Guerrilla Guide to Claiming Benefits

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Table of Contents

Introduction .................................................................. 3 Advice for all benefits claims.............................................. 5 Getting the right information.............................................. 8 Benefits, bank accounts and capital...................................... 9 Claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance .........................................10 Making an appeal ...........................................................15 Claiming benefits for sickness/incapacity ..............................19 Housing and Council Tax benefits........................................28 Studying whilst on benefits ...............................................36 Having a baby ...............................................................38 Tax Credits ..................................................................42 Help Whilst Working........................................................47 The Social Fund .............................................................50 Help with Medical costs ...................................................53 Where to get forms ........................................................55 Abbreviations ...............................................................58

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Introduction

Benefits are there to keep you eating, drinking, housed and clothed if you don’t have any money coming in. Each year, billions of pounds worth of benefits goes unclaimed. Some of that could be yours. You could be unemployed, sick, disabled, pregnant, have children, care for someone (physically, not just liking them a lot) or just not have very much money. This Guide will tell you what you are entitled to, and how to get it.

Some people don’t claim benefits because they feel embarrassed about it. This makes no sense. If your parents have paid taxes, they have put some money into the system for you. If you have paid taxes, or will do in the future, you are paying your own way anyway. And if you honestly can’t work, it’s quite reasonable that a civilised society helps you out a little.

Some of these benefits are means-tested, meaning that you have to show that you really need the money. For these benefits, a small fortune in the bank or a well-paid partner will probably knock you out. Other benefits may be based on the amount of National Insurance Contributions you have paid, or on a certain condition such as disability.

In the United Kingdom, benefits for living costs such as food, utilities and clothes are generally paid by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). In most areas, this is managed through Jobcentre Plus offices, which are a
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combination of a Jobcentre and a Social Security Office. While some areas still have two separate offices, they will all be replaced soon with Jobcentre Plus offices. For the purposes of this Guide, Jobcentre will refer to either setup. You might also have to deal with HM Revenue & Customs and your local authority.

The money you will receive from benefits is not very much. Housing costs aside, the standard amount for single people is £45.50 for 18-24 year olds and £57.45 for those over 25 (and under retirement age) and lone parents. Couples over 18 get £90.10 even if one or both are over 25 (unless you don’t register yourselves as a couple of course). After food and bills, this doesn’t leave very much for things like clothes, going out and music. If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, you are going to have stop eating. But there are various premiums around disability and bringing up children, and if you are on a low income, there is extra help with costs from prescriptions to flood damage.

For all the benefits we discuss, you need to be living in the UK. If your immigration status is unclear, you should contact an adviser such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB). You can find your local CAB here http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/getadvice.

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Advice for all benefits claims • Keep a record of everything that happens. Before you hand in a claim form, photocopy it and keep the copy for your records. Keep copies of all letters and emails you send and receive from the relevant agency. And whenever you speak to any staff member about benefits - whether on the phone or in the office - keep a log of who you spoke to, the time and date, and what they said. This might seem a pain, and it is a bit, but if there are complications later, you’ll regret it if you didn’t.

Appear truthful and consistent at all times. If anything looks dodgy, this could affect how the rest of your claim is seen. And there are always some staff who are quite happy to assume the worst. So make an effort to keep consistent throughout your contact. If you are not sure, check through your past forms and conversations and see what you said before. Obviously if you are telling the truth this is much easier, but don’t assume that just because you are telling the truth they will believe you.

Provide benefits agencies with all the information they want. They won’t overlook missing information; just keep rejecting your application and asking for the extra. This means that having applied and waited for an answer, you have to do the same thing again, each time waiting for your form to reach the top of the pile. In my experience, they are quite
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happy to stretch out the claim this way for a long time, meaning you have to wait a long time for your money. It is better to be on the safe side and provide everything they could possibly want. For example, you need your pay slips if you have been working, medical certificates for sickness and disability benefits, and bank statements for means tested benefits. When you do provide benefits agencies with documents – take them into the office rather than posting them. These places have a habit of losing things, which means you not only losing your document, but delaying your claim.

If things get too difficult, get advice. This could be because you don’t know what you are entitled to, you are having trouble filling out a claim form, you want to challenge a decision, or many other reasons. The best start for advice is the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. They can advise you on all the matters in this book, and give you details of local welfare rights groups and law centres. Welfare rights groups and law centres can provide you with advice and also representation. If you are in England or Wales you can also contact Community Legal Service Direct (http://www.clsdirect.org.uk) on 0845 345 4 345. The Scottish Legal Aid Board (http://www.slab.org.uk) are on 0845 122 8686 and the Northern Ireland Legal Service Commission (http://www.nilsc.org.uk) are on 028 9040 8888. All these services are free to use.
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Tell them about changes as soon as possible. These changes could be living situations, marriage, getting a lot of money, getting a new job, or a change in your illness. Some of these changes could increase your benefits. Others could reduce them - so it can be tempting not to say anything. But you are unlikely to win this one. As your benefit entitlement will be changed from the date of the change in circumstances rather than the date you told them about it, you could end up with a lot of money to repay. When you are on benefits, this is not very easy. And if you withhold the information for an unreasonable amount of time this is regarded as benefit fraud.

Benefit fraud is taken very seriously and can result in fines or, in extreme cases, imprisonment. Offences include not claiming yours or your partners paid work, income or savings, or claiming benefits as a single person while living with a partner. Also, the ‘two strikes’ system means that if you commit two separate benefit fraud offences, you can have your future entitlement to benefits such as Income Support, Housing Benefit, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Incapacity Benefit reduced or withdrawn for a while. If you think you might be suspected of benefit fraud, then you should get advice.

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Getting the right information The majority of people working on the front desks of the benefits agencies do sincerely want to help. However, they don’t always know what they are doing. This isn’t their fault of course; they probably need more training and more money. And there are also some who really don’t want to help. This means that the member of staff you happen to see on any given day may not give you the best advice. On many occasions I have been told opposing things by two (or more) different people.

So if you need some advice on anything difficult, use one of the following tips: • Ask for as member of staff you know you can trust. If you have spoken to a member of staff before and know that they are knowledgeable and helpful, it is worth asking to speak to them straight away.

Ask the same question to different people. There are enough staff in any one place that if you call twice, you are unlikely to speak to the same person. Therefore, if you get some advice, you can call again and get that advice from someone else. If the second person says the same as the first, it is most probably right. If they say something different, take this up with them. And if in doubt, go for a third.

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If you are on the phone to someone particularly unhelpful, “accidentally” hang up. Then call back. Most probably you will get to talk to someone else. If you do get the same person, you can simply apologise, and if necessary do the same thing again. If they do complain, you could retort that you would get a more reliable phone service if they paid you more money.

Be nice to whoever you are dealing with. This might seem obvious, but it is important. While the system is infuriating, the person you are speaking to played no part in creating it, and has no power to change it. They spend half their days being shouted at, so ranting is unlikely to shock them into action. What they are much less used to is people being friendly and reasonable. Just stay calm, and explain your situation. Maybe even have a bit of a chat. If you must express your frustration, just prefix it regularly with “I know it’s not your fault but…”, or something similar. It is surprising how much difference this makes.

