Patients living with a long term illness or disability are often working, but are far too likely to be stuck in poorly paid, part-time, or insecure jobs. This means that many rely on top-up benefits, with a variety of names like housing benefit, income support, family tax credit and Universal Credit.
The latter has the strictest eligibility criteria, the lowest payments, and very stringent rules about ‘changes in circumstance’. If your income or living arrangements alter slightly, your benefits are stopped for six weeks. Universal Credit is due to replace all other income-related benefits soon: the others are being phased out.
The changeover dates are subject to a postcode lottery. It’s worth remembering that people living in poor health usually aren’t getting their full benefits entitlement. Fixing this could give them some insulation against the upcoming Universal Credit disaster.
For example, most people who could be claiming the non-means-tested PIP (personal independence payment) aren’t getting it, or are on too low a rate.
PIP is totally separate from the ‘ordinary’ benefit system, with a different set of forms and special set of staff within the DWP. It has its own application process, and many patients just don’t know it exists. As PIP is specifically designed to help towards the extra costs of living with a disability or LTC, this really matters. The link to find out more is here, so you can give your patients the right DWP phone number. And it’s not 55p a minute. https://www.gov.uk/pip
PIP is particularly important, even for those not struggling financially, as it’s a ‘passporting’ benefit. It carries other rights automatically, so can open up eligibility to be registered disabled, to get a blue badge, to obtain a freedom pass or taxi card, or to get top-up benefits despite working only one job.
PIP often also means that someone else can claim carers allowance, with some exemption from work-seeking conditionality. There are similar benefits for sick/disabled under-16s (DLA) and over-65s (Attendance allowance).
This matters, as lots of people fall foul of the ‘system’ because they’re busy caring for a stoical non-claimer. You’d be surprised how often people forget to mention their caring responsibilities.
Sometimes PIP eligibility also opens up additional payments within the UC/ESA/income support systems. A pending PIP claim sometimes seems to help in persuading landlords and courts to delay evictions. And it makes it harder for utilities to justify cutting off supply to someone who is registered as ill/disabled.
If you want to know more, or to signpost your patients to some reliable information, I highly recommend this website.