Claiming benefits when you have a health problem

Having a health problem can be challenging for your finances, but help is available. Rachael Healy explains the different benefits that could provide support, and how to access them.

Cash - calculating benefits

Being diagnosed with a long-term health problem, finding out you need surgery, or developing a disability raises questions about work, bills and lifestyle. You may have to take some time off or stop working completely, which might affect your ability to pay your bills, rent or mortgage. But there are benefits available that could help.

Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit

If you have a long-term condition or disability, ESA (Employment Support Allowance) and Universal Credit could help. You will be asked to attend a Work Capability Assessment to decide if you are fit for work and whether you’re able to undertake work-related activity.

Universal Credit is replacing six other benefits, but it won’t be fully rolled out until July 2019

If you've paid National Insurance contributions while working you may get contributory ESA. You may be able to claim this instead of or alongside Universal Credit or income-related ESA.

Universal Credit is replacing six other benefits, including Housing Benefit, Tax Credits, Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance. It won’t be fully rolled out until July 2019, so depending on where you live, you may have to claim income-related ESA instead.

Getting financial support if your work is affected

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

Working man iconFor workers who meet the qualifying conditions, if you need surgery or your health means you’re off work for at least four days in a row, you are entitled to £89.35 per week SSP. It’s paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks (after this time, consider claiming Universal Credit). You must tell your employer you are sick. Some companies have sick pay schemes, which could pay more – ask your HR department.

Emma Wilkinson from Citizens Advice says: “Some employers have permanent health insurance to cover longer periods of sickness with a pay replacement scheme.

“During a period of long-term illness, you may be vulnerable to dismissal, especially if you’re an agency worker or have been at your company for less than two years. However, if your condition meets the definition of disability, your employer has to make reasonable adjustments. This may include exploring alternative roles, flexible hours or a phased return. For some workers, ill health retirement may be an option.”

If your condition meets the definition of disability, your employer has to make reasonable adjustments

Emma Wilkinson
Citizens Advice

If you are receiving SSP, but your income and capital are low enough, you may also be able to claim Universal Credit, Income Support or Housing Benefit. Once your SSP has run out, even if you have a partner in work or savings over £16,000 (which exclude you from Universal Credit or income-related ESA), you can claim contributory ESA. Get more information from Citizens Advice.

Access to Work

These grants can pay for special equipment or support workers to help you at work, and help you get to and from work. If you receive ESA, you can only get Access to Work if you work less than 16 hours per week, earning less than £120.

“You need to be disabled or have a long-term health condition, which is likely to impact on your ability to work for at least 12 months,” says Emma Wilkinson from Citizens Advice.

Getting financial support if you have a disability

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

This can help to cover the extra costs of living with long-term ill health or disability for those aged 16 to 64. You can claim if you need help with everyday tasks or getting around, and have needed help for at least three months and will continue to for nine months or more.

PIP is not means tested, but there is a medical assessment

You could get £55.65 or £83.10 per week to help with everyday tasks, and £22 or £58 to help you get around. The amount depends on how much help you need. It’s not means tested, but there is a medical assessment.

PIP replaces the Disability Living Allowance (DLA). If you’re still claiming DLA, you may be asked to switch to PIP.

Attendance Allowance

This is the equivalent of PIP for people aged 65 and above. If you need help with personal care or dealing with your illness and have done for at least six months, you could get £55.65 or £83.10 per week (again, depending on how much help you need). It’s not means tested, and it’s up to you what you spend the money on.

Can I get free prescriptions?

You can claim free prescriptions if you are:

  • under 16 or over 60
  • receiving Income Support, JSA, ESA or Universal Credit
  • pregnant
  • and/or have certain health conditions, including a continuing disability or diabetes that can’t be controlled with diet.

If you are on a low income, you may qualify for help with NHS prescriptions and other health costs through the Low Income Scheme.

Claiming housing benefits

You may be able to claim Housing Benefit if you pay rent, you’re claiming other benefits or are on a low income, or your savings are less than £16,000.

House iconUniversal Credit will eventually replace Housing Benefit, becoming one single payment. You receive the money directly, and are then responsible for paying your landlord. There will be a weekly benefit cap and if the amount you receive exceeds this, your Housing Benefit will be reduced.

Should I tell my landlord if I'm claiming Housing Benefit?

“You wouldn’t have to alert your landlord if you started claiming Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit unless your tenancy agreement said so,” says Emma Wilkinson from Citizens Advice. “However, you may find you need to alert your landlord so you can provide the evidence to support your application for Housing Benefit.”

Your landlord could end your assured shorthold tenancy without giving a reason, with a ‘section 21 notice’. It shouldn’t happen before the fixed term of your tenancy has ended and you should get two months’ notice. Seek advice if this happens.

Can I get extra support if I'm struggling to pay my housing costs?

If you’re claiming Housing Benefit (or the housing element of Universal Credit) and you’re still struggling to pay housing costs, contact your local council. They may be able to give you extra assistance with a Discretionary Housing Payment.

Your mortgage lender may be able to help you with temporary payment arrangements, or by lengthening the term of your mortgage

If you need help with mortgage payments, contact your lender first. They may be able to help you with temporary payment arrangements, or by lengthening the term of your mortgage.

If you still need support, and you’re of pension age or receive an income-based benefit while working less than 16 hours per week, you may qualify for Support for Mortgage Interest. This is now a loan (to be repaid when you sell your house, or when you and your spouse have died). However, if you’re in a Universal Credit area, you can’t claim mortgage support if you are working. There are other schemes in Scotland and parts of Wales.

Financial support for carers

If you spend at least 35 hours each week caring for someone, are aged 16 or over, and earn £116 per week or less, you could claim a Carer’s Allowance of £62.70 per week.

The person you care for must also be getting a benefit for their care needs, such as Attendance Allowance, DLA or PIP.

Where to get advice about benefits

Citizens Advice

Head to the Citizens Advice website (or Citizens Advice Scotland) to find a benefits calculator and check whether you qualify for certain benefits. You can also call 03444 111 444 in England, 03444 77 20 20 in Wales, 0808 800 9060 in Scotland, or 028 9023 1120 in Northern Ireland.

You can also seek help in person at one of 3,500 locations. Find your nearest branch online or in your phone book, or call one of the numbers above.

Money Advice Service

Visit the Money Advice Service website for more information and live web chat. Or call their free line on 0800 138 7777.

UK Government

Find out how to apply for benefits on the UK government website. For PIP questions call 0800 121 4433, and for Attendance Allowance call 0800 731 0122.

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