1. Contact us
  2. About us
  3. Life Plan

Benefits & work

Last updated Thursday, 21st Feb 2013

You may be entitled to receive state benefits while you are unable to work due to illness or instead have to care for others such as any children. Those people currently looking for work may also get practical help and a weekly benefit.

Some benefits can top up a low income, for instance where you may work part time or get a basic wage. The type and amount of welfare benefit will always depend on your personal circumstances and you should get advice about what this would mean for you. Some people will already have reached retirement age so will not have to work but may still get benefits to reflect their age, costs of where they live and any disability.

Direct Gov website

Jobcentre Plus is part of the Department for Work and Pensions. It aims to help more people into paid work, help employers fill their vacancies, and give people of working age the help and support they are entitled to if they cannot work. Benefits and entitlements for pensioners are dealt with through a network of pension centres which provide a face-to-face service for those who need additional help and support. Additionally, you will need to deal with other agencies or government departments, such as your local council or HM Revenue & Customs. More information about benefits can be found on the Direct Gov website page on disabled people.

Disability employment adviser

Jobcentre Plus should offer you support from a disability employment adviser whose role is to give you and your employer advice, and explore practical ways to help you keep your job. If you cannot work, they should tell you about the financial and practical support you may be able to get, and refer you to appropriate services offered by other organisations.

Benefits via the local council

Your local council looks after Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. The Directgov site has contact details and link to councils in Kent.

Help and support with benefits

In order to find out about what benefits you could claim, you may want to contact an advice agency for individual advice tailored to your situation. If you are receiving benefits but have any worries or questions then you may also want to speak to an adviser. Advisers can also help you make phone calls to the departments who work out your benefits. Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) provide free independent confidential advice on a range of issues including benefits. To find your nearest CAB go to the CAB website. You can phone the bureau or visit their office in their opening hours to see an adviser and talk about your issue. You may also ask someone such as an advocate, support worker or health worker to go with you to an advice appointment or help arrange a good time to go in.

Applying for benefits

When applying for benefits you will need to disclose full details of your situation, such as all savings and income (including pensions). You will need to show proof of these which may include bank statements and wage slips. It is important to provide all information asked for by the benefit authorities such as the Department of Work and Pensions and your local council within a certain time or your claim may lapse. Other details may be needed such as your housing costs (for example details of mortgage payments or rent paid to your landlord as part of an agreement). Living with someone else can also have an effect on benefits. Their work hours or earnings may be considered as part of your claim. Your own age, any children, others living with you, health issues, any time spent caring for someone, immigration issues or dates when living abroad, and at what time you last worked may be taken into account depending on the benefit applied for and its conditions. It is important with all benefit claims that you give your National Insurance number details.

Challenging a benefits decision

CAB advisers can do a benefits check and will be able to help you appeal decisions made about your benefits. It is helpful to take letters with you and try to look out for time limits stated in letters such as the timsecale within which one can challenge a decision. For more information about challenging a decision, see the Direct Gov webpage on how to appeal against a benefits decision.

If you do not want to miss out on what you are due, you will need to make sure that you claim any benefits as soon as you can. Many benefits cannot be backdated, or perhaps only for a very limited time.

Letting people know of changes

If you experience any changes in your circumstances you will need to tell all of the authorities that pay your benefits as soon as possible. You may find their details on any award letters you have received. They could be from the local council, the Department of Work and Pensions, Jobcentre Plus or the Disability and Carers Service for example. For more information about the type of changes about which you should notify straight away, see the Direct Gov webpage on knowing when to report changes.

If you claim tax credits, you can find out more about reporting changes on the HM Revenue and Customs webpage on changes you need to report and when.

If you wait before you tell the benefit departments, you may find that it causes you different problems. For example, you may be paid too much benefit which you will then need to pay back. As soon as you realise you have a change in circumstances, it is a good idea to write a letter and phone the relevant benefits section to avoid things going further. Keeping your claim up to date is a duty, but also may help in other ways. For instance, you may remain eligible for some benefit or can later reclaim your previous entitlements through certain benefit linking rules if you had to stop working again due to ill health.