Benefits, bank accounts and capital Savings, land and property (not including the place where you live) are collectively classed as capital. Capital can affect the amount of benefits you can receive. If you have capital of over £16000 in value, you cannot usually receive means-tested benefits. Which is fair enough – that is a lot of money. If
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you have over £6000, you are treated as having £1 a week income for every £250 over the £6000 limit. So, for example, if you have £8000 in savings, you have £2000 over the limit, and are therefore treated as having £8 a week income, which will be taken from your benefit.

In the process of claiming benefits, it is likely that you will have to hand in bank statements at various points. So you need to make sure that nothing looks out of place. You will probably have to explain any money coming into your account. So keep that in mind when you have anything paid to you. Obviously dealing in cash avoids this problem. If you do have odd amounts of unexplained money on the statement, write explanations on the statement before you hand it in. Otherwise your application may well take double the time to process as it reaches the front of the queue, gets rejected because of the unexplained money, and you then have to reply and have it processed again.

Claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance To claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) you must be all of the following: • • • • 16 or over and under retirement age Unemployed or working for less than 16 hours a week Actively seeking work Available to start work at a week’s notice and interview at 48 hours
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If you are 16 or 17, the rules are tighter. To get JSA you must either • • • have been forced to live away from your parents be part of a couple responsible for a child show that you will suffer severe hardship if you don’t get JSA

Jobseeker’s Allowance is divided into two main categories: contribution-based and income-based. Both pay the same amount but are based on the criteria that their names suggest. To get contribution-based JSA, you must have made National Insurance Contributions (NICs) over the last two tax years (that is April to April years). They also have to be the right type of NICs.

If you have worked as an employee, you automatically pay Class 1 NICs. That’s good. It is only Class 1 contributions that lead to contribution-based JSA. If you have been self-employed, you pay Class 2 contributions, which means you will have to claim income-based JSA, which we’ll discuss next. If you have been claiming unemployment or sickness benefits in the last two years, you will get Class 1 National Insurance credits. These credits can count towards one of your two qualifying years, but to receive contribution-based JSA, you have to have actually paid contributions for one of the years.

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You can claim contribution-based JSA for up to 26 weeks, at which point you need to switch to income-based. You can only claim for yourself, not a partner, but if your partner is also unemployed you can claim income-based JSA alongside contribution-based. A partner in terms of benefits means either a husband, wife or civil partner, or someone you live with as if this was the case.

If you can’t claim contribution-based JSA, don’t worry. You would only get it for 6 months anyway. The only major difference between the two is that contribution-based JSA isn’t affected by your savings or your partner’s income. With income-based JSA, capital over £6000 will affect the benefit you get, as we discussed earlier. If your partner works an average of over 24 hours a week, this usually means you can’t get income-based JSA at all, and anything less will still affect it.

If you fit all the criteria we have discussed, then you can get income-based JSA. You’ll need a claim form – the information on where to get all the forms mentioned in this Guide can be found in the ‘Where to get forms’ section at the end. Once your application has been accepted, you will have to put together a Jobseeker’s Agreement with an adviser at the Jobcentre. This is where you map out the types of work you are willing to do, and the hours you are willing to work. You are unlikely to get away with asking to start at midday every day because you don’t want to get up, or saying that the only thing you
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want to do is be the Prime Minister. But it is reasonable to select only jobs that are suitable for you in terms of your past experience and skills. They tend to be very lenient for the start of your claim period, and tighten up the rules if you are still unemployed after 13 weeks.

If you have a medical reason which you can get a doctor’s certificate for, you can restrict the hours of work that you are able to take on. When I had to claim JSA recently due to ongoing problems with Incapacity Benefit, I restricted my working hours to a maximum of 2 hours a day and 10 hours a week.

In your Jobseeker’s Agreement, you also have to say what you are going to do to identify and apply for jobs. This will include writing to employers, using the Jobcentre’s services and so on. The adviser will most probably write a standard agreement for you, which involves looking at the Jobcentre’s bank of jobs twice a week, reading local papers, writing to employers and so on. But do read this before you sign it and suggest changing anything that’s not right. It is called an agreement, not a command.

You need to be actively seeking work to stay on JSA. If you are unemployed for long, you are going to have to prove that you are making an effort. So keep a record of phone calls you made to ask about jobs and letters you have sent or received. Also keep a record of where you have looked for jobs. Once a
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fortnight, you will have to sign on at your local Jobcentre. Depending how busy the adviser is, and whether they have taken a particular disliking to you, they might quiz you on what you have done to look for work, so be ready to answer.

After 13 and then 26 weeks, if you are still unemployed, you will have to attend interviews with an Employment Adviser. These interviews are compulsory. If your Jobseeker’s Agreement seems unreasonably restrictive, you might well have to change it here. This might be all that happens. But the Employment Service Adviser is entitled to issue you with a ‘direction’ to attend a compulsory scheme. Or they might tell you to register with an agency, or apply for a job. These are not so much ‘directions’ as orders, and failure to comply is likely to lead to your benefit being suspended.

You can also get your benefit suspended for: • • • Leaving a reasonable job voluntarily Being sacked for misconduct Refusing a job without good reason

If you do get sanctioned for any reason, or if you are refused either type of JSA and you think it is unreasonable, you don’t just have to accept it – you can make an appeal.

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Making an appeal On receiving a decision letter, the first thing you should do is request a statement of reasons. You can do this by post, telephone or going into the Jobcentre. Getting something in writing is ideal, as you may well need to refer to it later. The statement of reasons will give you a fuller account of the basis on which the decision was made. This means that you can decide whether it was fair or not. If you still disagree, this full statement will give you a better basis for your appeal.

You can ask for the decision to be looked at again, usually by a different Decision Maker. You must ask for this within one month of the date on the decision letter. If you don’t ask again within this time and don’t have a strong reason for this (such as being in hospital), you are unlikely to get the decision changed, and would have to start the application process again. If the decision remains the same and you are still unhappy with it, you can make a request for it to be looked at a third time. But you would really need new evidence to get the decision changed on this third look.

The second option is to make an appeal. It is generally best to make the appeal straight away, because it is quicker than waiting for the decision to be looked at again, getting the new decision back, and then having to appeal anyway. Also, when you make an appeal, they will look at the decision again anyway, so
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you can kill two birds with one stone. If you don’t end up having to go to appeal because they change their minds on looking at the decision again, then this route will have taken longer. But better safe than sorry.

The most important thing to keep in mind when writing your appeal is to explain clearly why you think their decision is wrong. They are not going to change a decision just because you don’t like it. So you need to pick out all the facts that they have got wrong, and correct them. If possible, back this up with evidence such as medical certificates.

If your case is fairly simple, an appeal is not too difficult to write. But if you are in any doubt, it is worth getting advice from one of the places mentioned earlier. This way you can make sure you put together the strongest appeal possible. The other advantage of getting advice at this point is that if the case drags on and you need representation later, you already have someone working on your case, so this should speed the process up.

