Introduction to the benefits system
Find out how the benefits system works in the UK and who to turn to for guidance and information. You could also enrol in the free Benefits awareness course, available on the Learn Zone.
This video explains how we can help you to understand the benefits system.
The information in this video was correct as of 1 December 2010.
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In England, Scotland and Wales, benefits are administered by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Department for Work and Pensions
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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) delivers benefits through Jobcentre Plus, the Disability and Carers Service and the Pension Service.
Jobcentre Plus helps people of working age find jobs, and helps employers fill their vacancies. It also manages a number of benefits, including Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance, bereavement benefits and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.
The Disability and Carers Service provides financial support to people claiming disability benefits and their carers. It manages benefits such as Personal Independence Payment, Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Carer’s Allowance.
The Pension Service provides people with retirement information, State Pension and Pension Credit. It has a network of pension centres in England, Scotland and Wales.
The Northern Ireland Social Security Agency
The Social Security Agency (SSA) is responsible for benefits in Northern Ireland. It has different offices that handle these benefits, including Social Security or Jobs and Benefits offices, the Disability and Carers Service, and the Pension Service.
You can use Jobs and Benefits offices to find work, claim benefits, or both. These offices are gradually replacing Jobcentres and Social Security offices. Your local Social Security or Jobs and Benefits office will be listed in the phone book under government or Social Security Agency, or visit nidirect.gov for details.
The Disability and Carers Service is the agency for people with a disability and their carers. It manages Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Carer’s Allowance. You can also contact the service locally through any Social Security or Jobs and Benefits office. The service deals with both new and existing claims.
The Pension Service looks after the benefit needs of people of pension age, as well as those planning for their pension or nearing retirement. You can contact the Pension Service if you have questions about your State Pension or want to claim benefits that are relevant to people of pension age, such as Pension Credit. The Pension Service can arrange a home visit or for you to visit your local Social Security or Jobs and Benefits office if your query can’t be dealt with over the phone.
Benefits available from the DWP can be contributory or non-contributory, and means-tested or non means-tested.
Contributory benefits (C)
These are based on the level of national insurance contributions you’ve made.
Non-contributory benefits (NC)
You can claim these even if you haven’t paid national insurance contributions.
Means-tested benefits (MT)
These depend on your income and savings, and those of your partner if you have one. These are always non-contributory.
Non means-tested benefits (NMT)
Non means-tested benefits can be either contributory or non-contributory, and do not depend on your income or savings.
These abbreviations are used throughout this section to help you understand the type of benefits being described. You will also come across the term ‘claimant’ throughout this section. This means a person who is applying for benefits.
Further information - England, Scotland and Wales
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A lot of information about benefits and employment services is available at gov.uk You can also contact the DWP for help with other enquiries. The DWP produces leaflets that give more detail about specific benefits mentioned in this guide. It also has a variety of basic information leaflets about the support services available to you. These include a guide on going into hospital, which gives information about what happens to your benefits and pension. You can ask for copies of these leaflets at your local Jobcentre.
Help is also available from other organisations. These include your local council and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). HMRC helps people with targeted financial support, such as tax credits. Your local council is responsible for certain financial help, such as Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support.
Further information - Northern Ireland
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You can get more information through your local Social Security or Jobs and Benefits office, or from the nidirect website.
You can also get help from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). The Northern Ireland Housing Executive is responsible for certain financial help, such as Housing Benefit. HMRC helps people with targeted financial support, such as tax credits.
Welfare reform in Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Welfare Reform Bill is currently still under consideration. For the latest news about the reforms, please visit nidirect.gov.uk
For benefits information and support in Northern Ireland please visit nidirect.gov.uk or call 0800 232 1271.
You can also contact the Benefit Enquiry Line on 0800 220 674 (or textphone 0800 243 787 if you are deaf or hard of hearing).
In Northern Ireland, Macmillan Cancer Support, in partnership with Citizens Advice, provides a dedicated Welfare Rights Service to cancer patients, their families and carers. For information and support or to arrange an appointment please telephone 0300 1 233 233 (lines are open 9am-12.30pm and 1pm-4pm, Monday to Friday).
You can also call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00.