You can get general advice as a disabled person or carer about benefits by phoning the Benefit Enquiry Line - Freephone 0800 882 200

There is a range of benefits to give financial support. For more information about benefits, you can visit the CAB website's Adviceguide.

Looking for work - Job Seeker's Allowance(JSA)

There are different benefits for people out of work depending on your circumstances. For those who are able to work and actively looking for a job, the benefit is called Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA). There are two types of this benefit, one which is based on your record of paying national insurance contributions in the last two tax years (while working or self-employed) and the other kind where you have limited income and savings. There are other work related conditions that someone would need to meet in order to be paid this benefit, such as attending interviews at the Jobcentre and showing the attempts made to find a job.

For more information, visit the Direct Gov webpage on Job Seeker's Allowance. You may want to seek independent advice about claiming this or any other benefit, you can do this at any time by contacting your local CAB.

Unable to work

You may find that at the moment you are not well enough to work. You may want to discuss this with your GP and any other health professionals you have contact with.

If you are thinking about giving up a job that you are in now, you may want to seek employment advice before making any decision. You can phone ACAS 08457 47 47 47 or again go to your nearest CAB.

If you feel that you are being treated unfairly at work and this is making you think again about going in, you may want to seek the support of ACAS or contact a local employment and vocational service for support.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

If you have a job but are unable to work because you are unwell or disabled, you may qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). You must earn a certain amount of money each week to qualify. If you earn less than this amount, or if you are self-employed, you will not be able to get Statutory Sick Pay, but you may be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) instead. Part-time workers, workers on a fixed-term contract and agency workers all qualify for Statutory Sick Pay.

For more information about Statutory Sick Pay, visit the CAB Adviceguide.

Fit notes

GPs now issue ‘fit notes’ which may allow you to do some of your work supported by your employer if you are not able to carry out all of your usual duties. However, your GP still has the option of saying that you are not fit for work. The NHS Choices website has more information about fit notes.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is paid to all new claimants after the 2008 date. If you feel you may be entitled to this benefit you may want to get advice from an adviser at your local CAB who can explain the claiming process and what will happen.

Work Capability Assessment

When you make a claim for Employment and Support Allowance, you have to complete a questionnaire about how your illness or disability affects your ability to complete everyday tasks. This forms part of a Work Capability Assessment which is the main assessment for Employment and Support Allowance claims. Your own doctor may be asked to provide a medical report.

After a period of 13 weeks (when benefit is paid at a basic rate) you may be asked to go for a Work Capability Assessment interview where an 'approved healthcare professional' appointed by the Department of Work and Pensions will examine your health problems and their effect on you. They will consider the questionnaire and any medical reports, along with any other information you may have provided. They will then provide details of the outcome of your assessment to the Department for Work and Pensions, which is responsible for administering benefit claims. The Department for Work and Pensions will make a decision about whether you are entitled to receive Employment and Support Allowance using the information from the assessment and the advice provided by the approved healthcare professional.

Some people find it helpful to have support from a person with mental health and benefits experience during the assessment process. People currently receiving Incapacity Benefit will continue to be assessed by the Personal Capability Assessment, unless they do not have to do so because of the nature of their illness. This is similar to a Work Capability Assessment.

There are different outcomes which determine what you will need to do next and how much benefit you are paid. If you are seen as capable of work you may be given the option to claim Jobseeker's Allowance (though you can also opt to continue to claim ESA at a basic rate until you have been able to challenge the decision).

You may be put into the ‘limited capability for work’ group where you may be expected to do some activity to prepare yourself for working at a later time. A smaller group of people may be allocated to the ‘support group’ where there is unconditional help without needing to do any type of work programmes.