To make an appeal, you need to get a GL24 form. Fill it in and post or drop it in to your local Jobcentre. If you can drop it in and get a receipt it saves the risk of finding out a month later that they have misplaced it, you don’t have proof, and now you are too late to appeal. When they get your appeal form, they will look at their decision again and choose whether or not to change it. If
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they decide against it, they pass the appeal on to the Appeals Service. The Appeals Service will then send you a form and it is important that you get this form back to them within 14 days; otherwise your appeal will be stopped.

This form will ask you whether you want an oral hearing – where you and your representative (if you have one) will be present – or a paper one where they will just look through the relevant documents. Oral hearings give the tribunal members a chance to ask you any questions they have, and for you to explain anything you need to. This gives you a better chance of success. If you do opt for a paper hearing (which saves you having to go to the hearing), make sure you provide all the information you can. You also need to decide whether or not to have a representative. Appeals with representatives have a much higher success rate than those without, so I would highly recommend it.

If your appeal fails, there is only chance left - an appeal to the Social Security Commissioners. This is a fairly limited appeal as you can no longer appeal the conclusions they have made based on the facts provided, but only their interpretation of the law. So unless you know a lot about benefits law, it is essential to get representation if you haven’t already. Your representative will guide you through this last stage of appeal. If this stage fails as well, then I’m afraid it’s case closed.

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While you are making your appeal, you can also make a complaint about the service you have received. This could be because staff have: • • • • been rude made mistakes taken an unreasonable amount of time discriminated against you for any reason

It is quite likely that at least one of these things will have happened. Making a complaint is unlikely to benefit you particularly, beyond getting an apology if they agree with you. However, compensation is paid in a few cases. And complaints can result in staff being reprimanded and sometimes retrained so you get the revenge factor along with a feel good factor that you have made it better for people down the line.

While your benefit claim is under appeal, you should be entitled to a reduced amount under the hardship provision. To get this, you need to be able to show that you or someone in your household would suffer if you don’t get any money. Bearing in mind how low most of the rates are anyway, a reduced amount is pretty grim. But if you’ve got nothing else coming in, it still helps.

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Claiming benefits for sickness/incapacity If you are unable to work because of sickness or disability, there are a range of benefits you can claim. If you have just stopped work because of the problem, the first port of call is Statutory Sick Pay. If you have not been working recently but have worked in the past, you may be able to claim Incapacity Benefit. If you do not qualify for either of these, you can claim Income Support. Any illness that makes you unable to work entitles you to benefits. This includes mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is paid if the following apply: • you were working for an employer and earning an average of at least £84 a week before tax • • you were forced to stop work because of sickness or disability you have been unable to work for 4 or more days in a row (including weekends and bank holidays)

You can get SSP even if you become sick and unable to work on your first day. SSP is paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks at a standard rate of £70.05 a week. If you are off sick for various short periods with gaps between them of less than 8 weeks, these will count towards your 28 week maximum. If your periods of sickness are more than 8 weeks apart, the count starts again.

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To claim SSP, you need to tell your employer you are sick. For the first week of illness, your employer will have their own rules as to how you tell them. After this, you will have to provide a medical certificate from your GP. Note that your employer is not allowed to end your contract to avoid paying SSP. If your employer refuses to pay you, has not paid you enough or has not paid you on time, get in touch with your local HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) office. You can also get in touch with advice or law centres, as we discussed earlier.

If you were not working for an employer at the point you became ill, or if you were self-employed, you cannot claim SSP and need instead to claim Incapacity Benefit. To claim Incapacity Benefit (IB) you must be over 16 and under retirement age. Again, you have to have been sick for at least 4 days in a row. Normally, you must have paid Class 1 (employed) or Class 2 (self-employed) NICs in one of the three tax years before you claim, and have either paid or had them credited for both of the last two years. As the rules on NICs are quite complicated here, the best thing to do is apply and see what happens. If you are uncertain as to whether you will qualify, apply for Income Support alongside IB, as Income Support will cover you if you can’t get IB. We’ll discuss Income Support next.

There are separate rules for young people who have not made enough NICs. If you are between 16 and 20, have been unable to work for a period of at least
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28 weeks, and are not in education for over 21 hours a week, you can claim under the Incapacity in Youth rules. Also, if you are under 25 and were registered on a course of full-time training or education (full-time here means 21 hours a week or more) from at least 3 months before your 20th birthday, you may be eligible.

To claim Incapacity Benefit you need to get an SC1 form, or an IB(Y)1 for Incapacity in Youth rules (see ‘Where to get forms’). You also need evidence that you are incapable of work. For the first 28 weeks, you just need to provide medical certificates from your doctor to show that you are incapable of doing your normal job (or if you don’t have a normal job, incapable of work in general). After 28 weeks, unless you are severely disabled, you will have to have a ‘Personal Capability Assessment’ (PCA), to find out if you really are ill or not. At first, this is done by form.

You will receive an IB50 form in the post. This form is designed to assess your ability to perform a range of physical activities. The way it works is that for an activity such as getting up from a chair, you have to tick a box saying whether you can always do this, never do this, do it while holding on to something, or not at all. You then have a little box to explain anything else about your ability to perform this activity. There are a range of physical activities listed, and

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there is also space to write about anxiety, depression and other mental conditions.

Getting this form right is very important. So, • Be honest. You may have a medical examination later where your statements will compared to what the doctor finds. Remember that some people in the system assume that a lot of people claiming Incapacity Benefit are just work-shy. So you need to look consistent and genuine. If what you say in your IB50 doesn’t match what you say in you medical examination, then that’s just adding fuel to the flames.

Don’t underplay your symptoms. The little boxes give you space to say more about your problem. So if you can perform an activity such as kneeling, but it is very painful or will hurt afterwards, don’t just say you can do it, say that you have a problem, and explain why. It is not reasonable to expect you to keep doing something that’s going to cause pain or other problems.

Don’t write your form when you’re feeling happy and well. If your condition is variable, don’t make the mistake of writing your form on a good day when you feel like it is not that bad. Do make sure that you let them know how it affects you when you are at your worst.
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Keep a diary of your symptoms. You have 6 weeks to return this form, so there is no need to rush it. Keeping a diary for a couple of weeks makes sure that you get all your symptoms in there. As the assessment is decided on you having enough points from all the descriptors added together, it is vital that you include every problem you can.

Use the mental health section. Mental health problems include stress, anxiety and depression. Even if you didn’t have them before, a lot of illnesses can cause these problems. So put them on the form - they make it more likely that you will succeed in your claim.

Keep a copy of your IB50 form. There will be a gap between when you fill in your IB50 and when you have your medical examination. If you are feeling different on the day of your examination, it is easy to sound like you are inconsistent. Keeping a copy means you can read it again before your examination

If the decision made on receiving your IB50 is not in your favour, you will have to have a medical examination. This will be carried out by a doctor chosen by the DWP. The doctor will make his or her own assessments, and this will be compared to your IB50. These doctors are meant to be impartial, and so you
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would expect that they would usually come to the same conclusions as your GP about your illness. However, they do have a habit of finding a lot of people capable of work, and then leaving the claimant to appeal the decision. So the same rules apply here as to your IB50. Don’t underplay your symptoms, and make sure you mention each one and how it affects you. Be honest, and be consistent. If you have other medical evidence of your illness, this should ideally match both your IB50 and what you tell the doctor at your medical examination.

