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Benefits Blog

by Tombenefits

news and thoughts from the world of welfare rights
26 May 2017 at 17:33

MTBs 3: Help with specific costs

A look at the main means tested benefits and tax credits that can help with specific costs 

Welcome to the third in a mini-series of blogs around means tested benefits and tax credits. While most - but by no means all - will eventually be replaced by a new Universal Credit, the benefits below are still with us for some time yet.

In Part One - available here - we looked at what means testing means , and why we have a mixture of means tested and non-means tested benefits in the system.

In Part Two - available here - I took you on a "Cooks Tour" of the main means tested benefits and tax credits that help top up a low income, highlighting their relevance to people affected by cancer and signposting to blogs where you can find out more.

This time I am focussing in on those that can help people receiving any of the benefits tax credits that we looked at last time with specific costs:

 - those related to housing: rent, mortgage interest and council tax

 - help with health costs

I will pick up the numbering from last time

 

5 Passported benefits

You can be "passported" to the benefits in this blog if you receive one of the benefits mentioned in the last. This saves you having to declare and evidence your financial situation all over again, given the means tests used are very similar.

This means for example that anyone receiving Income-related ESA or Pension Credit is automatically passported over to full Housing Benefit or maximum help with health costs.

As well as being convenient, passporting can save the day :-) For example,

   Gandalf and Galadriel eyes meet across a Kitchen table at the Lothlorien Centre and true love blossoms. Galadriel has a couple of centurie' worth of life savings that come to over £16,000. They applied to the Rivendell District Council for Housing Benefit and were turned down as over the limit.

They are resigned to using their savings to pay the rent when they chat to Aragorn the Advisor back at Maggie's. He spots that their income is a few pounds below Pension Credit levels which has no savings limit.

"Well every little helps says Gandalf. "Ah" says Aragorn "We don't want to give you that ... Getting Pension Credit will now passssport you through the tests for Housing Benefit including their savings limit. You will now get full help with your rent"

"That's magic" says Gandalf 

And similar stories happen in all the other Centres including here when people wander in on the off chance that they might get some help with fares to hospital and rather than reach for the health costs forms they find themselves with extra income and rent too :-)

Passporting is only one way though to access the benefits below. They are by no means the only one. It may be that your income is a little bit too high for any of the benefits in the last blog but you might still get help with some or even all of your housing or health costs.

 

6. Help with housing costs

6.1 Housing Benefit (HB)

Housing Benefit is the most universal of all of the benefits. It’s doors are open to all regardless of whether you are in work or not, over pension age or under and can apply whatever your route to other benefits may be or even if you have none or have been sanctioned.

HB is claimed from your local council to help with the rent - whether you are in a council, housing association or private tenancy.

If you are on any of the means tested benefits above you will automatically pass the financial assessment for Full Housing Benefit.

If your income is a too high for means tested benefits you can still apply for HB. Although it uses similar sums to decide if you can get Full HB, those with higher incomes may still get Partial HB. The amount doesn't just stop if your income exceeds the levels of other means tested benefits, but tapers off as income rises. In high rent areas, HB may go considerably further up the income scale than you might think

However, as rents rise out of control, the HB bill has been been growing alarmingly. The long term solution is to rethink approaches to providing enough affordable housing but the short term approach has been to increase the restrictions on how much HB will cover: the local housing allowance, bedroom tax and benefits cap. 

That does mean that even Full HB may not cover all your rent leaving you with a rent shortfall to make up from other income. There is a top up available if you are left unaffordably short. And that is by applying to the same council for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) 

6.2 Council Tax Support (CTS)

This replaced the former Council Tax Benefit (CTB) to give income related help with paying the council tax. It is available regardless of whether you rent or are an owner occupier - a lot of owner occupiers don't realise that so it is often not claimed - take up rates can be as low as 30% amongst older homeowners.

CTS is on top of other non-means tested discounts that may be available eg single status discount, where regarless of income if its just you in the property you get 25% off.

For people over pension age across Great Britain, the old CTB rules (known as the default scheme) still apply. In Scotland and Wales this applies to every one as the devolved Governments decided to top up the cunning rid on the CTB budget.

In England the help for those of "working age" will vary according to where you live, with each local council working out how to make good a 15% cut when CTB was localised in April 2013.

Being on a means tested benefit still passports you through to the maximum help that is available in your area, but unlike CTB or the default schemes - that may still leave you having to pay up to 35% of the bill.

To apply contact your local council wherever you live.

Northern Ireland avoided both the excitements of the previous poll tax or the need for a compromise council tax so is unaffected by these changes. The old rates system persists and you can apply for rate rebate based on your income. For details see here

6.3 Help with mortgage interest

This is known as "housing costs" within the means tested benefits we looked at last time. It will be part of your sums in those benefits rather than a separate benefit like HB. This means you can't apply for this help if you are on non-means tested benefits or working tax credit. although by increasing the amount you qualify for in the means tested benefits, this help may bring you into entitlement.

