Gary Vaux provides a guide to the far-reaching changes to benefits that will come into effect in the new tax year starting on 6 April
April sees the introduction of some major changes to benefits, which will affect not only service users but also social care staff as employees.
State pension age
The equalisation of state pension age for men and women is to be phased in between 2010 and 2020. From 6 April women born on or after 6 April 1950 will no longer be able to retire at 60.
The pension age for women will rise by one month every two months. So by April 2011 for example, a woman will need to be 60 years and 6 months before she receives her state retirement pension; by April 2012, that will have risen to 61 and so on. To check what you or your client’s pension age will be, visit this directgov website.
The “starting point” for pension credit will also rise, so older people will remain on jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance or income support for longer before switching to “pensioner” benefits.
Introduction of ‘fit notes’
On 6 April a new medical “fit note” will replace the “sick note”. This certificate gives the GP the option of deciding that someone is either unfit for work or “fit for work if certain adjustments are made by an employer”.
It will be more difficult for a claimant to say they are unfit for work if the GP ticks the box that, in effect, says they can do certain types of work (without specifying what that work is).
There are complications. What happens if a social worker is off work with stress-related anxiety and the GP declares they are fit for work so long as they aren’t placed in a stressful situation? What will be the employer’s response? And how far will the “reasonable adjustments” made under disability discrimination legislation come into play?
The earnings limit increases to £100 a week from £95 for people on carer’s allowance. But this is what we call a “cliff edge” limit: earn £99.99 and the full carer’s allowance is paid; earn £100.01 and it stops. And carers who receive income support or housing and council tax benefit still only have a miserly £20 disregard on their earnings.
From 6 April class 3 national insurance credits will be awarded to those caring for at least 20 hours a week for someone who is receiving a qualifying disability benefit.
This applies to any other carer who is looking after someone who is not receiving a qualifying benefit. That may be because the disabled person has not served the three- to six-month qualifying period for disability living allowance or attendance allowance, for example, or because they are a “secondary” carer where the main carer already receives carer’s allowance.
Earnings limits for sickness and disability
Housing benefit and council tax benefit earnings limits are to rise for those doing “permitted work” who are on contributory employment and support allowance, incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance, so that these are the same as for those on income-related employment support allowance. At present, this is £93 a week.
Pensioners’ payment week
People who reach pensionable age on or after 6 April will have their retirement pension and pension credit paid fortnightly in arrears instead of in advance.
Gary Vaux is head of money advice at Hertfordshire Council. Send any questions for him to Mithran Samuel
This article is published in the 11 March 2010 edition of Community Care under the headline “All change in April as benefits system is given a makeover”