Broadly speaking benefits are either means tested or non means tested. Means tested benefits are affected by most types of income and by the amount of savings that you have as well as your individual circumstances.
Non means tested benefits are not usually affected by other money that you have, but some can be affected by earnings or income from occupational and private pensions. There are two types of non means tested benefit; contributory and non-contributory. Contributory benefits depend on you having made a certain amount of national insurance contributions.
It’s worth noting that whilst carer’s allowance is classed as being non means tested it does not depend on your national insurance contribution record, and earnings over a certain amount affect your entitlement.
When you claim a means tested benefit, your partner’s income, savings and capital are taken into account as well as your own. You may be entitled to a non means tested benefit and means tested benefits.
The Department for Work and Pensions is responsible for administering most benefits, some through Jobcentre Plus and some through the Pension Service. Tax credits, Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance are administered by HM Revenue and Customs.
Am I expected to manage on carer’s allowance alone?
I am on a low income. Which other benefits am I entitled to?
The person I care for is not well enough to work. What can they claim?
How do we get help with housing costs?
Will the benefit cap affect me?
Will the bedroom tax affect me?
I am finding it hard to pay my rent and there is a shortfall in my housing benefit
I heard that some carers are being asked to go to the job centre for interviews. What’s this about?
What effect will giving up work have on my state pension?
How can I protect my pension and national insurance record?
How do I know what my national insurance (NI) record is?
I am over state pension age and get my state retirement pension. Is there anything else I can claim?
I am on a low income. Can I get help with prescriptions and other NHS charges?
I am on a low income and need an essential household item. Is there any help?
As a carer you could be entitled to various means tested benefits. Means tested benefits are paid to people on a low income with limited savings. The benefits system is very complex and entitlement to benefits depends on you meeting certain criteria. Citizens Advice Bureau gives you information to help identify which benefits you could claim including a section for carers and sick and disabled people.
Caitlin claims carer’s allowance (non means tested) as she cares for her mum; she also gets income support (means tested) as she is a carer without any other income. She gets housing benefit to help with her rent and also qualifies for help with her council tax through the local authority. Both housing benefit and council tax reduction are means tested.
Means tested benefits that are particularly relevant to carers include pension credit, income support (which is being replaced by universal credit), housing benefit to help with your rent (which will also be replaced by universal credit). If you have children you may qualify for child tax credit (which will also be replaced by universal credit). If your child is disabled or has a long term health condition they may qualify for disability living allowance.
You may be able to get help with mortgage costs, through income support, pension credit or universal credit. The help with mortgage costs is paid as a loan which is repayable. South Gloucestershire and Bristol City council both have schemes that help people on a low income with their council tax payments.
You may be able to get any of these benefits in addition to claiming carer’s allowance. There are other benefits, like jobseekers allowance and working tax credit that you may be able to claim if you are doing some work or are looking for work.
If the person you care for is not able to work due to sickness they may get employment and support allowance (ESA). This is for people who are not able to work due to sickness or disability. Some carers may also qualify for this if they are unwell themselves.
There are two types of ESA, one is means tested (income related ESA) and one is non means tested (contribution based ESA) and is based on the national insurance contribution record of the person claiming. It is possible to get both types at the same time, but this will depend on the individual circumstances. You or the person you care for may also get other benefits in addition to ESA and may be able to get help with mortgage costs in the form of a loan through income related ESA. The person you care for may also be able to claim personal independence payment.
If you or the person you care for pays rent you may be able to get housing benefit to help with this. If you have a mortgage you may be able to get help with the mortgage interest payments (in the form of a loan which is repayable) through income support, income related jobseekers allowance, income related employment and support allowance, pension credit or universal credit.
Before you can get help with mortgage payments there is usually a waiting period of 39 weeks or 9 months for universal credit. If you get pension credit there is not a waiting period.
Find out more about getting help with mortgage payments on the government website.
The benefit cap puts a limit on the amount of benefits that a household can receive. If anyone in the household gets certain benefits the cap will not be applied. If you get carer’s allowance the cap will not be applied and if anyone in the household gets disability living allowance, employment and support allowance (only if the person is in the support group), personal independence payment, or attendance allowance the cap will also not apply. This is not a complete list and you can find out more about the benefit cap on the government website.