Having recommend honesty, I would suggest that you don’t tell the doctor of any recreational drug use, or alcohol use over the recommended maximum (2-3 units a day for women, 3 to 4 for men), unless of course this problem is part of your illness, in which case it is important. I suggest this exception because there are some very conservative people in the system. As the medical examination is fairly short, the decision is affected by whether or not they think you are trustworthy. Using recreational drugs or drinking too much is playing to the stereotype of a benefits claimant who doesn’t deserve it, and is unlikely to do you any good.

Keep in mind that the final decision is based on an odd system. The doctor is not checking whether you are ill or even whether you are capable of work. All they are measuring is the total amount of points that you have scored from
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each section. As many jobs don’t fit these descriptors perfectly, it is perfectly possible to be ill and incapable of work and not pass your PCA. In which case you will need to appeal. The appeal system for Incapacity Benefit is the same as we discussed earlier for Jobseeker’s Allowance. You can ask for the decision to be looked at again, or you can make an appeal to an independent tribunal (in which case they will look at their decision again anyway). And if this fails, you can appeal their use of the law to the Social Security Commissioners. With Incapacity Benefit, the whole appeal process is likely to be fairly complicated, so you really should get advice and representation as soon as you find out that you failed the PCA.

If you pass your PCA, or win your appeal, you will carry on getting Incapacity Benefit. Incapacity Benefit is paid at three different rates: the short-term lower rate of £59.20 a week for the first 28 weeks, short-term higher rate of £70.05 for the next 24 weeks, and long-term basic rate of £78.50 after that. There is also an age addition to the long-term rate if you became ill before the age of 45. So although you would still be better off working, after a year the benefit is reasonable.

This could put you off trying out going to work if you are unsure about your health. So eight week linking means that short periods of work can be discounted in measuring the length your IB claim. If you start work and then
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have to stop again within 8 weeks because of your illness or disability, you can return to the rate of IB that you were on before you started work. This means you can try out working and stop again if you can’t manage it. It also means that if you are struggling, you shouldn’t push it past 8 weeks unless you are confident you can carry on for a lot longer, otherwise if you have to stop again you might well get less than before.

If you can’t get Incapacity Benefit because you have failed your PCA and all the appeals, but still feel you are unable to work, this puts you in a difficult position. If your condition changes, or there is another condition that you have not claimed for, you can make a fresh claim for the new condition. If there is nothing else, you can make a new claim for the same condition, but you have to wait 28 weeks from the day that your last claim was stopped. In the meantime, you will probably need to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, as you are now regarded as capable of work. To make this JSA claim, you should provide medical evidence and restrict the types and hours of work you are able to do.

If you can’t get Incapacity Benefit because you haven’t made enough National Insurance Contributions, you can get Income Support (IS). As I mentioned earlier, it is often advisable to apply for IS at the same time as Incapacity Benefit, in case your IB claim is unsuccessful.

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Income support is a means-tested benefit paying the same low rates as incomebased Jobseeker’s Allowance. You must be between 16 and 60. As discussed earlier, savings over £6000 will affect your benefit. Partner’s earnings will also affect your benefit, as with income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance. You must be working under 16 hours a week, and your partner must be working under 24 hours a week. If you are claiming IS on the basis of sickness or disability, you will subject to the Personal Capability Assessment, which will be the same as with Incapacity Benefit. To claim IS, you need form A1.

For disabilities that include problems with getting around and/or personal care, there is also Disability Living Allowance (DLA). This works differently from the benefits we have discussed so far. DLA is not affected by work, income or savings. It is tax-free and does not count as income for means-tested benefits. In fact, receiving DLA often increases the amount you get for means-tested benefits, included Housing Benefit.

DLA is made up of two parts, care and mobility. You can claim either part alone or both parts. You must have had care and/or mobility needs for at least 3 months, and be likely to have them for at least a further 6 months. To claim the care component, you must at minimum require help in carrying out everyday activities such as cooking a meal. To claim the mobility component, you must need at minimum guidance or supervision walking outdoors. You do
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not need to be actually getting the help to claim this benefit, if you can persuade them you need the help, you get paid. To claim, you need form DLA1A.

If you are over 16 and spend at least 35 hours a week giving substantial care to a disabled person within your own home, you may be able to get Carer’s Allowance. You must be earning less than £84 a week (after tax), and so don’t have to have made National Insurance Contributions. The person you are caring for must receive Attendance Allowance, Constant Attendance Allowance, or the middle or higher rate of DLA. Qualifying for Carer’s Allowance may also add a Carer Premium onto your means-tested benefits, including Housing and Council Tax benefits.

Housing and Council Tax benefits If you are on a low income and have to pay rent and council tax, you can claim Housing Benefit (HB) and Council Tax Benefit (CTB). If you get a means-tested benefit, you already satisfy the income and capital conditions for Housing Benefit. But even if you are not receiving any other benefits, you may still be entitled to HB and CTB on the basis of being on a low income. These benefits are means-tested themselves, and so are affected by capital.

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HB and CTB are paid by your local authority (in Northern Ireland, Housing Benefit is paid by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and includes an amount to pay your rates). These benefits can cover council, social or private accommodation, as well as hostels. They even cover houseboats and mobile homes. However, if you live in a home owned by a close relative, you are unlikely to receive HB, even if you are paying them money for it.

A lot of people don’t claim Housing Benefit when they could, partly because it is quite complicated to work out whether you are eligible or not. First, your local authority works out your eligible rent - what they consider to be a reasonable rent for your property. We will go into this into more detail shortly. If you are on a means-tested benefit then you get your full eligible rent paid.

If you are not on a means-tested benefit, your local authority assesses your personal allowance. This is the same as the amount of money you would get if you were on Income Support, including premiums. If your income is lower than your personal allowance, you will get your full eligible rent. If it is greater, HB will be reduced by 65p to the pound and CTB by 20p to the pound. This needs an example.

Mr G is 25-60 years old and single with no dependents and no disabilities, so his personal allowance is £57.45 a week. He earns £107.45 a week, and rents a flat
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for £60 a week, with £15 council tax. As Mr G earns £50 a week over his personal allowance, his HB is reduced by 50x0.65=£32.50 to £27.50. His CTB is reduced by 50x0.2=£10 to £5. This means that even though Mr G is earning almost twice what he would get on Income Support, he still gets some council tax and nearly half his rent paid. So, even if you are earning twice your personal allowance, it might well still be worth claiming HB and CTB.

As if that is not complicated enough, your eligible rent is not necessarily the same as the rent you actually pay (unless you are in council housing - they can’t call their own rents unreasonable). Your eligible rent is worked out in one of two ways, depending on where you live. The new Local Housing Allowance scheme, which is intended to take over the old system eventually, is very simple. Your local authority will make decisions as to how much rent you are entitled to, based on the people you live with and rents in the area. In general, you are entitled to a kitchen, bathroom and living room, and one bedroom for each single adult, couple, two children of the same sex or two children under 10. You then have a set amount you can spend on rent. If you want a more expensive place, you make up the difference. If you find a cheaper place, you keep the difference. The only exception to this is that if you are under 25 and single with no dependents, you get a reduced rate which is only meant to cover either a bedsit or a single bedroom with shared facilities.

