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Page last updated at 12:48 GMT, Friday, 18 June 2010 13:48 UK

You ask the benefits expert

Lee Healey
Lee Healey navigates the benefits maze

Find out what benefits you are entitled to with our expert Lee Healey from the charity DABD.

As usual, click on one of the questions in blue below to skip straight to that answer, or scroll down the page to read them all.



1. I have been unemployed for over a year. When my contribution based JSA ended I made a claim for Income based JSA but told that I am not entitled to this because I was living with my partner who works more than 15 hours per week even though we are not married and have separate finances. Surely there is some benefit I can claim?

It is not the fact that your partner works 15 hours per week that has made you not entitled to Income based JSA (as a partner can work up to 24 hours according to the rules). It is more likely that your partner's wages (which are taken into account as Income based JSA is a means-tested benefit) take you over the income limits that are set as a couple. For all means-tested benefits, the government do expect couples that are co-habiting to look after each other financially. This is a particularly frustrating aspect of the benefits system for couples that have separate finances. I would still suggest seeking further expert advice to make sure you are not missing out on benefits such as Housing and Council Tax Benefit and to double check that Income based Jobseekers Allowance is definitely not an option.

2. My wife and I are returning to the UK in October 2010 after working in Europe for 6 months. We have paid tax and national insurance in the UK during this period. Will we be entitled to claim job seekers allowance? Is this dependent on any savings we have?

Once you are back in Great Britain you can make a claim to Job Seekers Allowance if you meet the general JSA conditions, i.e. you are available for work and seeking full-time work. If you are eligible for National Insurance Contribution based Jobseekers Allowance your savings are not taken into account, but if you need to claim Income based Job Seekers Allowance then you will not be eligible if your savings are over £16,000. Whatever happens, once you are back in the UK seek some advice to ensure all of the benefits you claim during the period you are both looking for work are correct and get in touch with Jobcentre Plus to make the relevant claims.

3. I live on my own and get £65.45 per week jobseekers allowance. How is anyone like me expected to pay his gas, electricity and phone plus feed and clothe myself and look after my cat on £65 per week? I can't wait to become a pensioner, I hope to be better off!

I totally understand your frustration with the system and it is shocking that the government feels that a single Jobseeker can survive on such an amount (it is also a similar situation for couples as well). There are many circumstances that can open up new benefits, such as having children or disabilities but if you are only a jobseeker the amounts the government expect you to live on are incredibly low. Even so, seek some advice on your entitlement, make sure you are getting the relevant help with your rent and council tax, seek advice to make sure you are on the best gas, electric and water tariffs and do all you can to get the support you need to get back into full-time work. And yes, do look forward to reaching pension credit qualifying age, as benefit levels ARE higher!

4. I am a working mum with two young children. My husband became unemployed in 2006 and he minds the children. As a family we have claimed no benefits - apart from child benefit. We regret this - because I now know that we can claim substantial tax benefits. Can I claim these benefits in arrears?

The way it stands at present (June 2010) you would have been entitled to Child Tax Credit as currently a household with an income of up £50,000 per annum will be entitled to a minimum of £545 Child Tax Credit per year. Some families with incomes up to £58,000 (or £66,000 a year if there is at least one child who is less than a year old) would even qualify for a small amount of Child Tax Credit.

NOTE: The Government have just announced that they intend to lower the income limit for Child Tax Credit. More detail will be forthcoming in the Emergency Budget so please seek advice to find out where you stand.

Unfortunately, Tax Credits can only be backdated up to a maximum of 93 days.

I would need to know the amount of Council Tax you pay to see if there is a minimal amount of Council Tax Benefit available but I'd need to do an exact calculation to know for sure. Contact your local advice service for a full benefit and tax credit entitlement check.