The bedroom tax restricts the amount of housing benefit people can get if they live in social housing and are considered to have more bedrooms than the household needs.
From 1st April 2017 new rules mean an additional bedroom will be allowed if:
- a child or non-dependent adult requires overnight care from a non-resident carer(s)
- two members of a couple cannot share a bedroom for ‘transparent medical reasons’
If you live in private rented housing you will be affected by similar rules that predate the bedroom tax.
There is more information about how the bedroom tax affects carers from Carers UK.
If you get housing benefit and it doesn’t cover all your rent (which is often what happens) you may be able to get something called a discretionary housing payment. This payment is made by the local authority and they will assess each application to decide if the payment can be awarded. Discretionary housing payments can only be given to people who qualify for at least some housing benefit
If your income drops or your circumstances change, this could be a time to apply for one. Further information and an application if you live in Bristol can be found on the Bristol City council website.
Further information and an application if you live in South Gloucestershire can be found on the South Gloucestershire council website.
Some carers who are claiming a means tested benefit (or if their partner is claiming a means tested benefit) may have to attend ‘work focused interviews’ and in some cases take part in ‘work related activity’. A work focused interview aims to look at someone’s prospects of getting employment and identifying ways to help them get back into work. Work related activity is actually participating in an activity to help someone prepare for a return to work. Depending on your situation this could feel either helpful or inappropriate.
Find more information on work focused interviews and work related activity on the Carers UK website, including advice about getting the interview waived or deferred.
If you are claiming universal credit there is something called a ‘claimant commitment’ which is about what you need to do to get paid universal credit. Many carers will not be expected to work or look for work, but it will depend on your situation. Carers UK has a section about universal credit, the claimant commitment and how carers are affected.
If you give up work to care for someone you are probably not thinking about the effect of this on your state retirement pension, but it may impact on the amount you get. To qualify for a state pension you need to have enough qualifying years, which means you need to have either paid or been credited with enough national insurance contributions over the years. Some people who earn too little to pay national insurance, or people who are out of work and not claiming certain benefits, may have gaps in their records.
If you reach retirement age after the 6th April 2016 you will get the new state pension and will need 35 qualifying years. If you reached retirement age or deferred your pension you will remain on the old system where you needed 30 years. Find out more about state pension rules and changes on Money Advice Service website.
Some benefits like carer’s allowance pay your national insurance (NI) credits. This helps protect your NI record for a pension. If you don’t qualify for carer’s allowance you may get carer’s credit instead, which also helps protect your NI record.
You may be able to pay voluntary contributions to make up gaps in your record but there are special rules for doing this. Find out more about making voluntary contributions on the government website.
You can check your NI record on the government website or by contacting the national insurance Helpline on 0300 200 3500. You can ask for a state pension forecast on the government website or by contacting the Future Pension Centre on 0800 7310175.
I am over state pension age and get my state retirement pension. Is there anything else I can claim?
You may qualify for pension credit which is a means tested benefit that tops up a low income. Lots of people miss out on this so it‘s worth checking to see if you qualify. You may also get help with your mortgage interest payments through pension credit. If you pay rent and council tax you could get housing benefit or help with council tax. Independent Age has produced a guide to pension credit.
You or the person you care for may also qualify for attendance allowance. Some people could also claim carers allowance but claiming carers allowance is more complicated when you get a state retirement pension.
Many people on a means tested benefit will be entitled to free prescriptions, free dental care, free eye care, wigs and fabric supports and help with travel health care costs. Other people who are on a low income may get help through the NHS low income scheme, whilst others are exempt from paying NHS charges. There is information about the different ways to get help with health costs on the NHS website.
If you are on certain benefits, or you are on a low income, you may be able to get help from your council.
In South Gloucestershire you can apply to the Welfare Grant Scheme.
In Bristol you can apply for an emergency payment.
When you apply make it clear that you are a carer. Local welfare assistance could help with essential items and the help is usually in the form of a voucher that you can spend in a named place.
If you are getting certain means tested benefits you could apply for a ‘budgeting loan’. A budgeting loan is paid from the Social Fund and would need to be paid back, but is an interest free loan. You can find out more about budgeting loans on the government website.
You could also try looking at our grants and budgeting section.