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The majority of authorities still use the older system. This is based on paying a reasonable rent for the property you are looking at and takes into account both the area you are living in and what accommodation is suitable for your needs. It is designed both to stop you living in luxury at the expense of the state, and to prevent landlord/lady’s swindling extra money out of the state in benefits. A decision is made by a Rent Officer (or in Northern Ireland, someone from the Valuation and Lands Agency (VLA)), who is independent of your local authority. They will look at the price of your property for its size and how the rent compares with other properties in the area. They will also limit you to the rent of a single room with shared facilities or bedsit if you are under 25 and single with no dependents. If it is decided that the property is overpriced or you don’t need that much space, you won’t be paid the full rent and will either have to move or make up the difference.

If you are signed in to staying in your house and the Rent Officer (or VLA) decides you cannot be paid the whole rent, you can apply for Discretionary Housing Payments. These payments should make the difference between the Housing Benefit you are given, and the actual rent you pay. To be eligible, the only conditions are that you are receiving HB and/or CTB and there is a shortfall in what you receive that you are having difficulty paying. However, the local authority has a limited fund and it is up to them whether or not they

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pay you. And while you can ask them to look at the decision again, there is no right of appeal.

If you are moving house and on benefits, you probably want to make sure that the local authority will pay the full rent of the house. You therefore need a Pre-Tenancy Determination. This is how it should work.

You find a house you like. You ask your local Authority for a Pre-Tenancy Determination. They then tell you if they consider the rent the landlord is asking for to be reasonable, and therefore whether or not it can be covered by housing benefit. Simple.

However, there are two problems with this. First, many landlord/ladies will not accept tenants who pay their rent through housing benefit. If you are looking through classifieds for places, you will see a lot of the phrase “no DSS” (DSS is the Department for Social Security, which merged with the Department for Education and Employment in 2001 to create the DWP). Most estate agents also refuse to deal with HB. A Pre-Tenancy Determination requires the landlord/lady’s agreement, and so is only possible with somewhere that will accept a tenant on benefits. The second problem is that the process of assessment takes time. Nice places tend to go very quickly. As there is a national shortage of housing, even not so nice properties tend to go quickly.
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Therefore if you find a good place, the extra time taken in doing this assessment might well lose you the property.

This puts you in a bit of a bind. But you do have several options. If you can get housed by the council, they will pay the full rent on their properties if you are eligible for HB. Councils tend to be short on housing and prioritise applicants that are considered vulnerable. If you fit into a vulnerable groups (such as being disabled, pregnant or homeless) you may be able to get housed relatively quickly. But if not, you are in for a very long wait, often years. So you need to look for private accommodation. Not all landlords refuse tenants on HB, so it is worth looking around. It is also worth asking even if someone says “no DSS” if you think you can persuade them. Some landlords will accept this if, for example, you can pay several months rent up front.

If you can’t persuade anyone to rent to you because you are on benefits, you have to take a bit of a gamble. Persuading someone to rent you a property on the basis of an alternative story is not too difficult, you just have to be creative: • Make up a job. Self-employed is preferable as otherwise some places want pay slips to prove you can pay rent • Be a student. But be a mature or postgraduate student as landlord/ladies expect that undergraduates will destroy their property.
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Have rich relatives. Say that your parents or other family members are paying your rent for you while you find your feet

Have lots of money in the bank. Like the rich relatives, this is a good suggestion as lots of people equate rich with respectable

What is slightly harder is that as the Pre-Tenancy Determination gives this game away, you have to guess for yourself whether the rent will be considered reasonable. If you were already getting HB for a property in the area, you will have a good idea what your local authority will pay. Otherwise, • Ask around. If someone else living in the area gets HB that is a good guide to what is considered reasonable • Have a thorough look at the rental market. See what you could reasonably expect to pay for a house in the area. Bearing in mind the council don’t expect you to be living in a penthouse • Get a short-term contract. This means that if you don’t get your full rent paid, you can get out of the property quickly so you won’t risk too much

And if you do end up without your full rent being paid, you can apply for Discretionary Housing Payments to make up the difference (although remember there is no guarantee of getting them).

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Once you have a house and are getting HB and CTB, you need to make sure you get paid on time so you don’t lose it again. The benefits you get from the DWP are likely to have various glitches in them. You may miss a signing on date or forget to send in an up to date medical certificate. Or, as has happened to me in the past, the DWP may simply decide to stop a benefit until you query it, for reasons which no one I could speak to at the agency could work out. When this happens, the DWP will inform your local council that your benefit has stopped. They will not, however, tell them why. Your local council will most probably stop your benefits at this point, until you can prove that you are eligible for them. So, whenever you get a letter saying something is stopped or changed, you should get in touch with your local authority. Get them a copy of the DWP’s letter and recent bank statements to show that you have no other income.

When you apply for one of the means-tested benefits from the DWP, they will send you a housing and council tax benefit form. However, your local authority (or Housing Executive in Northern Ireland) might well ask you to fill in its own form, so it’s worth getting in touch with them and filling this in as early as possible to save delaying the claim. You can backdate Housing and Council Tax Benefit claims for up to 52 weeks, but you do need to prove that you were entitled during that time, and have a good reason for not having applied before (not knowing you couldn’t make a claim is not enough).
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If you are unhappy with a decision about your Housing or Council Tax Benefits, you can ask for the decision to be looked at again and then you can appeal. You can also make a complaint. The process is similar to the others, but you need to make your request through your local authority. Different authorities have different procedures, so call them or look at their website and find out if they have a specific form or if you just need to write a letter. If you do have to write a letter, head it clearly as ‘appeal’ or ‘complaint’. If you need a form it can be better to collect it than wait for them to post it out. For some reason, local authorities can be highly disorganised with complaints and appeals.

If you are unhappy with the internal decision, you can then appeal to the Local Government Ombudsman (in England or Wales), the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman or the Northern Ireland Ombudsman. At this point, if you haven’t already, you should seek advice and representation.

Studying whilst on benefits You cannot claim Jobseeker’s Allowance while studying full-time. But part-time students (under 16 hours a week) may be able to claim. This is on the basis that you are still actively seeking work and that your course won’t prevent you from taking up work.

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Under certain conditions, you can claim Income Support. You should be able to claim if you are studying and a lone parent, sick or disabled or registered blind. Also you might be able to claim if you are studying up to A-level or equivalent and can’t work because you are caring for someone (adult or child), you’re an orphan or nobody is looking after you, or you are unlikely to get a job afterwards because of a severe disability.

It is also possible to study while claiming Incapacity Benefit. But you would have to be able to explain why you can study when you can’t work. I claimed Incapacity Benefit during my last year at university. As I studied social sciences, contact hours were only around 10 hours a week, and my course was therefore part time. I explained that studying in this way is much more flexible than a job – hours can be chosen on a day to day basis and shrunk or lengthened depending upon health. This was considered reasonable and I received Incapacity Benefit.

