04. Your Right to Money
This section is divided into two parts.
[a] State benefits
[b] Other money
The benefit system is complex and includes many types of payment if you're disabled or on a low income.
Britain has a welfare benefits system in which the government, through the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) gives people money if they qualify.
The benefit system is very complex, but broadly falls into three types of benefits.
1) Non means-tested benefits
If you have paid in, via National Insurance Payments, then you receive payment if you qualify later.
Examples are Retirement Pension, Contribution-based Job Seeker's Allowance, Contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance. You often have to be working and paying National Insurance for long periods to get these payments. Although not affected by savings, they can be reduced if you work or have other income.
You can get other benefits, e.g. Disability Living Allowance, if your disability affects your daily life
2) Means-tested benefits
These are benefits designed to give you a minimum income.
Examples are Pension Credit, Income-based Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support and Housing Benefit.
Savings over certain levels and other income will often reduce the amount of means-tested benefits you can get.
3) Tax credits
These are payments from the Tax Office (HMRC) if you are working but earning below specified amounts.
Who claims these benefits?
You usually claim these benefits yourself, by filling in claim forms or on-line.
If you are unable to do this because you cannot manage your own affairs, someone else can apply to the DWP to be your Appointee. This means they claim the money on your behalf and have the power to look after it and spend it.
A new system of keeping a regular review whether it is appropriate for an appointee for act for you is being brought in soon.
If you have an appointee, but feel that you are able to manage your own benefit claim, you can ask the DWP to cancel the appointee arrangement. However, the DWP makes the final decision on this.
Example 1. Rita has autism and cannot cope with job interviews or learning what a job involves.
While she was at school her mother claimed Disability Living Allowance for her. Now Rita is 18 and finished school, her mother has applied to be her Appointee and also applies for Employment and Support Allowance.
You can claim a lot of benefits on-line.
Your rights if you think your benefit is wrong
Decisions about your benefit by the DWP or the council are frequently wrong.
You can ask for most of these decisions about your money to be looked at again.
If you feel that the DWP or the council aren't paying you the right amount, look at the written explanation they give you. If you believe there is something wrong with this you can ask for the decision to be reviewed. This means the DWP or the council look at their decision again. If you still think that they have it wrong, you can go to an independent appeal body, called a First-Tier Tribunal.
You may also need to appeal if you feel the assessment of your medical condition for Employment and Support Allowance is wrong.
Even if you lose at a First-Tier Tribunal, you can still take it further if you believe the tribunal's decision is legally wrong, for example that the law or regulations say they should be making a different decision. If this is the case, you can ask for your claim to be looked at by the Second-Tier Tribunal. Some important test cases can be taken as far as the House of Lords, but this is very unusual.
Example 2. Emily bought her flat through shared ownership. Because she was on benefits when she took out the mortgage, the DWP refuse to help her with the payment to the building society. She asked the DWP to reconsider this (a review) but they did not change their minds.
She appealed against the decision and eventually (it can take a long time) the First-Tier tribunal looked at her case. There were various decisions from the Second Tier tribunal that helped Emily's claim and the tribunal decided that the DWP were wrong and that Emily should get Income Support towards her mortgage.
The leaflet - If you think our decision is wrong - includes an appeal form.
How much does it cost to appeal?
Asking for a review, and going to both of these tribunals are free of charge. If you use a solicitor for either of these tribunals you will have to pay for it yourself.
Once an argument about benefits goes further to court, charges for the case and the expert advice you will need become very high.
Will my benefits change?
There are three main ways the amount of your benefit will change
1) Your circumstances change, eg you move house, start living with someone, or
2) The DWP change the rules about benefits.
3) Most benefits increase a little in April every year
Example 3. Mo and Ashraf both have learning disabilities and share a privately rented flat. Mo is 59 and Ashraf is 43, and they both receive Income Support.
When Mo becomes 60 he can expect to move on to Pension Credit. Ashraf, on the other hand, will be told to claim Employment and Support Allowance, which involves an assessment of his medical condition.
Their housing benefit may also change as the 'Local Housing Allowances' are reduced in the future. Both of them will need help from their support service to deal with these problems.
There are many changes already happening to the benefit system which affect most people with learning disabilities.
One of the most important is taking people off Income Support, Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance and making them apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which has different rules and pays different amounts. There have been many complaints from disabled people about their benefit decisions and the interviews they have had to go through for ESA.
People will also find a lot of changes in Housing Benefit and, in the future, changes to Disability Living Allowance.
A new benefit called 'Universal Credit' is likely to replace most existing benefits but the government keeps changing its mind about the details. There will be a lot of consultation before these changes take place.
If you work at least 30 hours per week on a regular basis you can apply for tax credits. These are designed to help people on low incomes, and mean that you should be better off in work than if you stayed on benefits. If you are disabled or over 50 years old the system is more generous because you can get tax credits once you work 16 hours per week, and the rates are higher.
However, the calculations are complicated and you need to get advice before you start work to make sure you actually will be better off. People with high housing costs can sometimes lose out.
For direct help from the taxman on tax credits you can phone 0845 300 3900.
For information about moving into work, see the Factsheet on starting work.
Your rights to complain
As well as appealing against the amount of benefit you are given, you can also complain if you think you were given bad service.
