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About the benefits system

There are many different types of benefits, paid for all sorts of reasons. This information will help you understand the main types of benefits available to people who are ill or disabled, and their carers.

On this page:

How the welfare system works 

The basic idea of the welfare system is that most of us, for most of our lives, will work to earn a living. While we’re working, we pay contributions so that, if we can’t work or if we retire, we receive benefits that we've paid for. These are National Insurance benefits and State Pension.

However, sometimes National Insurance benefits aren’t enough to live on or you may not have been able to pay enough contributions to get the full amount. That’s why there’s also a safety net of means-tested benefits, which measure how much money you have to live on compared to what you need. These are the benefits that top up your income.

Benefits for people who are ill or disabled and their carers

There’s also an important group of benefits for people who are ill or disabled and their carers. These benefits aren’t based on how little other money you have or your National Insurance contributions. 

They include:

  • Attendance Allowance, which is a tax-free benefit that can help with the extra costs of a disability or health condition if you’re aged 65 or over
  • Disability Living Allowance. This benefit is for people who have a physical or mental disability and need help to care for themselves or with getting around, or someone to supervise them to remain safe. You can only make a new claim for this benefit if you are under 16 years old
  • Personal Independence Payment. This is a relatively new benefit for people of working age (between 16 and 64 years) to help with extra costs because of a disability or health condition
  • Carer’s Allowance. This is a benefit for people who regularly spend at least 35 hours a week caring for someone with substantial caring needs.

Some of these benefits overlap but others can be paid on top of each other. If you’re ill, disabled or a carer you may be able to get benefits in any or all of the groups that we’ve described.

Benefit passports

You can also get benefits passports, which is where being on one benefit qualifies you for another. For example, being on a means-tested benefit can help you get free NHS prescriptions.

Getting what you’re entitled to

It would be helpful if all these benefits were paid by the same government department, but they’re not. Often one government department paying out a benefit won’t know what other benefits you may be getting. The rules and rates also change every year.

The pages in this section include lots of information about the different benefits, who is entitled to them and how to claim them. A benefits adviser will be able to help you understand your options. 

It’s worth checking if you can claim any benefits, tax credits or other financial help. It’s also worth regularly reviewing your entitlements, because you may be able to get more benefits if your circumstances change or if the rules change. 

If you’ve been turned down in the past for a benefit, consider claiming again because things may have changed. You can ask for a benefits decision to be looked at again if you think it is unfair

Benefits in England, Scotland and Wales

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

The DWP deals with most benefits available to ill and disabled people. These include Attendance AllowanceDisability Living AllowancePersonal Independence Payment and Carer’s Allowance. The DWP administers some benefits for people of working age through its Jobcentre Plus arm and benefits for pensioners through the Pension Service.

Jobcentre Plus

Jobcentre Plus deals with many of the benefits for people of working age including Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit.

Pension Service

The Pension Service handles benefits for people of pension age, including State Pension, Pension Credit and Winter Fuel Payments. It’s mainly a phone-based service and is supported by local services that can provide face-to-face appointments through libraries, community centres and home visits.

HM Revenue & Customs

HM Revenue & Customs, the government department that oversees tax and VAT, administers tax credits and Child Benefit.

Local councils

Local councils deal with Housing Benefit (help with rent), Council Tax Support and Discretionary Housing Payments.

Benefits in Northern Ireland

Benefits are dealt with differently in Northern Ireland and the nation has its own laws. While the structure and organisation of the system are different from the rest of the UK, the rates of benefits and their qualifying conditions are similar.

The Department for Communities (DoC) is responsible for social security matters. The Disability and Carers Service (DCS) is responsible for disability and carer's benefits.  

Tax Credits are dealt with by HM Revenue & Customs as in the rest of the UK. 

Useful links

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