There is also a Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), which pays grants (nonrepayable) to help with the extra costs that a disability adds to studying. This is often paid for dyslexia, but can cover any other condition that creates an increase in study costs. A surprising amount of people don’t realise they have dyslexia until they are tested, so if you think it is a possibility and are studying, it is worth getting tested. DSAs can pay for any specialist equipment you need,
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and tend to include a computer. They can also pay for any extra travel costs incurred because of your disability and non-medical helpers such as note-takers or readers. To claim DSA, there will be a box to tick on your main student finance application. Your local authority will then inform you of the next stage. You can also get in touch with your local authority to ask for a form. My recommendation though, if you attend a college or university, is to go and see the disability officer, who will help you with the process, and may be able to advise you in other areas.

Having a baby If you are having a baby, you are going to need some time off work. If you have been working, you should be able to get Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance. Otherwise, you can claim any of the other benefits, depending on your circumstances. There is also a short period of paternity pay if your partner is having a baby.

If you have been working for the same employer for the whole of your pregnancy, and you have been earning an average of at least £84 a week, you are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). SMP is paid by your employer, and can be paid for a maximum of 26 weeks. You can choose when this period starts - it can be anytime from 11 weeks before the baby is due to a week after the baby is born. You must tell your employer at least 28 days before you want
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to start maternity leave, and will have to show them a medical certificate. SMP is paid at 90% of your average gross weekly earning for the first six weeks, and then at 90% or £106, whichever is lower, for the rest of the period. If your employer refuses to pay SMP, you can complain to HM Revenue & Customs. This is likely to get difficult, and you should get advice from one of the agencies discussed earlier.

If you can’t get SMP, and you have been doing some work, you may be able to get Maternity Allowance. Maternity Allowance doesn’t rely on National Insurance Contributions, but you must have been working (employed or selfemployed) for at least 26 of the 66 weeks before your baby is due. These weeks can be in separate chunks and for different employers, and you must have been earning an average of at least £30 a week. Maternity Allowance is paid as 90% of your average earnings, with a maximum level of £108.85 a week.

You can claim maternity allowance from when you are 26 weeks pregnant. As with Statutory Maternity Pay, it is paid for up to 26 weeks, starting anywhere from 11 weeks before your baby is born to the week after birth. To claim, you need to send form MA1 along with evidence from your doctor or midwife. If there are problems with Maternity Allowance, you have the right to appeal and complain to the DWP as with Jobseeker’s Allowance.

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If you do not qualify for Maternity Allowance, if you have not worked enough for example, you can get Incapacity Benefit or Income Support. Incapacity benefit is difficult, as you must show that by working you would cause a risk to yours or your baby’s health. The same rules for National Insurance Contributions also apply. You can claim Income Support on the basis of pregnancy from your 29th week, providing you meet the income and capital conditions. In the first 28 weeks, assuming you have no health problems, you will need to claim Jobseekers Allowance.

If you are on a means-tested benefit or very low income, you can get a Sure Start Maternity Grant towards the costs of your new baby. This grant is £500 which does not have to be repaid, and you can spend it on whatever you choose. It is not affected by savings. You can claim anytime from 11 weeks before your baby is due until your baby is three months old. As long as you claim within three months, you can also claim for an adopted child less than a year old, and if you have a dependent under 20 who is pregnant you can claim for her. To claim, you need form SF100. If there are any problems, you can complain and appeal to the DWP as with Jobseeker’s Allowance.

If you are the biological father of the baby or married to or the partner of the baby’s mother, and have been working for the same employer for 41 weeks before the baby is due, you are entitled to Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP). You
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can also qualify for paternity leave for an adoption if you have been working for your employer for at least 26 weeks when you are matched with a child. This only lasts one or two weeks I’m afraid, but it is paid at the same rate as SMP. In general, you should give 15 weeks notice before the baby is born, unless this is not possible. Your employer will tell you what information they require. You may be employed but not entitled to SPP, if for example you have been with your current employer for less than 41 weeks. In this case you can claim Income Support as long as you still meet the income and capital conditions.

If adopting, one parent may take adoption leave for 26 weeks paid at the rate of Statutory Maternity Pay, and another 26 weeks unpaid if they wish. The other partner can claim Statutory Maternity or Paternity Pay.

As soon as your child is born, you should claim Child Benefit. Everyone with a dependent child aged up to 16, or up to 20 if in full-time education up to Alevel or equivalent, is entitled to child benefit. This benefit is tax-free, not based on National Insurance Contributions, and it is unaffected by income and savings. For your first child, you get £17.45 a week. You get £11.40 a week for the other children. You can backdate Child Benefit for up to three months. If you are looking after a child who is not your own (biologically or by adoption), you may be able to claim Guardian’s Allowance. Child Benefit and Guardian’s
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Allowance are paid by HM Revenue & Customs, so if you want to appeal, you have to this directly through them. The procedure is the same as the one we discussed earlier for Jobseeker’s Allowance and other benefits; you just use a different form.

You can also claim Disability Living Allowance for a dependent child with care or mobility problems. If you, your parent or guardian receive one of the meanstested benefits you can also get free milk tokens once you are ten weeks pregnant (in England, Wales or Scotland). To claim milk tokens, you can get a claim form from your midwife or doctor, or here, along with information on the scheme: http://www.dh.gov.uk/assetRoot/04/12/35/07/04123507.pdf

As well as Child Benefit, nine out of ten families can also receive Child Tax Credit.

Tax Credits Tax credits come in two types – Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. Despite being called tax credits, they are not deducted from your tax bill, and you can get them even if you don’t pay tax. They are paid by HM Revenue & Customs.

To get Child Tax Credit, you need to be responsible for (not necessarily a parent of) a child or qualifying young person. A child is anyone under 16. A
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qualifying young person is between 16 and 19 and still in full-time education (A-level or equivalent) or on an approved training course (such as Entry to Employment), or 16 or 17 and unemployed or signed up with the Careers Service or Connexions Service (Training and Employment Agency in Northern Ireland). They must not be claiming benefits or tax credits for themselves or serving a custodial sentence of over four months, and you must not be getting payments for their care from your local authority.

If you share responsibility within a household, you must make a joint claim. If you share responsibility between households, only the household with main responsibility can claim. If you can’t decide which household has main responsibility, you can both provide information and HMRC will make the decision for you. Child Tax Credit is paid as well as Child Benefit, and although it is means-tested, you can receive it with income of up to £58175 a year (or £66350 if you have a child under one). The amount you will get is based on your income, with a maximum of £545 plus £1765 each year for each child in the family, unless your child is under one or disabled in which case you may be entitled to more. If you receive Income Support or Jobseeker’s Allowance, you are automatically entitled to maximum Child Tax Credit.

Also, if you are spending money on childcare, you may be able to claim up to 80% of your costs back through Working Tax Credit. To claim Working Tax
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Credit, you must be employed or self-employed for an average of 16 or more hours a week and on a low income. But you must also fulfil one of four criteria: • • • aged over 25 and working 30 or more hours a week responsible for a child or qualifying young person aged over 50 and returning to work after a period on benefits (usually minimum six months) • having a disability that makes it more difficult to get a job and have been receiving a qualifying disability benefit such as Incapacity Benefit or Disability Living Allowance

To claim under disability you might also have to put HMRC in touch with someone such as a doctor or other healthcare professional who can explain to them how your disability affects your opportunities for work.

