What are welfare benefits?

The government attempts to improve the financial situation of people in need at various stages in their lives such as pregnancy, having children, unemployment, The government attempts to improve the financial situation of people in need at  retirement, illness, disability. Some welfare benefits are ʻmeans-testedʼ, that is, your income affects your entitlement. Some are ʻnon means-testedʼ but are dependent on you fulfilling certain criteria. There a large amount of changes going through at the moment. Most initially only affect  new claims, but gradually will affect existing claimants, furthermore you may be protected under transitional arrangements.

How can I find out if I am entitled to any welfare benefits?

There are many web-based eligibility calculators that can help you find out about your personal entitlement to benefits (www.turn2us.org.uk/).

The Citizens Advice website has comprehensive information on welfare benefits (www.citizensadvice.org.uk).

You can also get advice from your local advice centres.

Does my immigration status affect my entitlement to welfare benefits?

Most people with limited leave to enter the UK, such as visitors, spouses, civil partners, can not have recourse to public funds. It is important to seek advice if you are a person subject to immigration control as the consequences of claiming public funds are serious.

You can find a list of what counts as ‘public funds’ at www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk

How do I make a claim?

Many benefits can now be claimed over the phone, with the completed or partially completed claim form being sent to you for checking and signing or you can complete a claim form on-line. Check how to claim by going to www.directgov.uk

Can my claim for benefit be backdated?

There are strict time limits for claiming benefits but if you miss the time limit, your claim can sometimes be backdated for up to 3 months (12 months for retirement pension). You have to ask for the claim to be backdated otherwise it will not be considered. There are various conditions for backdating different benefits, so seek advice if you are unsure.

What if I disagree with a decision by a benefits agency?

If you think the decision is wrong, you can seek a revision of the decision (asking the decision maker to look at the case again) or seek a supersession of the decision (if your circumstances have changed). In many cases, you also have a right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal. Before you take this action, you can ask for an explanation of the decision and/or written reasons for the decision. This will help you prepare your case or be useful for your adviser.

What is a cold weather payment?

Cold weather payments are a Social Fund payment. You will qualify if:

  • a period of cold weather has been forecast or recorded for the area in which you live;
  • you  are not living in a care home;
  • you qualify for Income Support, income-based Job Seekers allowance or income based Employment Support Allowance that includes a qualifying premium/component or you have a child under 5, or you are getting Pension Credit;
  • you are not a person subject to immigration control
What is a winter fuel payment?

This is a lump sum payment if you are 60 or over in the qualifying week (usually the 3rd Monday in September) and you are ordinarily resident in Great Britain and, if a claim is required, you claim in time, and you are not excluded. For a list of exclusions, see www.cpag.org.uk

What is a Discretionary Housing Payment?

Discretionary housing payments (DHP) are extra payments that can be made by your local authority if:

  • You are entitled to Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit;
  • You require some financial assistance in addition to your normal entitlement to Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit to meet your housing costs (including council tax).

You do not have a ʻrightʼ to DHP and there  is a rights to appeal to the Valuation Tribunal.

You do have the right to ask the local authority to review their decision and you might be able to challenge a review decision by judicial review.

Am I entitled to financial help when starting work?

If you start work for 16 hours per week or more, you might be entitled to some financial support to help the transition from benefit to work. Depending on circumstances you might qualify for:

  • Mortgage interest run-on
  • A job grant
  • A payment from the Adviser Discretion Fun
  • Return-to-work credit
  • In-work credit.