If unhappy with the decision then you may want to seek advice from your local CAB or another benefits specialist straight away. It is important to challenge the decision within the given time limit. However, if you have gone past this time limit, it is still worth seeking advice.

The Citizens Advice Bureaux website has a factsheet on ESA which may be helpful to read before seeking help about your own circumstances from your nearest bureau.

Work-focused interviews

During the process of claiming benefits you may be asked to attend work-focused interviews. If you do not attend these, your benefits claim may be affected. The Disability Alliance has a useful factsheet about work focused interviews.

New assessments from 2011

From 2011 people may be assessed on existing benefits such as Income Support due to illness, Severe Disablement Allowance and Incapacity Benefit. Plans to introduce this will be rolled out over a period of three years. If you have any concerns over this, you may want to contact your nearest CAB where they can guide you about any future change.

Changes affecting lone parents from October 2010

From October 2010 there are changes affecting lone parents with young children

where a youngest child is over seven depending on the parent’s circumstances they may be expected to look for work/claim Jobseekers Allowance. If this affects you may want to talk to an adviser at the CAB who can see if there are other benefits that may be appropriate.

Housing costs

Depending on your circumstances, and who lives with you, you may be able to claim housing benefit and council tax benefit. If you live alone you are eligible for a 25% discount on your council tax in any case as a single person. But where you are on a low or benefit income and have savings under a certain threshold you may be entitled to help with your housing and council tax costs. You should ask your local council about claiming this and they will issue forms for you to complete. If you need help to do this you may be able to get assistance from the council Gateways or to go to the CAB who always do form filling.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

This is a benefit for disabled people under 65 years. To get DLA, you must have personal care needs or difficulty with walking (also called mobility) because of either a physical or mental disability. You may still be entitled to receive this benefit if you are in work. It is not ‘means tested’ (which means savings and income are not taken into account) and reflects the extra costs of living with a disability. DLA can be spent on whatever the person wants. Someone may need more help, encouragement or supervision (including when outside) because of a mental health problem. It may be best to talk to an adviser from CAB about this benefit and especially when filling out the application form. DLA is paid to those under the age of 65, although those over this age may continue to receive it where their needs have not changed. There is more information on the Direct Gov website about DLA.

Attendance allowance

This is a benefit for people with care needs who are 65 or over, and do not get Disability Living Allowance (DLA). You may still be entitled to receive this benefit if you are in work. You can request a claim form from the Benefits Enquiry Line, making sure that you fill it in within any date written/stamped the front of the form.

Helpful book about benefits and mental health

Mind has produced a helpful book about DLA and all other benefits. The Mind website has more information. Voluntary work

Voluntary work

Many people enjoy volunteering. In terms of benefits and tax credits, you will be considered as being a volunteer if you:

• do not receive any money for the work you do (this does not include expenses)
• are not legally obliged to volunteer
• do something for a not-for-profit organisation
• do something for someone who is not a family member.

There is no limit on the number of hours you can volunteer. If you receive any money apart from money to cover your expenses this will usually be treated as income and taken into account when assessing your benefit. This includes payment in kind and ‘pocket money’. If you choose to do paid work for no pay, the wage you would normally receive could be counted as ‘notional earnings’. In such a case you would not be regarded as a volunteer. If you receive an income-related benefit, such as Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit, it could affect the benefits you receive. If you are not sure, it may be best to seek advice from a benefits advisor.

The CAB factsheet on volunteering gives information to help you if you are thinking about voluntary work

There is a useful factsheet about volunteering on the Direct Gov website.

Paid work

If you do decide to go back to work or enter paid work for the first time, you may want to get advice beforehand. An adviser from CAB can do a ‘better off calculation’ to see what you would earn compared to what you receive in benefits. You could also go to the Jobcentre Plus where you can ask for an appointment with their Disability Employment Adviser.