The calculations for how much Working Tax Credit you will get are complicated. The easiest way to see if you are likely to qualify is to use this useful little site: http://www.taxcredits.inlandrevenue.gov.uk/Qualify/DIQHousehold.aspx If you are still unsure as to whether to apply, or want to find out exactly how much you should get, you should seek advice.

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The claim process for tax credits is complicated. You will need to provide, amongst other things, evidence of your income from the last tax year (April to April). But on the upside, both types are covered by the same form. Your claim may get checked. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it – thousands of claims are checked randomly each year to limit people cheating the system. But this does mean it is important to be honest in all your claims, and it is to your advantage to cooperate fully if you do get checked. If you are worried about filling in your claim or being checked, then see an advice or law centre. You can also contact Taxaid, a specialist organisation for providing tax advice, on 020 7803 4959 or http://www.taxaid.org.uk/.

Your claim will need renewing every year, but this is fairly simple if circumstances have not changed. You will receive a renewal pack between April and July each year which will tell you what to do. You will receive provisional payments while your claim is being assessed, but these will stop if you miss the deadline of 31st August. You do have a last chance however and you can get these payments restarted and backdated if you get your claim form in by 31st January.

If you are unhappy with a decision made about tax credits, you can appeal. You can appeal a decision on your initial claim if you get less than you expected or get turned down completely. You can appeal changes to current claims if your
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award is reduced or stopped, you don’t think changes in circumstances have been taken into account, or you have been charged interest on overpayments or a penalty charge that you disagree with.

The first step is to get in touch with HMRC. If your notice says that your award has been dealt with by a Claimant Compliance Officer then contact them directly – there will be details on the notice they sent you. If not, then call the tax credits helpline (their number is in the ‘Where to get forms section’) and ask for them to explain the decision. Explain what you disagree with and see if you can get an answer you are happy with. If you are still not satisfied, you can appeal.

As with other appeals, it is worth seeking advice. You must make the appeal within 30 days of the date on the decision notice. Ideally send your appeal on one of their forms, but otherwise you can write to the address on the decision notice, including your National Insurance number and signature, making clear that it is an appeal and explaining why you think the decision is wrong. The appeal can come from yourself or a professional advisor.

HMRC will then write to you with their decision. If you are still unhappy with the decision, you must write back within 30 days of receipt. They will reconsider and attempt to reach an agreement which you are both happy with.
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If you still can’t agree, the process is the same as with DWP benefits. The case goes to an independent tribunal first, then if the decision is not in your favour you can appeal the interpretation of the law to the Social Security Commissioners.

Help Whilst Working Working while you are on benefits is often of little advantage financially, but can be useful for your CV, and stopping you getting too bored. You can usually do voluntary work or a small amount of paid work. But make sure you know the rules around your benefit before you take anything on. And always get confirmation from someone at the Jobcentre (which you should record) that it is OK before you start.

If you are claiming either type of Jobseeker’s Allowance, you are allowed to work for up to 16 hours a week. The good news is that you can keep some of your wages. The bad news is that it’s only £5. After that, anything else you earn comes off your benefit. So if you get £45 a week in benefits then start earning £40 a week, your benefit will be reduced to £10 a week. There are a few exceptions, including lone parents and some disabled people on incomebased JSA where you are allowed to keep the first £20. You must also still be actively seeking full-time work, available to start work in one week and

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available for interview in 48 hours. Otherwise you are putting your benefit at risk.

If you are on Incapacity Benefit or Income Support based on sickness or disability you may be able to do ‘permitted work’. Under permitted work rules, you can • • earn up to £20 a week for as long as you want to work for up to 16 hours a week (average) for up to £81 a week for a 52 week period - this is allowable as long as you keep persuading them you are ill enough not to work • earn up to £81 a week for an unlimited period in ‘supported permitted work’ – through a body set up to find work for disabled people

But, these are all things you might be able to do. You need to speak to someone at your Jobcentre to decide whether you can undertake the permitted work. Make sure you record who you spoke to, when, and what they said. Also, be careful that by working you are not demonstrating that you aren’t too ill to work. Doing 16 hours a week paid work could show that you could be doing more paid work and damage your claim to sickness/incapacity benefits.

And also bear in mind that most of this money won’t become yours. With Income Support, the same rules will apply as with JSA, where you will get to
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keep £5 and the rest will come off your benefit. With Incapacity Benefit, you can earn up to £81 a week without affecting your IB. But remember what happens to Housing and Council Tax Benefit when you earn more. They will still class your personal allowance as what you would get if you are on Income Support. Each pound you earn over your personal allowance will therefore reduce your HB by 65p and CTB by 20p. So that £5 you thought you were lucky to keep turns out only to be 75p. Obviously, anything you do cash-in-hand is not going to affect your benefit. This is benefit fraud however, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

You can do as much unpaid voluntary work as you like. But if you are claiming benefits because of sickness or disability, be careful that you are not demonstrating that you are in fact capable of work. Another thing to watch for is that not only do you have to be unpaid, but the DWP have to consider it reasonable that you are unpaid. Rather oddly, if they decide that your voluntary work should be paid, they will work out how much you should be paid and deduct that from your benefit. You could therefore end up with no money at all. For this reason, it is worth consulting someone at the Jobcentre about the voluntary work you intend to do before starting it (remembering the tips on ‘getting the right information’).

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The Social Fund The Social Fund exists to help pay for costs which you couldn’t otherwise meet on a low income. We met the Sure Start Maternity Grant earlier. The Social Fund also covers Funeral Payments, Cold Weather Payments, Crisis Loans and Budgeting Loans. The payments don’t have to be paid back, the loans do. All help from the social fund requires is that you are on a low income, which is most easily demonstrated if you receive one of the means-tested benefits.

If a relative or partner dies, you may be able to get a funeral payment. But any available assets of the person who has died must first be taken into account, and will be deducted from the Funeral Payment. If you are the partner or parent of the person who has died you should get the payment. If you are not, the benefit office also has to consider whether it is reasonable for it to be you that pays the funeral costs. For example, if the person who has died is your parent, and you have siblings who are earning, you are unlikely to get a Funeral Payment. You can claim a Funeral Payment with form SF200 for up to three months after the funeral, even if you have already paid the bill. If you are unhappy with the decision, you have the same rights to appeal as with Jobseeker’s Allowance.

If you have a child under five in your family, or being paid an extra amount for disability, you should be entitled to Cold Weather Payments. Weather is classed as cold when your local weather station forecasts or records an average
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daily temperature of zero degrees centigrade or less for seven days or more. These payments are made regardless of what you actually spend the money on. Normally, you don’t have to apply for Cold Weather Payments – you will receive them automatically if you are entitled. But if you think you are entitled and are not receiving them, ask at your local benefits office. Again, if you are not happy with the decision, you can go through the appeals process.

If you have one-off costs which you can’t meet, you can apply for an interestfree budgeting loan of between £100 and £1500. These costs could be furniture, equipment, maintenance or improvement for your home; rent upfront or moving costs; clothing or footwear; costs towards starting a new job; or paying off hire purchase or other debts that you already have related to any of these costs. You must have been claiming an income related benefit for at least 26 weeks. Any capital over £1000 will reduce the amount of loan you get pound for pound.

