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Understanding Benefits

Understanding the benefits system

The benefits system provides practical help and financial support if you are unemployed and looking for work. It also provides you with additional income when your earnings are low, if you are bringing up children, are retired, care for someone, are ill or have a disability.

Who pays benefits

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is responsible for welfare, pensions and child maintenance policy. As the UK’s biggest public service department it administers the State Pension and a range of working age, disability and ill health benefits to around 20 million people

People of working age

Benefits and services for people of working age, for example Jobseeker's Allowance, are dealt with by Social Security / Jobs and Benefits offices.

These offices can help you with:

  • finding work
  • starting your own business
  • managing on a low income

If you cannot work because of an illness or disability visit the ill or injured benefits information page for more information.  Illness or accidents caused by work are dealt with by Industrial Injuries Branch.

Pensioners and people planning for their retirement

The Pension Service, which is part of DWP, provides services to:

Families and children

Social Security / Jobs & Benefits offices look after benefits and services for families, including those:

The Child Maintenance Service is part of DWP and is responsible for running the child maintenance system - it assesses, collects and pays child maintenance

HM Revenue and Customs deals with Child Benefit, Guardian's Allowance and tax credits.

People with disabilities and carers

The Disability and Carers Service, which is part of DWP, is responsible for benefits and services for people who are sick or have a disability, and their carers (Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Carer’s Allowance).

Housing Benefit

Housing Benefit can help you pay your rent if you’re unemployed, on a low income or claiming benefits. It’s being replaced by Universal Credit.

You can only make a new claim for Housing Benefit if either of the following apply:

  • you have reached State Pension age
  • you’re in supported, sheltered or temporary housing

You’ve reached State Pension age

If you’re single you can make a new claim for Housing Benefit.

If you’re over State Pension age and live with your partner

You can make a new claim for Housing Benefit if any of the following apply:

  • you and your partner have both reached State Pension age
  • one of you has reached State Pension age and started claiming Pension Credit (for you as a couple) before 15 May 2019
  • you’re in supported, sheltered or temporary housing

If you’re over State Pension age and have an existing claim

Your existing claim will not be affected if, before 15 May 2019, you:

  • were getting Housing Benefit
  • had reached State Pension age

It does not matter if your partner is under State Pension age.

If your circumstances change and your Housing Benefit is stopped, you cannot start getting it again unless you and your partner are eligible to make a new claim.

You can apply for Universal Credit if you’re not eligible.

If you’re in supported, sheltered or temporary housing

You can make a new claim if:

  • you’re living in temporary accommodation, such as a B&B arranged by your council
  • you’re living in a refuge for survivors of domestic abuse
  • you’re living in sheltered or supported housing (such as a hostel) which provides you with ‘care, support or supervision’

If you do not get ‘care, support or supervision’ through your supported or sheltered housing, you can apply for Universal Credit to help with housing costs.

If you’re in supported, sheltered or temporary housing, you can apply for Universal Credit to help with other living costs.

When you may not be able to claim

Usually, you will not get Housing Benefit if:

  • your savings are over £16,000 - unless you get Guarantee Credit of Pension Credit
  • you’re paying a mortgage on your own home - you may be able to get Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI)
  • you live in the home of a close relative
  • you’re already claiming Universal Credit(unless you’re in temporary or supported housing)
  • you live with your partner and they are already claiming Housing Benefit
  • you’re a full-time student
  • you’re residing in the UK as a European Economic Areajobseeker
  • you’re an asylum seeker or sponsored to be in the UK
  • you’re subject to immigration control and your granted leave states that you cannot claim public funds
  • you’re a Crown Tenant
  • you’ve reached State Pension age but your live-in partner has not - unless you had an existing claim as a couple before 15 May 2019

You may be able to get other help with housing costs.

If not, you’ll need to claim Universal Credit instead.


Who can claim benefits

To qualify for a particular benefit you must meet the conditions that the government specifies. For example, to claim Child Benefit you must be responsible for bringing up a child.

To apply for a benefit you'll normally have to fill in an application form and provide supporting information.

How benefits are paid

Direct payment is the normal way benefits are paid. It is a safe, convenient and efficient method of payment that gives customers access to a wide range of financial services.

Where to get advice: Social Security/Jobs & Benefits offices

If you're of working age, Jobs and Benefits/Social Security offices can offer advice on the various benefits you can claim. Find your local office through the Department for Social Development website or in the local phone book.  

More useful links

Source: Gov.uk

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