife or civil partner or someone living with you who looks after your dependent children.

Disability Living Allowance (mobility component)

People are eligible to apply for the mobility component of DLA between the ages of five and the day before their 65th birthday. It is important to note the cut-off date for new applicants - apply before you reach 65 or you will not entitled to this benefit. Children under the age of 16 must also show that they need substantially more guidance or supervision than a person in normal physical and mental health would require. As with the care component of DLA, applicants must have been eligible for the allowance for three months before, and likely to remain eligible for at least six months after, their claim.

The mobility component is payable at two rates. The higher rate is for people who are unable or virtually unable to walk, or who are both deaf and blind, or who have no legs or feet, or if the exertion required to walk would constitute a danger to their life or lead to a serious deterioration to their health, or who are switching from the pre-1976 invalid vehicle scheme, or, under exceptional circumstances, who are severely mentally impaired and in receipt of the higher rate of care component.

The lower rate is for people who are able to walk but cannot do so out of doors without guidance or supervision from someone else. This includes people whose mobility difficulties are caused by mental disability as well as by a physical disability, and conditions such as agoraphobia may qualify someone for the allowance at the lower rate.

When assessing your inability to walk, certain factors will be taken into account. You must be able to make use of the allowance, which means that people in a coma or whose medical condition makes it unsafe to move them are not eligible. If you use artificial aids or have an artificial limb, or if there are aids suitable for you, it is your ability to walk using these aids which counts. The exception is if you have no legs or feet, whether by amputation or from birth, when you qualify automatically for the higher rate irrespective of any artificial limbs you use. The physical environment in which you live will be ignored. If you live on a hill, for example, or a long distance from the nearest shops or bus stop, this is irrelevant in assessing your physical ability to walk.

The factors taken into account when assessing a "virtual inability" to walk are the distance, speed or manner in which you can walk without severe discomfort.

Disabled Person’s Tax Credit

The Disabled Person’s Tax Credit is a tax-free, means-tested payment, administered by the Inland Revenue and paid by employers. It is designed to help people with an illness or disability to return to or take up work by topping up earnings. To qualify, you must be aged 16 or older, working 16 or more hours a week, not have capital (such as savings and the value of a second home) over £16,000, and fulfil two qualifying tests.

The first is the Disability Test, which basically means that you must have a physical or mental disability which puts you at a disadvantage in getting a job. The second is the Qualifying Benefit Test, whereby you must be receiving one of a range of incapacity or disability benefits (such as Disability Living Allowance).The amount of Disabled Person’s Tax Credit available is dependent on your circumstances. This includes your net income and capital, the number of hours you work each week, the number and ages of any children you have, and, where applicable and in certain circumstances, how much you pay in childcare. Certain benefits, such as Disability Living Allowance, are not taken into account when assessing your level of income, and a weekly level of income will be assumed for any capital with a value of between £3,000 and £16,000.

Employment and Support Allowance (formerly Incapacity Benefit)

If you can't work because of illness or disability you may be able to get Employment and Support Allowance. Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced on 27 October 2008.

It replaced Incapacity Benefit and Income Support, paid because of an illness or disability, for new claimants only. If you already receive Incapacity Benefit, you will continue to receive it.

You may be able to claim Incapacity Benefit if any of the following apply to you:

  • your Statutory Sick Pay has ended, or you can't get it

  • you are self employed or unemployed

  • you have been getting Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and have not gone back to work for your employer because you are incapable of work

  • you were under State Pension age when you became sick

You must also have been:

  •  paying National Insurance Contributions

  •  unable to work due to sickness or disability for at least four days in a row (including weekends and public holidays)

  • getting special medical treatment and unable to work for two or more days out of seven consecutive days

or you must:

  • be aged between 16 and 20 (or under 25 if you were in education or training at least three months immediately before turning 20), and

  • have been too ill to work because of sickness or disability for at least 28 weeks, and

  • have been too ill to work before you turned 20 (or 25 if you were in education or training at least three months immediately before turning 20)

If you've been living or working abroad

Living or working abroad can affect your Incapacity Benefit claim. But you may be able to claim if you've either:

  • paid enough UK National Insurance Contributions (NICs) in the relevant income tax years (and the equivalent in certain other countries - ask your local Jobcentre Plus office for details)

  • worked abroad for an employer based in the UK and paid NICs for the first 52 weeks of that employment

If you haven't paid enough National Insurance contributions

You may be able to claim Incapacity Benefit even if you haven't paid enough National Insurance contributions if the following apply:

  • you're aged under 20 (or 25 if you were in education or training at least three months immediately before turning 20)

  • you've been sick for 28 weeks

  • you're present and resident in Great Britain for 26 weeks in the year before you claim


If you're in the Armed Forces or you live and work within the European Economic Area (EEA), you may still be treated as being resident in the UK.

Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit

Disablement Benefit is payable under the Industrial Injuries Scheme to people disabled as a result of an industrial accident or a prescribed industrial disease such as pneumoconiosis. It makes no difference if the disability has rendered you incapable of work or not, as long as you have been assessed as being more than 14% disabled (20% in the case of occupational deafness and as little as 1% in the case of some prescribed respiratory diseases). The benefit is payable from 15 weeks after the date of the accident or the onset of the disease, and is paid on top of any other non-means-tested benefit you may receive, such as DLA. If you qualify for this benefit you might also be entitled to receive a Reduced Earnings Allowance, a Constant Attendance Allowance, or an Exceptionally Severe Disablement Allowance.

Severe Disablement Allowance

Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA) is for people who have been incapable of work for at least 28 weeks, and who do not have sufficient National Insurance contributions for Incapacity Benefit. It is neither means-tested nor taxable. In addition to having been incapable of work for at least 28 weeks prior to your claim, in order to qualify you must also either have become incapable of work on or before your 20th birthday, or be in receipt of the higher rate care component of DLA, or be registered blind, or be covered by an assessment of 80% disablement (if you have an assessment of 75% this is always rounded up to 80%) under the Industrial Injuries Scheme. If none of these apply to you, you will have to be assessed by an Adjudicating Medical Practitioner as being 80% disabled and satisfy the "all work" test as for Incapacity Benefit.

Jobseeker’s Allowance

This is for people who are unemployed, or working less than 16 hours a week, and are available for and actively seeking work. Contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) is a flat rate allowance based on your National Insurance contribution record. It is payable for up to six months and is taxable. Income-based JSA is means-tested, payable if you have no income or a low income and no savings above £8,000. It can top up contribution-based JSA if that is insufficient for your needs, and is also taxable.

General Benefits

Income support
Income Support is a means-tested benefit paid to people as the sole benefit or to top-up others. It is only payable to people who are not required to sign on for work, eg those who are incapable of work through illness or disability, carers, lone parents or people aged 60 or over. Anyone else should apply for the Jobseeker’s Allowance instead. The amount paid depends on your income, savings and family composition. There are supplements, known as premiums, to the basic amount of benefit which are payable in respect of disability, age and carer responsibilities. Income Support can act as a passport to other benefits like free prescriptions and dental treatment.

Housing benefit

Housing Benefit is to help people pay their rent, whether to a private landlord, local authority, housing association or bed and breakfast hostel. It may not be paid, however, if you live with and pay rent to a member of your immediate family. It is payable to people on Income Support or income-based JSA or on a low income and have no more than £16,000 capital. (NB: People who own their own homes can get help with mortgage interest payments through Income Support or income-based JSA).

Council tax benefit
Council Tax Benefit is payable under the same conditions as Housing Benefit, to people who are liable for Council Tax on their home. The benefit may not always cover the whole amount of the Council Tax, notably where your home is in band F, G or H, or if your income is above a certain level. Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit are administered by local authorities.

Social fund
People on Income Support, income-based JSA or Disabled Person’s Tax Credit are automatically entitled to maternity payments, funeral expenses, cold weather payments and winter fuel payments under the Regulated Social Fund.

The Discretionary Social Fund can make interest-free loans or grants where a lump sum payment would be difficult to meet from the weekly benefit. Repayment of loans is by deduction from the weekly benefit payment. Community care grants can be paid to people who are setting up home in the community or to prevent them going into care, and payments can be for furniture, removals, bedding, etc.

In all cases, loans and grants are at the discretion of your local Social Security office and are cash-limited, ie each office has an annual budget which it is not permitted to overspend.

Stop Press

The Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill was made an Act of Parliament in 1999. Measures include the abolition of severe disablement allowance, changes to incapacity benefit for new claimants, and the extension of the lower age of entitlement to the higher rate of the mobility component of disability living allowance to age three. The changes will take effect from 2001.

Further Information

Useful publications on benefits include the "Disability Rights Handbook" published annually by the Disability Alliance, and the "Sick or Disabled?" booklet (FB28) from the Benefits Agency. Benefits Agency booklets are available from your local social security office. The Benefits Enquiry Line (0800 882200, Minicom 0800 243355) is a confidential freephone advisory service for disabled people which is worth contacting with any benefit query you may have.

Carers association

We are indebted to RADAR for providing the information for this section.