If you have complaints about the way your case was dealt with, for example it takes ages to get a decision, or you send paperwork by recorded delivery and the DWP say they never received it, the behavior of staff members etc, you can complain about this. This is a separate system from the appeal system which reconsiders actual decisions about your entitlement.
If you feel the service you had from the DWP was unsatisfactory and you are not satisfied by their response to your complaint, you can ask the Independent Claims Examiner (ICE) to help. Their phone number is 0845 606 0777 and email email@example.com.
If you feel the Tax Office has not given you a decent service you can contact the Adjudicator on 0300 057 1111.
The DWP have their own rules about compensating you if you are out of pocket because of the way they have administered your claim. They have 'delay indicators' which are their own ideas of how long it should reasonably take to deal with your claim.
The HMRC has no such formal process.
Many people with problems with these government departments find that seeing their MP at a local MP surgery is useful. If nothing else, it lets MPs know how well (or otherwise!) the system is working.
Example 4. Mac has Asperger's syndrome and has been on Incapacity Benefit (IB). He is called in for an interview about his benefit. He has to apply for ESA and is assessed by a nurse working for a private firm. He does not have anyone with him and does not understand many of the questions. He gets a letter from the DWP saying he is able to work and should apply for Job Seeker's Allowance.
He visits a local Mencap advice scheme, whose worker advises him to appeal against this decision. He does this in writing three times, once by hand, twice by recorded delivery. Each time the DWP say they've not received his letter and that he is too late for an appeal. Eventually they find his papers, but are rude to him on the phone. The tribunal agrees to hear his claim, and the DWP pay him some money while he is waiting to have his case heard.
He complains to the Independent Claims Examiner because he spent three months without money trying to appeal.
Your rights to money from a trust
Many relatives of people with learning disabilities put money into a trust fund for them.
The reason they do this is so that the disabled relative can receive the money without it reducing any means-tested benefits they are getting.
These are 'discretionary' trusts and any payment you have from them will be when the people in charge of the trust (the trustees) decide that they will give you some.
You have no right to insist on payment from this sort of trust, although if you need money you are within your rights to ask. Trustees have to follow the instructions set out in the Trust deed when they are giving out money.
Your right to look after your own money
If you are not able to manage your own finances, it can be difficult to open an account with a building society or a bank.
However, building societies and banks, like everyone else, have to assume that you do have capacity unless they have genuine and arguable reasons to believe otherwise.
If someone is acting as your Appointee for benefits, this gives them control over the money from these benefits, but not over any other money you might have.
There are ways of helping you if you are unable to look after your own money, e.g. someone opening a joint account in their name and yours, or someone applying to the Court of Protection to be your Deputy.
There is a lot of useful information and advice in the publication My Home and Money.
If you feel you have been wrongly turned down for an account on grounds of capacity, you can complain about this through the bank or the building society's complaints procedures. The branch you have dealt with, or their website, will give you details of how these work.
The British Bankers' Association (BBA) have produced a leaflet designed to help if you need to take on the financial and property affairs of someone who lacks the capacity to look after their own financial affairs.
Your right to a payment from social services
You can pay for your own care needs by getting a direct payment or an personal budget.
If you have been assessed by social services and are entitled to practical help from them, you have a right to a direct payment rather than being provided with a service.
A direct payment is the cash equivalent, measured in so much money per hour , of the service the council assess you need. You do not have to take a direct payment if you don't want one.
There are some people you cannot use this money to pay for helping you. Usually you cannot pay your husband, your wife or your partner from the direct payment, nor can you pay a close relative. The only times you can do this is when the council agrees there is no alternative and no-one else who can care for you.
If you lack capacity to manage the direct payment (and it can be difficult coping with the paperwork and employing people) the council can appoint a suitable person to receive and manage the money for you. This would usually be a relative or a close friend.
The Department of Health have produced a guide on this.
Personal budgets are like direct payments but are designed to give you more flexibility in how you arrange your care and support.
There is no law which says you are entitled to a personal budget but the government has said that they must be available for everyone by 2013.
Most councils decide how much money you need in your budget by using a Resource Allocation System (RAS), where your level of need is matched to a set yearly amount of money. You can see more on the In-Control website.
Example 5. John asks for a personal budget and is told the level of RAS his needs put him on gives him £20,000 per year. He thinks he needs more and goes to court to argue that the RAS system is unfair and should be changed.
The judge says that as long as the RAS is simply an indication of what people need, not a set limit regardless of individual's circumstances, the council are right to organise peoples', budgets in this way.
The Tax Office (HMRC) takes money from you in Income Tax, but also gives money to people on low wages.
Everyone has to pay Income Tax on the money they have coming in and on the interest they get on savings. There are some exceptions, for example, Income Support, Housing Benefit and Income-based ESA are not taxable. If you have savings in an ISA account, the interest on these will not be taxed.
If you have to tell the Tax Office what your income is every year (self-assessment) you have to be careful to send information into them on time or you will be charged extra.
You have the right to a set amount of income every year tax-free. For the tax year 2001 – 2012, this amount is £7,475
You are not charged tax on any money you inherit or win, but will have to pay tax on the interest you get from it if you invest it.
You will need to contact your tax office if you are not sure you have the right allowances. They can also help with filling in tax forms but you need to book for this through 0845 300 0627.