Permitted work

There are conditions to claiming out of work benefits limiting what, if any, work you could do or any money you received from this. It is important to check this for your benefit. There are restrictions around paid work, unless perhaps agreed as ‘permitted work’. There is a Direct Gov webpage which refers to permitted work if you are on employment and support allowance. However, you may want to talk to a vocational adviser or a benefits adviser at the CAB before taking this on. There is also information on the Direct Gov website about permitted work and how it applies to existing claimants on Incapacity Benefit

Access to Work Fund

You may want to self refer or ask your health professional contact (or the Jobcentre) to refer you to an employment and vocational service that could support you once in work. The Access to Work Fund may also be suitable where your health or disability impacts on the way you can do your job. More information is on the Direct Gov webpage about access to work.

Return to Work Credit

Return to Work Credit is a tax-free payment of £40 per week. It can be payable for up to 52 weeks as long as you earn £15,000 or less a year (before tax and other deductions) and meet certain other conditions. There is more information on the Direct Gov webpage on Pathways to Work.

Working Tax Credit

You may be eligible for working tax credit once in work, where you work above 16 hours, get certain benefits and have a health problem that puts you at a disadvantage in getting a job. The CAB Adviceguide has more information. You can get Working Tax Credit if you are disabled provided:

• you work at least 16 hours a week
• your income is low enough
• you get certain benefits because of your disability
• your disability puts you at a disadvantage in getting a job.

HM Revenue and Customs may ask you to give them the name of a healthcare professional who can confirm how your disability affects your chances of finding work. This might be a doctor, occupational therapist or a community nurse.

Tax credits for people with children

There are also tax credit rules and entitlements for those with children. More information is available from HM Revenue and Customs Tax Credits Helpline - 0845 300 3900

For customers who are deaf or hearing or speech impaired:
0845 300 3909 (Textphone)

Helpful organisations, helplines and websites

Benefits Advisor is an online tool which helps you work out whether you may be eligible for benefits. It is provided by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). To use the tool, you need to answer a number of questions anonymously online about your savings, income and outgoings. You can save your answers for up to seven days and download or print the results. 

The Benefit Enquiry Line (BEL) is a benefits helpline for people with disabilities, carers and representatives. BEL is part of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Advisors offer free, confidential advice and information on benefits and how to claim them. In addition to giving advice they are also able to send out an extensive range of leaflets and claim packs to customers.

Benefit Enquiry Line Helpline (voice): 0800 882200
Text phone: 0800 243355
Opening hours: 8.30am - 6.30pm, Monday - Friday; 9am - 1pm, Saturday.

Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) provides free, independent advice. It has an online advice guide which contains practical, reliable, up-to-date information including frequently asked questions in English, Welsh, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu and Chinese on a wide range of topics and factsheets to download. Local CAB branches provide support face-to-face or over the telephone. Some branches offer support using email. To find your nearest branch, go to the CAB website and enter your postcode.

Directgov is the website of the UK government providing information and online services for the public all in one place. Its information pages explain about benefits and how to claim them. For more information about benefits if you are ill or disabled. For more information about benefits if you are caring for someone who is ill or disabled.

Kent Benefits Partnership provides information and support to people claiming Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. 
Tel: 0845 345 0310.

Employment and vocational services

There are a number of employment and vocational services across Kent that offer individualised support to people with mental health needs who are looking for work or are in work and want help to stay in their job. These organisations will help you find out more about benefits and work.

Dial UK (Disability Information and Advice Line)

DIAL UK is a national organisation for a network of local Disability Information and Advice Line services (DIALs) run by and for disabled people. Services provide information and advice to disabled people and others on all aspects of living with a disability. In Kent, there are two DIAL services:

DIAL Kent Tel: 01227 771 155 Textphone: 01227 771 645 email:
Opening times: Monday-Friday 10am-3pm

DIAL North West Kent Tel: 01474 356 962 email: Website: http://www.dialnwk.org.uk/
The Veterans Hall, The Hill, Northfleet, Kent, DA11 9EU
Appointments, drop-in and telephone: Monday - Friday 11am-3pm.

    Mental Health and Work A-Z