The Disability Living Allowance (The DLA)

What is the DLA?

The Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is a tax free, non means-tested allowance for children or adults who have physical or mental disabilities, and require help with personal care or walking.  Claimants must be under 65 years with the minimum age usually being three months.  It’s crucial to make a claim as soon as it becomes clear that the benefit may be due, as you must have had the ailment for three months and expect it to continue for a further six months.

Making claims

Claims are made by completing a lengthy and detailed form.  A medical examination is not normally required, as claims are assessed from the information provided on the form.  But people notoriously under-assess themselves, and so like many other benefits, it helps if you have some specialist knowledge of how the system works to make a successful claim.  Most Citizens Advice Bureaux and many Law Centres have benefits’ experts who provide assistance in completing the forms.  And if initial claims are unsuccessful, their help is invaluable when making appeals.  As with the law generally, case law has clarified legislation, so it’s these appeals that contribute to the constantly evolving complex area of Social Security law.  

Allowance rates

The allowance is paid at different rates depending on the nature and severity of the problems.  There are two ‘components’ relating to either care or mobility needs, and different levels within each depending on how your disability affects you. 

Care Component

  1. Lowest rate care – if you need help of supervision occasionally or cannot prepare a main meal.

  2. Middle rate care – if you need help or supervision frequently, either during the day or night.  Or you need someone with you whilst on dialysis. 

  3. Highest rate care – if you need help or supervision continually, both day and night.

Mobility Component

  1. Lower rate mobility – if you need guidance or supervision when out.

  2. Higher rate mobility – if you have severe walking difficulties such as being unable or virtually unable to walk; you’re blind and deaf and need someone with you when outdoors; you’re severely mentally impaired with severe behavioural problems; or walking could either threaten your life or seriously affect your health. 

You can qualify for either the care or mobility component, or both.  It is not necessary to have needs in both categories.  Neither is it necessary to actually have help; you simply have to show you need it.  Sometimes awards are made for life, but more often they are made for a period of time, after which they are reassessed to see if the condition has improved or worsened.  Changes in circumstances like going into hospital or a care home can affect the amount of allowance you receive.

Extra benefits

DLA is paid even if you are working; all you need to show is that you have care needs or difficulty in walking.  It is not necessary to be completely incapable of activity.  It’s tax free and it doesn’t matter how much you earn or what savings you have.  As it’s not treated as income in benefit calculations, it can be the gateway to housing benefit, council tax benefit, working tax credit, child tax credit, pension credit and income support, or it can increase these benefits.  Higher rate mobility awards can also mean other valuable benefits, such as the Motability Scheme to help with car purchase, free car tax and the blue badge entitling the holder to free parking.

Age and life expectancy

The cut off point is age 65 at the date of claim, so it’s critical to make a claim before then.  The rationale for this age limit is that many of the difficulties this is to compensate for, occur naturally with the onset of old age.  The less generous attendance allowance may be payable to the over 65s who need extra help.

As this benefit doesn’t depend on paying National Insurance Contributions, it is payable in respect of children.  If it’s clear a child will have care needs greater than others of the same age, the care component can be paid from as early as three months, earlier if they are terminally ill.  The mobility component is payable from aged 5 if they just need help or supervision out of doors, or aged 3 for more severe walking difficulties.

For the terminally ill not expected to live six months, special rules apply so benefits are paid more quickly and easily.  The three month qualification does not apply, and the care component is paid at the highest rate whatever the actual needs are.

Residency requirements

Along with many other benefits, restrictions on residency apply to qualify for DLA.  You must be resident in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) at the date of claim, be ordinarily resident in Great Britain, and have been so for 26 out of the previous 52 weeks, unless the claimant is terminally ill or a baby under six months.  You must not be subject to immigration control, although there are some exceptions depending on your status as, or relationship with, a national of either the European Economic Area, or a country with an un-equal treatment agreement, or if you are being sponsored for your stay.

It is possible to claim the care component only if you are living, or go to live, in a country within the EEA or Switzerland.  In 2007, The European Court of Justice decided that DLA can be paid to UK workers or their family members living abroad in connection with their job, or who have paid enough National Insurance Contributions to be eligible for a sickness-related benefit, or are in receipt of certain contributions-based benefits such as State Pension, Industrial Injuries Benefit, Incapacity Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance and Bereavement Benefits.

Claims process

Claim online via the Directgov website or by application form obtainable either by telephoning the Benefit Enquiry Line, or in person from the Jobcentre Plus Office or local social security office.  Ensure the form is returned as soon as possible to preserve the date of claim.