Give… and take

The new allowance for disabled young people
has good intentions but is over-complex, writes Gary Vaux.

This April, many disabled young people will
find themselves coming off a benefit called severe disablement
allowance (SDA). They will be switched to incapacity benefit for
young people (known as IBY). The government sees this as being
generous, because IBY is higher than SDA. However, one consequence
of this “generosity” is that many young people who received income
support to top-up their SDA will find that they no longer qualify
for this top-up from April.

SDA was abolished for new claimants in April
2001. Existing claimants kept their entitlement but those who were
under 20 on 5 April 2001 will transfer this April to the long-term
rate of incapacity benefit, without having to have a national
insurance contribution record. New claimants aged 16-20 (and up to
age 25 in some circumstances) will also have the same access to
IBY. On the face of it, this looks like good news for younger
disabled people, with the apparent “gain” being as much as
£19.80 per week.

But, as usual, the devil is in the detail.
First, new claimants will find that IBY is paid at different rates
at different times within the first year of claiming – and some of
the time, they may be due income support as a top-up (especially if
they also get disability living allowance). Unlike people claiming
SDA, which was always below income support level, claimants will
need to know when to claim income support if they are not to lose

Second, claimants will need to be aware of the
loss of “passport” benefits such as free prescriptions, free school
meals if aged 16-19 and still in education, and access to the
social fund. Where the young person’s parents are on housing
benefit, there is also a substantial loss if the young person is a
non-dependant. Not being on income support can mean the young
person being expected to make a rent “contribution” of £7.40
per week, and a council tax contribution of £2.30.

Therefore, the potential gain of £19.80
per week could be reduced substantially, or even wiped out

Social care staff will be working with many of
the young people who are affected by this change. This will include
many clients with learning difficulties, making transitions into
different forms of education and accommodation at the same time.
You will need to be aware of at least the basics of this switch
from SDA and IS to IBY, because your clients will certainly be
asking you for advice.

You will also need to know that income support
“top-ups” may still be possible, particularly when IBY payments
fluctuate in the first year of claiming. If your client gets
disability living allowance, this may also mean they could still
get income support on top of IBY (the allowance acts as a potential
trigger to the enhanced and severe disability premiums). If income
support cannot be claimed, then you will need to know the criteria
for getting free prescriptions and so on – and what process is
involved (a six-monthly application using the claim form in leaflet

It is difficult to write about this subject
without appearing curmudgeonly – after all, the government is doing
for young people what it has been asked to do for pensioners
(increase the basic benefit and lift people out of means-testing).
Nevertheless, the new rules increase the complexity of the system
rather than simplify it, and yet again it will be left to social
services staff and other advisers to try to guide people through
the benefit maze.

Gary Vaux is head of money advice,
Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries in person,
either by post or by telephone. If you have a question to be
answered in Welfare Rights, please write to him c/o Community

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