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Benefits FAQ

Brief answers to some of the most common questions that our Infoline receives about benefits.

Benefits terminology

These pages contain some brief explanations of terms used when people request information about benefits and some answers to the most commonly asked questions.

There are a wide range of different benefits that people with mental health problems may be entitled to claim. This page gives an overview of some of them, and explains some of the terms that are used. If you require further information or advice contact one of the organisations listed in our useful contacts page.

'Bedroom Tax'

The 'bedroom tax' is a change to housing benefit which means that people of working age who are council or housing association tenants may receive less housing benefit if they have more bedrooms than the law says you need. Your local authority should tell you if you are affected.

While it is called 'bedroom tax' by the media, charities and benefit claimants this is not an official title. Councils may talk about 'size limit rules' or "under-occupation" in letters and notices.

You may qualify for a discretionary housing payment to make up a shortfall in your benefit. These are extra payments administered by local authorities, ask your local authority for details.

If you are affected, seek advice. You may need advice on your housing as well as on your benefits.

See Shelter's guide to the 'bedroom tax' for more details

Council Tax Reduction Schemes

Council tax reduction schemes replace the old council tax benefit (CTB), which was abolished on 1 April 2013. Each local authority has its own council tax reduction scheme, and these vary. Look on your local authority's website, or ask the town hall for details. Some people on low incomes or on means tested benefits will have to pay some council tax for the first time. Your local authority should tell you if you are affected. If you are affected, you may want to seek advice.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

DLA is a benefit that is paid to someone with a disability to help to pay for the extra living costs of disability.

It is a non means-tested benefit, and it can be paid in and out of work. It is tax free.

DLA is paid in two components, a mobility and care component.

You must be aged 3 or over and you must usually be under 65 to claim the mobility component. This is paid to meet mobility needs such as taxis to work or other appointments.

You must be aged 5 or over and you must be aged under 65 to claim the care component. This is paid to meet care needs.

From 8th June 2013, DLA is replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP) for people over16, and see below for more information. Children under 16 can still claim DLA.

Most existing DLA claimants will not be affected in 2013. The DWP should tell you if you are affected. You can check whether there will be any change to your DLA at

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

ESA is paid to people of working age if you have limited capability for work

There are two kinds of ESA;

  • Contribution based ESA (CBESA) is paid if you have paid enough national insurance contributions. It is not means tested. If you are in the Work Related Activity Group (see below) it is paid for 12 months. If you are in the Support Group (see below) there is no time limit on how long it can be paid for.
  • Income related ESA (IRESA) is paid if you are on a low income.You can get IRESA paid in addition to CBESA.

In the first weeks of your claim, the assessment phase, you usually get a basic allowance. During this period the DWP gathers further evidence about your claim.

In the main phase you can get additional components.

IRESA can include an amount for housing costs and additional premiums depending on your circumstances. Receiving ESA usually involves attending regular assessments to check you are still entitled to it.

Subject to some exceptions most people claiming ESA will, after 13 weeks or sometimes longer, be placed in one of two groups – 'support group', for the more severely disabled, or 'work related activity' for those less disabled but unable to work. Most ESA claimants are placed in the work related activity group and will have regular meetings with a DWP adviser to monitor their progress in returning to paid work. See below for details.

If you receive ESA, you allowed to do small amounts of 'permitted work' (see below) without it affecting your benefit payments. This can be a complex area. It is particular important to keep the Department of Work and Pensions informed of permitted work undertaken – a form, PW1, should be provided by an adviser but it is the your responsibility to complete it.

Support Group – ESA

With some important exceptions, for example if you are terminally ill, you will spend the 13 weeks after first claiming ESA, or longer, in an assessment phase and only receive basic ESA payments for this time. Then, usually following a work capability assessment (WCA) a decision is made as to whether you are placed in the support group or the work-related activity group or whether you are fit for work and so are not entitled to ESA.

Being placed in the support group means

  • No obligation to attend interviews, but a personal adviser should be made available if requested.
  • A higher rate of ESA

People in the support group are described by the DWP as having "limited capability for work-related activity".

Work Capability Assessment (WCA)

WCAs are assessment interviews with a healthcare professional to determine whether you are entitled to ESA and, if you are eligible, whether you should be in the support group or the work-related activity group. It is an assessment of physical and mental health and cognitive functions.

Assessments usually take place at Assessment Centres but home visits can be arranged if you are unable to travel. You also can take a friend or relative or advocate to the assessment if you wish.

If you disagree with the decision made about your entitlement to ESA following a WCA you should seek advice immediately. It is possible to ask for reconsideration and to appeal.

Work Related Activity Group - ESA

If you are found eligible for ESA but assessed as able to work related activity, you are placed in the work related activity group. This involves:

  • Regular meetings with a Job Centre adviser
  • Completing activity such as skills training, research into jobs and other activity suggested by the adviser.

The possibility of having benefits reduced – 'sanctioned' – if you don't complete activity suggested by the adviser or miss interviews with them. Further information on ESA is provided by the government at

Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA)

Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA) is meant to help support you while you look for work. If you do not qualify for ESA you may be able to claim JSA.

To qualify for JSA you have to be available for and able to work. You will usually have to attend interviews at a Job Centre at least every two weeks and be expected to show how you have been attempting to get a job. This can include keeping records of jobs applied for and attending training courses or work experience placements.

Further information on JSA is provided by the government at

Personal budgets

Personal budgets are unrelated to the various benefits, paid by the DWP, included in this guide. The information below is included only for reference

A personal budget is a sum of money allocated by a local authority to meet your assessed needs for social care services . To qualify for this you have be a person with 'eligible needs' and this is decided by a social care assessment.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

Disability Living Allowance is gradually being replaced by Personal Independence Payment (PIP). PIP is available to adults under 65 whose disability has a long term effect on how they live, whether in work or not.

The 'care' and 'mobility' components of DLA, which currently have three levels of payment each, are being replaced with 'daily living' and 'mobility' components with two levels of payment each.

To get PIP most people will have a face-to-face meeting with a healthcare professional. The information from this and evidence from the person claiming will be used to decide whether you are entitled to payments

If you are 18-65 are currently receiving DLA, you will be reassessed using the next system. There will also be regular reassessments after that, to ensure you remain eligible for payments.

See for details.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is eventually intended to replace a range of other income-related benefits, including housing benefit, for people of working age. A pilot scheme is currently operating in some parts of Manchester and Cheshire only.

It is paid monthly directly to your back account. The amount paid will reduce as your income from work rises. The intention of this is to ensure that your overall income increases if you earn more money from paid work.

See for more details.

This information was published in November 2016.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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