Deborah Gubbay & Jane Kelly
Barton Hill Advice Service, a member of Advice UK
Many eligible people do not claim the benefits that they are entitled to, even though their income can be significantly increased if they did.
People with disabilities and long-term health conditions tend to underclaim one of the major benefits available to them: Disability Living Allowance (for under 65s) and Attendance Allowance (for over 65s).
One report commissioned suggested that only 40% to 60% of those entitled to these benefits were actually in receipt of them.
People over pension age also vastly underclaim some benefits they may be entitled to.
As well as Attendance Allowance mentioned above, government figures suggest the following means tested benefits are underclaimed:
- Between one quarter and a third are not claiming the Pension Credit, formerly Minimum Income Guarantee
- One in ten are underclaiming Housing Benefit
- One in three are not claiming Council Tax Benefit.
People who fail to claim may not know all the benefits they may be entitled to, may be confused about their eligibility, or simply do not know where to access advice and information.
Moreover, sometimes people mistakenly assume that if you apply for one benefit, benefit providers will automatically tell you about all the other benefits you may be entitled to.
Hard to navigate
Another issue is that the benefits system is complicated.
WHAT IS ADVICE UK?
It is an association of almost 1,000 advice services around the UK
Its members range from small volunteer-only services, through to large national advice organisations
Members of the public can search for advice services in their local area on Advice UK's website (see link on right)
Some benefits, such as Income Support, Job Seekers' Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, retirement pension, Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance are administered by the Benefits Agency (see link to Department for Work and Pensions on right).
Others, such as Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, are administered through local authorities.
The Inland Revenue, meanwhile, processes Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.
Benefits can be means-tested. This means when they are calculated your income and savings of yourself or your partner will be taken into consideration.
Examples of means-tested benefits include Income Support, Housing and Council Tax Benefit.
Non-means tested benefits are not affected by income or savings - for example Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance.
Non-means tested benefits can either be contributory, contingent on recipients having made National Insurance contributions, or non-contributory.
There are benefits people can claim while working full-time or part-time - for example Child Benefit, tax credits, Housing and Council Tax Benefits.
And there are "Earnings Replacement Benefits", such as the retirement pension, Incapacity Benefit, Maternity Allowance and Carers' Allowance.
Who can help advise on benefits entitlement?
There are number of places where you can get advice about benefits.
Independent welfare rights advice agencies, law centres, disability organisations and some local authorities have welfare rights units.
Most of these are free to everyone, apart from centrally-funded legal projects which can be means-tested and can therefore charge.
They advise via telephone, drop-in sessions, appointments, outreach sessions at locations such as GP Surgeries, and/or home visits.
There are also self-help guides to claiming various benefits published on the internet.
Where to get help?
Help finding out about one's benefit entitlement may be obtained from a variety of sources. Sometimes more than one may need to be accessed to get the full picture.
Barton Hill Advice Centre has a section on where to get help.
To find your local independent advice agencies and law centres, contact Community Legal Service Direct (see website link on right) or telephone 0845 345 4 345, search in your local phone directory, library or local authority offices.
The Advice UK website has details of local advice centres, such as ours, in your area.
The Citizens Advice website has details of local Citizens Advice offices.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.