Brief guide to benefits
The benefits system is complex, and the rules often change, so even if you’ve looked into it before, it might be worth checking again.
Across the UK, billions of pounds are unclaimed each year - make sure you get what you're entitled to.
It's worth noting:
- Some benefits are affected by earnings, other types of income and the amount of savings or capital you (and sometimes your partner) have.
- As benefits can change, it’s worthwhile checking regularly to see if you’re claiming everything you’re entitled to.
- Some benefits are affected by a claimant's age, so check your entitlement when you, your partner or your children turn 16, 18, 60, or 65.
- If your circumstances change, your local Citizens Advice can help check what you're entitled to.
- If the symptoms of your MS get worse it's worth arranging a benefits check, particularly if any progression in your MS looks like it will be long-term.
- Many benefits overlap, so if you receive one there may be others that you can't get.
- It's worth checking how the benefit cap might affect you. It's a limit on the total amount of benefit that most people can get between 16 and State Pension age.
- The rules about some benefits may vary between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
MS benefits advice service
Do you have a question about benefits? We can help. Our MS benefits advice service offers free, confidential advice to people affected by MS, supporting people in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
You can get in touch with our MS Benefits Adviser by calling the Helpline on 0808 800 8000 or emailing [email protected]
Which benefits am I entitled to?
Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is designed to support the extra costs of living with a disability.
You can spend it on whatever you need, such as paying for support to remain independent during relapses, or to help with extra costs such as heating, transport or help around the house.
PIP is replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for people of working age.
Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is a benefit for disabled children under 16 and some adults who already claim it. It can help with the extra costs of everyday care and getting around.
Under 16s in Scotland who already get DLA might be contacted by Social Security Scotland about Child Disability Payment. In areas where Child Disability Payment is available, 17-year-olds can also apply for that instead of DLA.
New claims for DLA are only for under 16s.
If you’re between 16 and State Pension age and you already get DLA, you’ll be reassessed for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) at some stage.
You don’t need to do anything until the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contacts you, or if your circumstances change and you need to let them know about that.
If you were 65 or over on 8 April 2013 and already getting DLA, you can carry on getting it for as long as you meet the conditions to qualify for it.
Everyone else currently claiming DLA will be reassessed for the new benefit at some point.
Child Disability Payment is a benefit in Scotland for young disabled people under 18. It can help with the extra costs of everyday care and getting around.
It will replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA). But this isn’t happening straight away in most areas. At the moment, new claims should still be made for DLA, unless you’re in a ‘pilot area’. The first of these pilot areas are Dundee City, Perth and Kinross and Western isles, starting from 21 July 2021.
If you already get DLA for a child in Scotland, you don’t need to do anything about this change until Social Security Scotland writes to you.
They’ll write to parents and guardians to say the change is happening shortly before the child turns 16.
If you’ve reached the State Pension Age and you have care needs, you might be able to claim Attendance Allowance. You don’t have to be getting help already. It’s the help you need that’s important.
If you started getting Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) before you reached State Pension age, you won't need to switch to Attendance Allowance.
If you're 16 or over and spend at least 35 hours a week looking after someone with MS, you might be able to claim Carer’s Allowance.
If you claim Carer’s Allowance it can affect other benefits either you or the person you care for may be claiming, so it's worth getting advice before claiming.
Unable to work
Statutory Sick Pay
Statutory Sick Pay is paid by your employer if you're too ill to work. It may be relevant if you have a job but are unable to work because of a relapse. It can be paid for up to 28 weeks.
You might be able to get Statutory Sick Pay if you’re advised to isolate because of COVID-19. If you’re advised to ‘shield’, you might also be able to claim while shielding measures are in place.
Once Statutory Sick Pay ends, or if you aren’t eligible for it because you're unemployed or self-employed, you may be able to claim 'new style' Employment and Support Allowance.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit paid if your ability to work is limited by ill health or disability.
You might also be able to get ESA if you can’t work when you ‘shield’ or self-isolate because of COVID-19.
Because ESA has changed in recent years, it’s called ‘new style’ ESA for new claims. Another kind of ESA, called ‘income-related’ ESA is being replaced by Universal Credit.
Universal credit has replaced several benefits, for most people. You might be able to claim this instead of, or as well as, different kinds of ESA. But before you make any claim, find out more about Universal Credit to make sure you make the right choices for you.
