With spiralling energy bills and prices for everyday products going up at their fastest rate for 40 years, finances are stretched for many households.
Here, RONI MARSH, the money advice team leader at South West London Law Centres, explains the basics we should all be doing to ensure we’re getting the benefits and grants we’re entitled to
How do you know if you’re entitled to benefits?
There are a lot of people not claiming benefits they may be entitled to.
This may be because they don’t think they’re eligible or because there are certain benefits they don’t know about. Martin Lewis from Money Saving Expert says that if you have a household income of £30,000 or less, then you need to check if you should be claiming benefits.
What are some of the main benefits you could be eligible for?
The biggest benefit is Universal Credit and the latest statistics show that more than 5.5 million people in the UK are receiving Universal Credit. Of these, more than 2million are working either full-time or part-time, so you should never assume you’re not eligible because you’re working.
If you are not currently claiming any benefits and are under pension age then this is the main benefit you would claim. It covers carers, those who are sick and unable to work, and those working full-time or part-time, whether employed or self-employed.
It offers help with living and housing costs all in one. To apply online, go to www.gov.uk and then put in Universal Credit.
The next most common benefit is Council Tax Support or Council Tax Reduction. This is claimed through the local council for those who are on a low household income. It is very underclaimed and people on Universal Credit will need to claim for this, as it is not automatic.
There are also statutory benefits (statutory sick pay; SMP – statutory maternity pay; SAP – statutory adoption pay; and SPP – statutory paternity pay).
These are for if you’re working but you now need to claim for off being sick or for pregnancy, adoption or birth. They are paid directly by your employer.
Contributory benefits are based on National Insurance contributions rather than being means-tested. This means you can get them even if you have a partner who is working or who has other income.
Contributory benefits are:
- New Style Jobseeker’s allowance, or JSA
- New Style Employment and support allowance
- State pension
- Industrial injuries benefit – you will be eligible for this if you have been permanently injured through a work accident
The following benefits are all means-tested so your eligibility is dependent on your financial situation:
- Pension credit
- Housing benefit
- Council Tax support/reduction
- Maternity and funeral grants
- Universal credit
There are also non-contributory benefits which you can qualify for even if you have a lot of money coming in. These are not based on your financial situation but on the needs of you or someone in your household (apart from child benefit which reduces if you have one person in the household who earns at least £50,000):
- Maternity allowance
- Personal independence payments, or PIP
- Attendance allowance
- Disability living allowance
- Child benefit
Most benefits will not be backdated by more than one month (unless you are a pensioner, in which case it is three months for some benefits), so you should claim as soon as possible to avoid missing out.
What financial help is available other than benefits?
There are also grants you can apply for.
These are funds given by a charitable organisation, council or other body and are for a specific purpose, for example to help buy white goods.
Your energy provider may have a hardship fund if you are behind on your energy bills, so it is worth asking them. Some, for example The British Gas Energy Trust, will require you to get money advice before you apply, so you have a better chance of a successful grant application.
Different councils also have different crisis grants available so you should contact your local council for more information. Crisis payments are awarded to cover short-term needs which prevent serious risk to the health and safety of a person or their family. The payments are intended to meet one-off needs rather than on-going expenses.
If you are entitled to Housing Benefit or the housing costs element of Universal Credit, you may also be eligible for a Discretionary Housing Payment.
Croydon Council is able to help you with a Discretionary Housing Payment for the following:
- a shortfall in rent
- an advance in rent or a deposit
- removal costs
- rent arrears (extreme cases only)
- If you need debt advice you can contact the South West London Law Centres money advice team on 020 8667 9252 or complete their contact form at https://swllc.org/get-advice/debt/debt-advice-checker/
- Visit the Law Centre’s website for the full range of advice and support available
Previous SWLLC advice articles:
- Race discrimination at work: giving people a fair hearing
- Sex and sexuality – dealing with workplace discrimination
- Discretionary Housing Payment could help you out of a crisis
- Talking about debt problems is the first step to solving them
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