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Special benefit rules for people with a terminal illness

If you’re living with a terminal illness, your claim for certain benefits might be fast-tracked and paid at the highest rate. You’ll need to apply under the special rules.

On this page:

Which benefits do special rules apply to?

The main benefits for people living with a terminal illness that are covered by the special rules are:

See below for the special rules for each benefit.

Who qualifies for these special rules?

If you’re living with a terminal illness, your claim for certain benefits might be fast-tracked and paid at the highest rate.

This is usually if your death ‘can reasonably be expected’ within the next six months. If your death could reasonably be expected at any time in the next five to ten months, you may still qualify.

It’s often very difficult to predict how long someone might live for. If your doctor or nurse hasn’t talked with you about how long you might live for, you can still ask them about supporting your claim under the special rules. 

What if I live longer than six months?

If you live longer than six months following the claim, you can carry on claiming under the special rules. Awards are normally made for three years and will be looked at again after this time if you live longer than originally expected.

If I’m eligible, what difference can the special rules make?

The difference that these special rules make depends on which benefit you’re claiming for. You might be able to get your claim fast-tracked, so you don’t have to wait so long to receive your benefits. You might automatically qualify for a higher rate of benefit, without needing further assessment.

Personal Independence Payment

You don’t have to wait for the three-month qualifying period to get Personal Independence Payment (PIP). You’ll automatically qualify for the enhanced rate of the PIP daily living component.

You won’t automatically qualify for the mobility component but a decision about it may be quicker. When you start the claim for PIP, you’ll be asked questions about your mobility. This should speed up the decision on the mobility component and ensure you don’t have to complete another form. If you do qualify for this separately, you don’t have to wait for the three month qualifying period for it.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

You don’t have to wait for the three-month qualifying period to get Disability Living Allowance (DLA). You’ll automatically qualify for the highest rate of the DLA care component.

You won’t automatically qualify for the mobility component. But, if you do qualify for this separately, you don’t have to wait for the three-month qualifying period for it.

Attendance Allowance

If you qualify, you don’t have to wait for the six-month qualifying period to get Attendance Allowance. You’ll automatically qualify for the higher rate of Attendance Allowance.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Your claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) can be fast-tracked. You’ll also be put in the ‘support group’ of claimants. This means you will be paid a higher rate of ESA and will not have to meet work-related responsibilities to keep getting the benefit in full.

Most people don’t get any money for the first seven days of their claim. But if you qualify, you will be paid for these days.

Universal Credit

If you claim Universal Credit you must normally wait around six weeks for your first payment. If you claim under the special rules, your first payment should come one week sooner.

If you’re living with a terminal illness, you will not have to meet work-related requirements (such as attending work-focused interviews) to keep getting Universal Credit in full. Your Universal Credit will be paid at a higher rate, as a ‘work capability amount’ will be included in your award.

How do I make a claim under the special rules?

If you’re claiming under the special rules, you will be asked to send a factual statement from your doctor to the relevant government department when you make the claim. This is called a DS 1500 report. Your doctor or consultant should have copies of these forms, and will be able to fill one out for you before sending it to you or directly to the relevant government department.

You can find information about how to claim on the separate pages for each benefit.

How long does it take to process a claim?

The time it takes can vary depending on which benefit you’re applying for. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Disability and Carer’s Service (DCS) normally process Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Attendance Allowance claims under the special rules within eight working days. Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claims under the special rules currently take longer to process. For Universal Credit under the special rules, you’ll start receiving payments after about five weeks. There aren’t guidelines for how long Employment Support Allowance (ESA) takes under the special rules.

What happens if I’m already getting a benefit and become terminally ill?

If you’re already getting one of these benefits and your illness becomes terminal, you don’t have to make another claim.

Contact the government department that deals with that benefit (see the above) or write to the address on your award letter and ask for the award to be changed because of a terminal illness.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Attendance Allowance

If you’re successful, the new top rate of benefit can be backdated to the date you became terminally ill. You’ll need to tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), or Disability and Carer’s Service (DCS) in Northern Ireland, within one month to have your claim fully backdated. If it has been longer than one month, the top rate can still be fully backdated if you had good reason for the delay (eg you were too ill to contact the DWP or DCS any earlier than you did).

Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

If you’re already getting DLA and become terminally ill, it counts as a change in circumstances. This means you’ll need to make a claim for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) under the special rules. This is because PIP is replacing DLA for adults. It’s a good idea to make a claim as soon as possible because new claims cannot be backdated. Visit our Disability Living Allowance page for more information on this.

Reporting a change in your circumstances

You need to report it if you are claiming benefits and gave incorrect information by mistake or if there is a change in your circumstances. Who you tell depends on what support you’re getting. Visit GOV.UK for more information.  

Useful links

About this information

Marie Curie’s Information and Support team has produced this information with help from:

  • Director of Corporate Services, Marie Curie
  • Disability Rights UK
  • Our Readers’ Panel volunteers.

It's not intended to replace any advice from health or social care professionals. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. Read more about how our information is created and how it's used.

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