Able to work
Universal credit has replaced several benefits, for most people. You might be able to claim it even if you are able to work. But before you make any claim, find out more about Universal Credit to make sure you make the right choices for you.
Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
You can apply for ‘new style’ Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) to help you when you’re looking for work.
Another kind of JSA, called ‘income-based’ JSA is being replaced by Universal Credit.
If you already get 'income-based' JSA, or the other older kind of JSA ('contribution-based') you’ll keep getting payments while you’re eligible until your claim ends.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
You can apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if a disability or health condition affects how much you can work.
You can claim if you’re in or out of work. But while you claim there are limits to the wages you can earn. And usually you can only work less than 16 hours a week. If you plan on doing any work while you claim ESA, speak to a benefits adviser so you know how it will affect you.
Working Tax Credit
You can only make a claim for Working Tax Credit if you already get Child Tax Credit.
It's extra money if you’re on a low income and you usually work. Some self-employed people can claim.
If you can't claim Working Tax Credit, you might be able to claim Universal Credit.
Or if you and your partner are over State Pension age, you might be able to apply for Pension Credit instead.
Access to Work
Access to Work is a government scheme to help pay for any extra equipment or support you need as a result of your MS, so you can do your job.
This could be to help you start work, stay in work, or move into self-employment.
Home and bills
Housing Benefit can help you pay your rent if you’re not in work, or your income is low.
In Scotland, if you rent from a private landlord, the benefit is called Local Housing Allowance.
For most people, Housing Benefit is being replaced by Universal Credit.
You can only make a new claim for Housing Benefit if you've reached State Pension age or if you’re in supported, sheltered or temporary housing.
Help to pay Council Tax and rates
In England, Wales and Scotland, most households have to pay Council Tax. In Northern Ireland, households pay rates.
Some people don’t have to pay Council Tax or rates, including full-time students and people with a severe mental impairment.
If you do have to pay council tax or rates, you might be able to reduce the cost. There could be a number of ways to do this. For example if:
- you're the only adult in your home, or live with someone who wouldn't themselves need to pay (for example a full-time student)
- you’re out of work
- you're on a low income
- you can show that because of your MS or another condition you’ve made certain adaptations to your home, or you need to live in a larger home than you would otherwise.
Payments towards fuel costs
If you’re on certain benefits, you might get help to pay your heating bills. There are 2 main schemes: Cold Weather Payments and Winter Fuel Payments. There are also schemes to help cut the costs of heating.
The benefit cap
The benefit cap is a limit on the total amount of benefit that most people get, if they’re aged between 16 and State Pension age.
So because of the benefit cap, there’s usually a weekly limit on how much you can get in total for these benefits:
- Bereavement benefits (including Bereavement Allowance and Widowed Parent’s Allowance)
- Carer’s Allowance
- Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance
- Child Tax Credit
- Housing Benefit
- Incapacity Benefit
- Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), unless you get the support component
- Income Support
- Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Maternity Allowance
- Severe Disablement Allowance
But you won’t be affected if you or anyone in your household qualifies for Working Tax Credit (or would do but your earnings are too high) or gets certain benefits, including:
- get Universal Credit because of a disability or health condition that stops you from working (this is called ‘limited capability for work and work-related activity’)
- get Universal Credit because you care for someone with a disability
- Disability Living Allowance
- Personal Independence Payment
- Attendance Allowance
- ESA, if you get the support component
If you’re getting benefits and could be affected by the cap, the DWP will contact you. They’ll let you know what will happen to your benefits.
Online or by post
You can download the MS Society publication Benefits and MS or visit the GOV.UK page about benefits for more details on benefits you may be entitled to.
There are a number of online sources of information and benefits checkers that can help you to find out which benefits you may be able to claim:
In person or by phone
Your local MS Society group will also be able to give you information on benefits and other sources of support locally. However, they can't give specific advice on individual benefits.
It's often worth seeking expert advice from a benefits adviser, such as those available at your local Citizens Advice. They can also help you filling in forms.
In Scotland your council's health and social care department should offer you a benefits check as part of a care needs assessment. Citizens Advice and other welfare rights services can also do checks.
Find your local money advice or welfare rights service through Citizens Advice Scotland.
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