1. What are benefits?
Benefits and tax credits are payments from the government to certain people on low incomes, or to meet specific needs. They can help you if you:
Are on a low income
Are out of work
Are sick or disabled
Have been bereaved
Are a carer.
Who administers benefits?
Different organisations administer different benefits. These include:
Department for Work and Pensions DWP which operates through agencies such as Jobcentre Plus and The Pensions Service
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
Employers pay some benefits then claim the money back from the Government these are called Statutory Benefits
What types of benefits are there?
Benefits can usually come under one of two types:
Your means (income, savings and other capital) will be looked at to see if they are low enough for you to qualify. If your means are greater than your needs (the amount the government estimates you need to live on), the benefit is reduced or may not be paid at all, so the amount you are entitled to can vary from one person to another. You can get these benefits even if you have not paid enough national insurance contributions.
Entitlement to means-tested benefits is calculated by the Turn2us Benefits Calculator.
Non-means-tested benefits don't take into account your income and savings in the same way as means-tested benefits do, but they do have their own rules which must be met:
These benefits are to replace earnings, for example when you lose your job or are unable to work because of illness or disability. Whether you get the benefit depends on if you (or in some cases your partner) have paid or been credited with enough national insurance contributions. They are not means-tested, but if you have income in the form of earnings or pension payments the amount you get may be affected.
These benefits replace earnings if you are off work due to maternity/adoption/paternity or sickness. There is no means-test but there are earnings rules to meet in order to qualify. These benefits are paid through your employer.
Mostly these benefits are intended to help with the extra costs of having a disability or caring for someone with a disability. There is no means-test and no national insurance contributions conditions, you just have to fit the rules for who can claim. They are usually ignored as income for means-tested benefits
2. Checking benefit entitlement
It can be complicated to work out what you are entitled to, so the Turn2us Benefit Calculator will do this for you.
The results page will tell you which means-tested benefits and tax credits you may be entitled to and how much you may receive.
If you are new to the Turn2us Benefits Calculator, see our guide for using the Benefits Calculator.
3. Claiming benefits
How do I make a claim?
To claim a benefit, you will usually have to fill in a form, either on paper or online, or make a telephone call.
Each benefit has its own claiming process.
Do I need to provide evidence to support my claim?
In many cases, yes. For example, you will usually have to give your National Insurance number and may be asked to show evidence of your identity, income and savings.
If you have to send off original documents make sure you keep copies and send them recorded delivery to make sure they arrive safely.
How long will it take to process my claim?
The time can vary depending on the benefit. Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) agencies and Local Authorities have targets but HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) does not.
You can help by completing the claim form thoroughly and providing evidence promptly. See 'Further information about how long it takes to process a claim' within this guide including target times for processing claims.
What can I do if my claim is delayed?
There are many reasons why a claim might be delayed. For example:
You may be unable to provide a national insurance number straight away
There could be an error by you or the benefit agency
Further information or evidence may be required to support a claim
There could be delays in processing claims at the benefit agency
There could be a problem with the payment method
If you have provided all the information requested to support your claim, and it has been longer than the set target time for processing claims, you may want to contact the relevant benefit agency to find out why there is a delay.
If your claim is delayed and you are experiencing financial difficulties you may be able to get a Short Term Benefit Advance.
How will I receive the benefit payment?
Most benefits are paid directly to your post office, bank or building society account but there are exceptions.
Council Tax Support will usually go straight to your Council Tax account and will be taken off your Council Tax liability on your bill.
Housing Benefit is sometimes paid to you but it may be paid directly to your landlord in some circumstances.
If you have difficulties opening or managing an account, you used to be able to ask to be paid by cheque instead (which could be cashed at a post office). However, in October 2012 a new Simple Payments card scheme was launched to replace benefits, pensions and child maintenance cheque payments.
For more information, see Simple Payments system.
You can also nominate a person to receive the payment on your behalf if needed.
When will I receive the benefit payment?
When you are paid will depend on the benefit you have claimed. Some benefits are paid weekly, some every four weeks.
Some are paid in advance and some in arrears.
The Gov.UK website (link opens in a new window) has a general guide for when most benefits are paid.
What do I do if I think they've made the wrong decision?
If you are unhappy with a benefit or tax credit decision there are several steps you can take:
Get more information about the decision.
Get the decision looked at again.
Appeal against the decision.
Further information about challenging benefit decisions.
I'm not happy with the way my claim has been handled what can I do?
You have the right to expect a reasonable standard of service from the people dealing with your benefit claim.
Most offices that deal with benefits, including your Local Authority, will have a charter or statement of standards of service that sets out what you can expect. You will be able to get this from their offices or websites.
If you are not happy with the level of service you have received then you can make a complaint. You can complain whether or not you have made a claim for benefit.
Further information on how to make a complaint.
4. How long does it take to process a claim?
The time taken to process a benefit claim can vary depending on the benefit being claimed and which benefit office deals with the claim.
For all benefits, you can help make sure your claim is processed as quickly as possible by completing the claim thoroughly and providing any further information requested promptly.
HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs) targets
HMRC has a target to process Tax Credit and Child Benefit claims and changes in an average of 22 days.
In July - September quarter of 2015 claims were processed as follows:
- tax credit claims in 24 days
- tax credit changes in 11 days
- child benefit claims in 16 days
- child benefit changes in 10 days
HM Revenue and Customs 'Where's my reply?' tool can be used to check how long it should take
send you a claim pack
deal with a new claim
send you an award notice
If you are concerned about the amount of time it is taking to process your tax credits claim, you can Contact HM Revenue and Customs for an explanation.
If you are not satisfied with the explanation for the delay, you can make a complaint. See the Gov.UK website for more information on how to complain to HM Revenue and Customs.
Local authorities' targets
Local authorities should process Housing Benefit (HB) and Council Tax Support claims within 14 days. In reality it may take longer than this.
Statistics for October - December 2014/15 showed that the average number of days taken to process a new HB claim was 22 calendar days. As this is an average, some claims will have been processed quicker than this and more complex cases taken longer.
DWP (Jobcentre Plus and The Pensions Service)
DWP aim to deal with benefit claims within a ‘reasonable length of time’.
In practice they set a target to process customer claims within an average number of working days (Monday - Friday). As these benefits are processed in different ways, their targets are different.
In 2015/16, the targets were:
Income Support - 10-14 working days
Jobseeker's Allowance - 10-14 working days
Employment and Support Allowance - 10 working days
Pension Credit - 10-14 working days
Obviously because the target is an average, it recognises that not all claims can be processed within that time. Some claims will be more straightforward and therefore easier/quicker to process than others.
5. Simple Payment System
The Simple Payment system is a way to pay benefits to people who cannot use bank, building society, credit union or Post Office card accounts, replacing benefit payments by cheque.
How do Simple Payments work?
You will be given a Simple Payment card which you can use to collect your benefit payments at a PayPoint outlet displaying the Simple Payment sign.
These can be found in local newsagents, convenience stores or supermarkets. To find your nearest PayPoint outlet, visit the PayPoint website.
To collect a payment, you need to:
Your memorable date will be set as your date of birth but you can change this to something more secure by calling 0800 310 0000 (textphone 0800 032 5864) Mondays to Saturdays, 8 am to 8pm.
You’ll also need to show proof of your identity (ID). Copies are not acceptable, it must be the original document.
Examples of ID you can use:
Valid UK photo or paper driving licence
A gas, electricity, water or landline phone bill (this must be less than three months old).
Getting someone else to collect your money
If you want someone else to collect your benefits, and the same person will always collect the payments for you, they can get their own Simple Payment card. To collect your money, they’ll need to show their own card, confirm their memorable date and show their own proof of identity.
If different people collect payments for you, you’ll have to give them your Simple Payment card to use each time. You’ll also need to give them your memorable date. They’ll have to show your proof of identity and their own.
Gov.UK has more information about Simple Payments and a 'Find your nearest PayPoint outlet' tool.
6. Challenges and complaints
There is a process for challenging most benefit and tax credit decisions and all local authorities and statutory organisations have a procedure in place for raising a complaint.
Discover the steps you can take if you are unhappy with a benefit or tax credit decision, or the service you have received by clicking on the guides below.
7. Change in circumstances
My situation has changed since making my claim. Do I have to let anyone know?
It is very important to let the relevant benefit office know when there has been a change in your circumstances which could affect your benefit entitlement. This is because your benefits depend on the information you gave when you made your claim.
When you make a claim you will be told which changes must be reported and how long you have to report the change.
Common changes include:
You start living with someone
You stop living with someone. For example, you separate from your partner
You get a job
Your hours of work change
You get a pay rise
You win or inherit some money
Your child reaches the age of 16 or moves out
You stop getting benefits like Income Support
You go into hospital or into residential care.
If your circumstances change, you may be entitled to more benefit, less benefit, or you may no longer be entitled to get the benefit at all.
If you do not inform the relevant benefits office you could be paid too much benefit and have to pay it back, and this could count as fraud which is a criminal offence.
If you get into trouble because you did not report a change in your circumstances, it is very important to get expert advice as soon as you can.
For more information, see the GOV.UK information on civil penalties for not reporting changes that affect your benefits.
The Gov.UK website also has information on changes that affect your tax credits
If you have recently separated from a person with whom you used to live as partners, the benefits you can get may have changed.
After separating from your partner, you may receive some benefits or tax credits that you were not able to get when living with a partner, or you might get an increased or decreased amount of the same benefits and Tax Credits.
Generally any benefits paid to you personally for your needs, for example, Disability Living Allowance, will continue to be paid once you have separated from a partner. However, you should tell everyone who pays you benefits or Tax Credits that you have separated, so that they can check if it could affect your benefit entitlement.
You might be receiving benefits from Jobcentre Plus, HM Revenue and Customs and/or your local authority and should tell each office about your change.
If you do not let them know as soon as you can that you are now a single person, you might be paid too much benefit that you may have to pay back.
Gov.UK has more information about Simple Payments and a 'find your nearest PayPoint outlet' tool.