5. Can you get Carers Allowance if you are a pensioner?

Technically you can BUT the State Retirement Pension OVERLAPS with Carers Allowance, meaning that recipients of their state Pension often cannot get any actual Carers Allowance. Confusingly, many pensioners will have what is called an underlying entitlement to Carers Allowance! This means that you won't get any money through Carers Allowance, but instead you might be able to get some extra money on your means-tested benefits, such as Pension Credit, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. If you are caring for a disabled person, seek some advice for your local benefits advice service, to ensure both you and the disabled person you care for are getting the correct benefit entitlement.

6. I'm an 80% disabled ex-serviceman who has been unable to work since 1994. I receive the war pension with mobility allowance and Unemployability Supplement. I also receive Incapacity Benefit, although most of that is withheld as the Unemployability Supplement takes precedence over IB. I've seen it reported that everyone on IB will be medically reviewed - will that include me?

We are still waiting for exact details of how all current claimants of incapacity benefit will be reassessed for their readiness to work. This includes details on exemptions, if indeed there will be any. What we do know is that re-assessments are due to start in October 2010. Read carefully any correspondence you receive in relation to your current Incapacity Benefit entitlement and do seek some expert advice if you are re-assessed.

7. I have been unemployed for over 6 months and receive income based Jobseekers Allowance. I've just received a windfall bringing my savings to over £16,000, after paying off loans and replacing my car. But my Housing Benefit and Jobseekers Allowance will be cut because I'm over the government's £16,000 threshold. Is there any way I could put £10,000 towards a pension which I can only access once in retirement in order to be below the threshold?

In certain circumstances you are treated as having capital, which you may no longer posses. This is called 'notional capital' and applies in situations where you deliberately deprive yourself of capital in order to claim or increase means-tested benefits (such as Income-based JSA).

I would say that this could potentially come under these rules, so I would recommend speaking to the Department of Work & Pensions ASAP to see where you stand. Remember that when your savings go above £16,000, you will no longer be entitled to benefits such as Income-based JSA, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.

8. Are there any tax credits for a low earner (under £14,250 per year); 22 years old, unmarried, no dependents, no disabilities, not paying into (or likely to in the near future!) a pension fund? And is there any help with work travel or utilities?

I would need to carry out a full assessment to work out your benefit and tax credit entitlement but in all likelihood the situation you have outlined does not bode well for being able to access any help with tax credits, especially as you are single, not disabled and you do not have any children. If you are liable for rent and council tax, do look into Housing & Council Tax Benefit, and do speak to your gas and electric company to make sure you are on the most cost effective tariffs. Unfortunately there is no help for petrol costs to and from work, as far as I am aware!

9. My partner and I have bought our home and paid off the mortgage. We've always worked full-time and have five children between us. We also have private pensions. So why are we now being penalised for this? Our neighbour, who brags that they have never worked, gets so many benefits that they are better off than us.

It can be incredibly frustrating when you have done everything the government expects but you receive no help whatsoever. It would appear that you have been assessed by the DWP as on the borderline for Pension Credit, which is doubly frustrating! OK, all is not lost. As long as your savings are below £16,000, you might well be eligible for help with your Council Tax through Council Tax Benefit. Contact your local council today to make a claim if this is the case. You might also be eligible for help with health costs, based on a low income. Your local benefits advice centre should be able to help you through the claiming process and will also ensure you claim everything you are eligible for. Let us know how you get on and if you are successful!

10. My husband and I are returning to the UK after 10 years in Spain. My husband has Alzheimer's and other health problems which mean he needs constant supervision, so I am unable to work. What benefits are available to me as a carer? My husband is 73 years of age and gets a UK state pension. I am not in receipt of a state pension yet.

You should definitely make a claim for Attendance Allowance, but whether your husband will be eligible straight away or after 26 weeks of being back in the UK is dependent on a couple of issues, including whether your husband can claim under the Special Rules and also how the DWP interpret the rules for people returning from an European Economic Activity Area. So make a claim to Attendance Allowance, but also seek some advice to ensure that you claim all of the relevant benefits you are eligible for such as Carers Allowance and also means-tested benefits such as Pension Credit etc. Please also ensure that you get the social care support that you require

The views expressed are those of Lee Healey not the BBC.

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