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9 Welfare benefits

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1. Introduction

2. Who can claim benefits?

3. If you have a low income

4. If you are having a baby or adopting a child

5. If you have children to look after

6. If you are unemployed

7. If you are ill and can´t work

8. If you have a disability

9. If you are just starting work

10. If you have retired or are about to retire

11. If your husband, wife or civil partner dies

12. Where do I claim?

13. What must I do when I claim?
For many types of benefit, you will have to provide a lot of personal information about yourself, your family and your finances. You may also have to provide some proof that you qualify for the benefit. You must give your National Insurance number, and you may have to prove your identity to show that the NI number belongs to you. If you do not have a National Insurance number, you must apply for one. Depending on the benefit, you may also have to attend an interview about work and training as part of your claim.

If your claim form is not completed properly, you may not get the benefit. If you are filling in the forms yourself or you want advice about your claim form, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

You can claim for yourself and, for some benefits, for a partner who lives with you and for your dependent children. You can also claim on behalf of other people if they are unable to manage their own affairs. For more about this, see the Gurkha Free Legal Advice leaflet ‘Dealing with Someone Else’s Affairs’.

Who decides whether I will get the benefit or not?
An official, often called a 'decision-maker', decides whether you can receive a benefit and, if so, how much you will receive. You will get the decision in writing and if you don't understand the decision you can ask for an an explanation. The decision letter will also include details of how you can challenge the decision and whether you can appeal if you disagree with it.

Can I get benefit for a period before I make my claim?
If you claim late, whether you can get benefit for a period before you claim (called 'backdating') depends on the benefit. Some benefits can be backdated without a reason, for example Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, Child Benefit, Carer's Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Pension Credit and State Pension. Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance can be backdated only for certain reasons, for example because the phone lines were busy or not working, or the DWP gave you wrong advice.

Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance cannot be backdated. Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit can be backdated if you have a good reason for not claiming earlier, though you will not usually need to give a reason if you ir your partner is aged 60 or over.

If you think you should have received benefits for a period before you claimed, you should ask for your claim to be backdated. The maximum period benefits can be backdated is:

  • for most benefits, three months;
  • for Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance, between one and three months, depending on the reason for claiming late; and
  • for Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and Pension Credit, 12 months (though this is changing to three months in October 2008).

You should find out the rules for the benefit you are claiming so that you can give your reasons for backdating if needed.

How will I get paid?
When and how often you are paid depends on the type of benefit you are claiming. You will usually be paid benefit directly into a bank or building society account or a Post Office card account. You can be paid by a cheque that you can cash at the Post Office only if it would be too difficult for you to manage an account or you cannot open one.

Tax credits must usually be paid into an account and you will be asked for your account details when you apply for tax credits. If you do not have a bank account, you should be able to open a special Post Office card account, or a basic bank account, which is available from many banks and building societies.

Statutory Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Pay are paid to you by your employer and will appear on your pay packet or payslip.

Housing Benefit can be paid direct to you or to your landlord or to your rent account if your landlord is the local authority that pays you Housing Benefit. Council Tax Benefit is usually paid by reducing your Council Tax bill.

Do I have to do anything after I start getting benefits?
This depends on which benefits you are getting. Generally, once you are receiving benefit, you must tell the agency that pays you about any changes in your circumstances. These include things such as changes in your income, splitting up or moving in with a partner, or if one of your children leaves school.

For Jobseeker's Allowance, you must also have interviews with a personal adviser, who will try to help you get work. You will need to show that you are making efforts to get a job. For some other benefits, you may also have to attend interviews with a personal adviser about work and training. In some cases, your partner may also have to attend separate interview. Your benefit may be cut if you or your partner does not attend the interviews.

For Pension Credit, some people who claim do not have to report certain changes in their income for up to five years, but this rule does not apply to everyone. You should seek further advice if you are claiming Pension Credit.

For tax credits, rules on change of circumstances are different to those on most other benefits, and you should get further advice. If you don't tell the Tax Credit Office in time about some changes, you may have to pay a penalty fine, or increases in the credit paid may not be fully backdated, or both. You may also be overpaid tax credit which you will have to pay back later. Remember to check the rules for each different benefit you receive, as one agency may need you to tell it of some changes while others will not.

What happens if I get paid too much?
If you are paid too much benefit, you may be asked to repay it. This may happen if you don't tell the agency about a change in your circumstances or if you give them wrong information - even by mistake.

If the problem is more serious, for example if you lie about your circumstances, you may be investigated for fraud, and may be prosecuted or fined.

Sometimes the agency dealing with your claim may make a mistake and pay you too much benefit. For most social security benefits, you have the right to appeal against having to repay an overpayment. But with tax credits you have no formal right of appeal against having to repay, only the possibility that the Tax Credit Office may write off some or all of the overpayment if they made a mistake. You will usually be expected to have checked your award notice and the payments being made to you, and report errors within one month.

If you don’t think you should have to repay a tax credit overpayment, you need to fill in a form called TC846, available from the Tax Credit Office, explaining why. If the Tax Credit Office doesn’t accept your argument, you could ask to repay the money at a lower rate, called ‘asking for additional payments’, though this will take longer. If you were overpaid but are no longer claiming tax credit, you may also be asked to pay back money as a lump sum. If you cannot afford to do this, you should explain this to the Tax Credit Office and ask if you can pay the money you owe over a period of time.

You can appeal against a tax credit decision:

  • that adds interest to a tax credit overpayment:
  • that asks you to pay a penalty; or
  • if you think the amount of your tax credit (and therefore the overpayment) is wrong.

You could also complain if you think that the overpayment was caused or made worse by the Tax Credit Office not responding to information or delaying a reassessment of your tax credit. You should always get specialist advice if you are asked to repay overpaid social security benefit or tax credit.

14. What if I disagree with a decision about my claim?

15. What if I´ve been badly treated?

16. The Human Rights Act

17. Further help

18. About this leaflet

This leaflet is published by the Gurkha Free Legal Advice (LSC). It was written in association with Rachel Hadwen, a specialist in welfare rights.

Leaflet Version: June 2008

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