Budgeting loans are not paid just because of your low income, but based your particular circumstances, including your ability to repay the loan. When you make a claim, you have to say how much you need and what for. You will be offered a certain amount and repayment schedule, depending on your situation. The amount offered is also based on how much money is left in your

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district’s Social Fund, so there are no guarantees here. To claim, you need an SF500 form.

If you are unhappy with the decision, you can as usual ask for the benefit office to look at it again. If you have done this and are still unhappy with the decision, the appeal system for Budgeting Loans is different. You need to apply to the Independent Review Service for the Social Fund (IRS). You should make your appeal to the IRS within 28 days of receiving the decision from the Jobcentre, although this can be extended under special circumstances.

You can apply on form IRS1. Alternatively, you can send a letter, including your contact details, National Insurance number, the reason why you want a review and your representative’s details if you have one. Post the form or the letter to The Independent Review Service, FREEPOST, 4th Floor, Centre City Podium, 5 Hill Street, Birmingham B5 4UB. The idea of the appeal here is like the other ones, except they call it a review. You have a short space to write why you want a review. So just be clear about why you think the decision is wrong. Remember you need a good reason rather than just disagreeing. You can of course get advice if this seems too complicated.

The review process should be fairly quick, taking no longer than 12 working days. The inspector will look at the details of your case, and send you a letter
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setting out the issues and any questions about your case. You then need to reply, answering any questions and commenting on the issues if you wish. When the inspector receives this reply, they should make a decision.

Crisis Loans are similar to Budgeting Loans, but paid quicker and in general to cover emergencies, such as fire or flood. You need to be able to show that the Crisis Loan is the only way to avoid serious damage or risk to you and your family’s safety. They are also interest-free but must be paid back. You have to be over 16 (or over 19 if you are in full-time education and not receiving Income Support), but you don’t have to be on any benefit to receive a Crisis Loan. You simply have to really need the money, and have no other means of paying for your crisis. To apply for a Crisis Loan, use form SF401. Like with the Budgeting Loan, the decision is based on your circumstances, and you do not automatically qualify based on any benefits. If you are unhappy with the decision, appeal to the IRS as with the budgeting loan. But with a Crisis Loan, you should get an answer much quicker.

Help with Medical costs Being on a low income entitles you, your partner and children to help with the costs of prescriptions, dentists, opticians, travel to and from hospital and wigs and fabric supports. If you have over £16000 of capital you can’t get help. But you don’t have to be on any benefit, just on a low income. The general idea
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here is that medical costs shouldn’t reduce your income below the minimum level.

For example, if you are between 25 and 60 and have no disabilities or children, the government thinks it is reasonable that you live off £57.45 after housing costs. If paying medical costs is going to reduce your income below this, you should be able to get help. Even if you are a little above this, it is still worth applying. This is because if you do not qualify for a full help certificate - which pays for everything - you can get a limited help certificate. This doesn’t give free prescriptions, but will put an upper limit on the amount of money you have to pay for expensive items and treatments such as glasses or dental work.

If you have to pay charges before you have a certificate, but think you qualify for help, you might be able to get a refund. For this you’ll need an FP57 (WP57 in Wales) form for prescriptions, or an HC5 for all other charges. To apply for a certificate for future medical costs, you need an HC1 Form. All these forms should be available from your local Jobcentre, or from doctors, dentists, opticians and NHS Hospitals. You can also speak to NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 for more advice.

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Where to get forms Your local Jobcentre, which you can find here http://www.Jobcentreplus.gov.uk/JCP/Aboutus/Ouroffices/LocalOfficeSearch. aspx, will have claim forms for Budgeting Loans, Carer’s Allowance, Crisis Loan, Disability Living Allowance, Funeral Payment, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Income Support, Sure Start Maternity Grant and appeal forms for DWP benefits, the Social Fund and Tax Credits. You can telephone, write a letter or drop in.

Your local authority can provide you with forms for Housing and Council Tax Benefits, and Disabled Student’s Allowance.

Your local HMRC enquiry centre can provide you with a Tax Credits claim pack.

The Benefits Enquiry Line on 0800 88 22 00 (textphone 0800 24 33 55) can provide you with forms for Carer’s Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit. The Child Benefit Office on 0845 302 1444 (textphone 0845 302 1474) can send you Child Benefit and Carer’s Allowance forms. The Tax Credits Helpline on 0845 300 3900 (textphone 0845 300 3909) in England, Scotland or Wales, or on 0845 603 2000 (textphone 0845 607 6078) in Northern Ireland can provide you with tax credits claim packs and appeals forms.

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In some areas, you can apply online for DLA, JSA, IB and IS at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/eservice/.

You can claim Carer’s Allowance online here http://www.dwp.gov.uk/carersallowance/

You can claim Child Benefit online here https://esd.dwp.gov.uk/dwp/index.jsp

You can download forms from the following sites:

Appeal form GL24 http://www.dwp.gov.uk/publications/dwp/2003/gl24_apr.pdf

Appeal form IRS1 http://www.irs-review.org.uk/infocent/leafbook/irs1/irs1.pdf

Budgeting Loans http://www.Jobcentreplus.gov.uk/JCP/Customers/WorkingAgeBenefits/Dev_0 08440.xml.html

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Carer’s Allowance http://www.direct.gov.uk/CaringForSomeone/MoneyMatters/MoneyArticles/fs /en?CONTENT_ID=10012547&chk=DKq0i5

Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/menus/child_benefit.htm

Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance appeal form http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/pdfs/ch24a_appealform.pdf

Crisis Loan http://www.dwp.gov.uk/lifeevent/benefits/crisis_loans.asp.

Disability Allowance http://www.direct.gov.uk/DisabledPeople/FinancialSupport/FinancialSupportA rticles/fs/en?CONTENT_ID=10011925&chk=OmqOfJ.

Disabled Student’s Allowance http://www.direct.gov.uk/assetRoot/10/03/55/52/10035552.pdf

Funeral Payment claim forms are -

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http://www.Jobcentreplus.gov.uk/JCP/Customers/WorkingAgeBenefits/Dev_0 08260.xml.html.

Incapacity Benefit http://www.Jobcentreplus.gov.uk/JCP/Customers/WorkingAgeBenefits/Dev_0 08025.xml.html.

Income Support http://www.Jobcentreplus.gov.uk/JCP/Customers/WorkingAgeBenefits/Incom esupport/index.html.

Sure Start Maternity Grant http://www.dwp.gov.uk/advisers/claimforms/sf100_print.pdf

Tax Credit Appeal Form http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/leaflets/appeal_form_from_wtc_ap.pdf

Abbreviations CAB – Citizen’s Advice Bureau CTB – Council Tax Benefit DLA – Disability Living Allowance DWP – Department for Work and Pensions HB – Housing Benefit
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HMRC – Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs IB – Incapacity Benefit IRS – Independent Review Service for the Social Fund IS – Income Support JSA – Jobseeker’s Allowance NIC – National Insurance Contribution PCA – Personal Capability Assessment SMP – Statutory Maternity Pay SPP – Statutory Paternity Pay SSP – Statutory Sick Pay

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