Recent cases show benefit changes

Gary Vaux uses readers’ questions to highlight the latest significant changes to benefits rules

My client has been in hospital for three months. We’ve just been told that her housing benefit has been reduced and that she owes some rent going back almost two months as well. How can that be?

I suspect that your client was getting attendance allowance, which in turn gave her “proof” that she was severely disabled so she could qualify for the extra amount that is paid within pension credit to disabled people who live alone.

It is like a row of dominoes – attendance allowance still stops after four weeks, which in turn means she loses the premium, which might be enough to knock her off the guarantee part of pension credit, which means she loses full housing benefit. So, bizarrely, – your client’s income has dropped considerably yet she now has some rent to pay. However, you could always ask the housing benefit section for a discretionary housing payment to make up the shortfall.

I’ve heard that carers can now get more than 13 weeks’ backdated carers allowance. Is that right?
Yes, in some circumstances. The Department for Work and Pensions has sorted an anomaly when a carer puts in their initial claim. In the past, a disabled person would put in a disability living allowance (DLA) or attendance allowance (AA) claim and it would take more than three months to resolve.

The carer would wait until that claim was sorted before putting in their own claim for carers allowance and then would have that claim limited to 13 weeks backdating. Now, so long as the carer makes their claim within 13 weeks of the disabled person getting their decision, the carers allowance can be backdated to date of the initial DLA or AA claim.

For example, Surjit claimed DLA on 17 April 2006. He gets his decision, telling him he has higher rate DLA care, on 19 July 2006. His carer, Sukhvinder, claims carers allowance on 22 September 2006. This is less than three months after Surjit is awarded DLA, so she is awarded carers allowance from 17 April 2006, so long as she has met the qualifying conditions continuously since then. If Sukhvinder had not claimed within three months of 19 July, the 13-week limit on backdating would still have applied.

Sarah, 21, has recently had a baby. She has been supported financially by our care-leavers team because she was in foster care from age 12 to 18. Sarah has just completed her degree and lives alone. What benefits can she claim?
Sarah is entitled to claim income support for herself (she would get £57.45 a week) plus child tax credit for her child, which while she is on income support would be the maximum amount of £54.80 a week (it would be reduced by £10 once her child turns one year of age).

She should also have child benefit of £17.45 a week. If she has rent and council tax to pay, she will get full housing and council tax benefit. Any money that she gets from social services should be paid under section 24 of the Children Act, which is disregarded when any of these benefits are worked out.

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

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