The help offered is based on a standard rate set by the DWP rather than the interest you actually pay, so you might win or lose. It only covers interest so if you are on a repayment mortgage you need to talk to your lender about re-arranging that.

There are "waiting periods" for people of working age before any help kicks in during which time the Government will have expected you to take out payment protection insurance with your lender. You do not then get help in most cases until after 39 weeks have passed.

If your prognosis is advanced and life limiting it may be that you might be covered by the general mortgage insurance.

 

7 Help with health costs

The NHS is free for most treatment, but for many years there have been some additional costs and charges in place: dental and optical charges, prescription charges, NHS wigs and other items and fares to hospital (that can mount up if you travel to regional or specialist cancer centres) and parking charges.

7.1 Free prescription

All the devolved nations have moved over to free prescriptions for everybody. However they remain in place in England but not for children or pensioners.

 - people of working age who have a cancer diagnosis can have a free prescriptions - get a form FP92 from your GP. 

- others in a household who dont come under another exemption or a means tested benefit might be able to get help via the NHS Low Income Scheme.

7.2 Other health costs

- NHS wigs, fabric supports and mastectomy bras are free of charge in the devolved nations but subject to charge in England

- dental and optical charges apply outside of hospital in all four nations Treatment at a hospital will be free of charge

- hospital parking charges apply in England only. There may be frequent flyer exemptions at your hospital if you need to make a lot of trips. Ask at your hospital.

- fares to hospital are an issue in all four nations and all have similar Hospital Travel Schemeswith additional provision in Scotland for the distances/overnight stays that may apply in the Highlands and Islands.

7.3 Proving your entitlement

- a recent notification of entitlement letter will do if you ever need to prove you are getting a means tested benefit

- HMRC calculate tax credits annually and should provide a certificate if income is below £15, 276

- the new Universal Credit should do the same as it will cover both situations. You are entitled if on UC with no earnings or with earnings under £435 a month as a general rule) or £935 a month (if you get a UC child or limited capability element) As with much else UC have not thought about it but if pressed will send a notification letter.

 - an HC2 or HC3 certificate as a result of an application to the NHS scheme

7.3 The NHS Low Income Scheme

So the costs you may have to face may vary depending on where you live, but where there are costs to pay there is a common means tested system of help with those Health Costs.

So if you get any of the means tested benefits, maximum Child Tax Credit on its own or Working Tax Credit with an income of £15, 276 a year or less, then you will be passported through to maximum help with health costs. 

If you don’t happen to be on any of those benefits, but still have a low income you can apply separately on an HC1 form for an exemption certificate. If you do qualify you will get either an HC2 certificate giving you full exemptions or an HC3 giving you a partial exemption.

Do by all means pop into your nearest Maggie’ s Centre for a chat about help for these these costs or for help with an HC1 form. But please don’t be surprises if we gently check other benefits entitlements. We might end up filling in an ESA or Income Support form instead. 

For more details of the scheme and charges please go the Citizens Advice page here  

 

8 Some more passporting both ways :-)

There are other “passported" benefits that come form claiming the top up benefits: free school meals, local leisure schemes, access to disabled facilities grants, lower charges for social services care, energy grants and so on.

There is also a process the other way where claiming a “disability benefit” . Attendance Allowance and Personal Independence Payment are ignored as income so don’t get taken away from means tested benefits, but can often increase your entitlement.

To see how that works we will have a gentle look at how the sums work especially as regards to some of those extra amounts for people who are unwell or who are carers.

 

And so...

Until then, I hope the thumbnail sketches of benefits over these last two blogs helps make sense of the range of means tested benefits available.

For income top ups, Income-related ESA may be most relevant to people with a cancer diagnosis and Income Support for carers. Or if over PC age, then Pension Credit may the one for both of you.

If you are working through treatments, easing backing into work in recovery or taking a cut in earnings as a carer then Working Tax Credit can help.

And in all cases Child Tax Credit can offer extra amounts for any children or young people still at school or college.

The benefits in this blog help with paying the rent (Housing Benefit) the council tax (council Tax Support ), mortgage interest (housing costs within eg ESA or PC) and health costs.

But “passporting" may mean that you might as well - or really need to - claim one one of the top up benefits to get at the help you were thinking of.

And advisor’s eyes will always start glowing dangerously at the merest hint of a disability benefit, as these can be useful extra help regardless of your income and savings income. But they also can do some wonderful things to your means tested benefits too.

To see how that works - and also means tested benefits generally - it may help to do some simple and painless sums and see how it works with real live people and situations. So next time we will see how that works out in the case of Merlin, Morgan and other wizarding folk :-)

I will focus on "working age" as you can already see how the magic roundabout of Pension Credit works in a recent blog here

If you have any general queries, comments or experiences to share please join the conversation here

If you would like to check out that you are not missing out on these - or any other benefit - in a private space, please just message me.

Until next time, never knowingly underclaim :-)

Best wishes,

Tom:-)



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