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Page last updated at 13:00 GMT, Wednesday, 28 July 2010 14:00 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.



VIEWER QUESTIONS

ANSWERS

1. My 60 year old sister-in-law is 'retired' and receives housing benefit. She has been asked by her former employer if she could do occasional work. Is there a maximum amount she could earn before it would affect her benefit?

You can work and get Housing Benefit but earnings can affect the amount of Housing Benefit you can get. A small amount of earned income is normally 'disregarded' before it starts to affect your Housing Benefit entitlement but there are different disregards for different client groups, i.e. £5 for a single person, £10 for a couple, £20 for a disabled person etc. To advise fully I'd need to know a bit more about your sister-in-law's situation i.e. if she lives with a partner and also if she gets any means-tested benefits such as Pension Credit.

To know how her benefits would be affected by earnings, it is best to get some proper advice relating to her circumstances. This will help ascertain that benefit payments are correct. Also please make sure any earnings are correctly declared to the Housing Benefit department so that overpayments are avoided!


2. I'm 32 years old and on maternity leave. I own my own property and currently receive working tax credits. I'm a lone parent and am wondering if there are any other benefits I might be entitled to?

I would check that your tax credits are accurate compared to the taxable income you expect to receive this year. I would also check out Council Tax Benefit eligibility. Once baby arrives don't forget Child Benefit, and also increased Child Tax Credit as well. I would speak to a benefits expert for a full income assessment, just to make sure you make you access all of the financial help you are entitled to.


3. On behalf of many people, could you explain what's going to happen to disability allowance in two years?!

The plan is to apply a new medical test to all new and existing claims from 2013. The idea is to make the process of claiming much simpler but it is also true that the Government expect less people to qualify as a result. Disability charities have voiced concerns and will continue to engage with the Government to try to ensure that genuine customers do not lose out.


4. Is it possible to save some of my Disability Living Allowance Mobility Component towards a replacement car without it affecting my means tested benefits i.e. to ensure savings do not exceed the means tested savings thresholds?

The Motability Scheme might be something you could look into as an alternative, which is where you put your DLA High Rate Mobility towards the cost of a car. Visit www.motability.co.uk to help you decide if it is the right choice. Other than that you can save for a car, but if your savings do exceed the various savings limits that exist then that might well affect your benefit entitlement. Get some expert advice from your local welfare rights service to help you make the right decision.


5. Is there any difference regarding benefits if one takes voluntary redundancy as against compulsory redundancy?

There shouldn't be any problems claiming benefits, including Jobseekers Allowance, if you have been made 'redundant' where as giving up your job or losing your job through misconduct can cause problems. If you do any encounter any problems claiming benefits at the Jobcentre after being made redundant seek some expert advice.


6. In July 2008 I was awarded Disability living allowance, I also receive Incapacity Benefit. What are the chances of being able to receive these benefits in another E.U. country?

Only certain disability benefits and sickness benefits can be paid to people who have left the UK to live elsewhere in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland. Benefits that can be exported include the Disability Living Allowance Care Component but there are other conditions that you need to meet in order to export your DLA Care Component. To find out if you will be covered by the exportability rules for the benefits you receive please contact the DWP exportability team on exportability.team@dwp.gsi.gov.uk


7. I'm 58 and in receipt of an occupational pension. I've not made any National Insurance contributions since August 2007 and up to then had made 39 years of contributions. My question relates to sickness benefit: should I become ill in the future would I be entitled to any related benefit?

If you became ill in the future, whilst working age, you might need to look into claiming Employment & Support Allowance (ESA). There are two types of ESA, a benefit based on your National Insurance; Contribution Based ESA (CBESA) and a benefit based on your income; Income-Related ESA (IR ESA).

To be eligible for CB ESA you would normally need to meet two National Insurance contributions, which relate to contributions paid in one tax year and also NI paid or credited within the last two tax years.

IR ESA does not look at your NI contributions.

If you ever need to claim ESA, get some good advice from an expert on your situation to see exactly what is available. The rules change so much that it is always best to get a fresh entitlement check at the time!


8. I've recently been on Job Seeker's Allowance, and after an operation I also went on Employment and Support Allowance. However, just before the operation I was able to secure a job which I can start in September. Are there any payment rewards for actually getting a job whilst under these circumstances?

I would need to carry out a full assessment on your circumstances and situation to see what might be available from a back-to-work perspective but there are various payments available, including extended Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, Job Grant, Return to Work Credit etc. If you contact your local welfare rights service they should have an expert on hand that can advise you according to your situation.


9. My son lost his job in March. He got a pay-off of 3 month's money. His commitments have depleted his savings to below £16,000 now. He was told he could keep his benefit money if he took a part time job of less than 16 hours. So he works at Tesco 15 hours a week. He has now had his benefit money stopped. Why?

Your son has more than likely been affected by the rules relating to income and Job Seekers Allowance. Although the DWP take into account the hours you can do (i.e. under 16 hours) they then take into account your actual earnings when calculating how much benefit you can get. They do apply a small disregard to the earnings first, but then anything you earn is deducted from your benefit. I'd still seek some further advice to make sure the rules have been correctly applied.


10. Please could you clarify the position re the total amount of savings allowed before they effect income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit?

1) Income Support -

£6000 lower savings limit £16,000 upper savings limit

2) Housing Benefit -

£6000 lower savings limit £16,000 upper savings limit (under Pension Credit Qualifying Age)

£10,000 lower savings limit £16,000 upper savings limit (over Pension Credit Qualifying Age)

3) Council Tax Benefit -

£6000 lower savings limit £16,000 upper savings limit (under Pension Credit Qualifying Age)

£10,000 lower savings limit £16,000 upper savings limit (over Pension Credit Qualifying Age)

NB: Different rules may apply to those in nursing homes and those on Pension Credit Guarantee Credit already assessed as having over £16,000 in savings


11. I was made redundant in May 2009 and consequently 'signed on'. Having paid full NI contributions for over 35 years, I was granted a payment of £7.00 a week for contributions-based Job Seekers' Allowance. I was told that with my redundancy, pension lump sums and the fact that I had an occupational pension, I could get no further benefits. Is that correct?

It might be correct that your JSA CB is lower than normal because income from an occupational pension over £50 per week will affect Contribution-based JSA. As an example, if you had a pension of £60 per week, £10 would be deducted from your JSA. I would get a full entitlement check just to make sure there are no other means-tested benefits you are missing out on.


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




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