Understanding benefits

Cancer can increase your living costs. Benefits may help you cope with these changes.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) manages welfare benefits for England, Scotland and Wales. The Department for Communities (DfC) manages these benefits in Northern Ireland.

Each benefit has rules about who can claim and why they are paid. For some benefits, whether or not you can claim may also depend on:

  • how much money you have. These are called income-related benefits (or means-tested benefits)
  • whether you have paid enough National Insurance contributions. These are called contribution-based benefits (or contributory benefits).

If you are getting any benefits, changes to your situation may affect them. This could be changes to your income, savings or property, the people who live in your home, where you live or your health.

If you are unhappy with a decision about your benefits, you may be able to ask for a review. This is called a mandatory reconsideration.

If you need help applying for benefits, speak to a Macmillan welfare rights adviser by calling 0808 808 00 00. You can also visit In Your Area to see whether you can see an adviser in person.

What are benefits?

Benefits are payments from the government to people in need. When you are affected by cancer, it may mean that you can get extra help.

The benefits system can be hard to understand. But even getting a basic idea of how it works can help you get the support you need.


Who manages benefits

There are two organisations that manage benefits. This depends on where you live:

  • In England, Scotland and Wales, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) manages benefits. It does this through different services, including local Job Centres.
  • In Northern Ireland, the Department for Communities (DfC) manages benefits. It does this through different services, including local Jobs and Benefits or Social Security offices.

There are some differences between the benefits system in Northern Ireland and the system in the rest of the UK. We explain these differences throughout the information in this section.


Who can claim benefits

Each benefit has rules about who can claim. Some benefits are paid to you for particular reasons. For example, if you have a health problem that makes it difficult for you to move around or look after yourself.

For some benefits, whether or not you can claim may depend on the following:

  • How much money you have. Benefits that depend on this are called income-related benefits. They are also called means-tested benefits.
  • Whether you have paid enough National Insurance contributions. Benefits that depend on this are called contribution-based benefits. They are also called contributory benefits.

National Insurance

National Insurance is money collected by the government. They use this money to provide public services, such as the NHS, and benefits. Paying National Insurance protects your right to some benefits such as the State Pension.

You normally pay National Insurance from your salary. If you are not paying National Insurance, for example because you are not working, you may be able to get National Insurance credits through certain benefits. These credits count as your National Insurance payments.

If you would like to check your National Insurance record, visit gov.uk. Or you can call the National Insurance helpline on 0300 200 3500 or textphone 0300 200 3519 to ask for a statement.

I’d never claimed anything in my life. I didn’t even know how to. But you need to be financially secure to fight the cancer properly.

Paul


What happens if my situation changes?

It may affect any benefits you are getting if there are changes to:

  • your income, savings or property
  • the income, savings or property of a partner who lives with you
  • the people who live in your home and their financial situations
  • where you live
  • your health.

It may also affect your benefits if you have a long stay in hospital or go abroad. This would normally only happen after being in hospital or abroad for four weeks or more. It only applies to certain benefits.

Not every change will affect your benefits. But you should tell the DWP or DfC about a change in case it does. You can do this by speaking to the service that pays your benefits.


Can I challenge a benefits decision?

If you are unhappy with a decision about your benefits, you may be able to ask for a review. This is called a mandatory reconsideration. You must do this within one month of the decision date.

If you are unhappy with the review, you can then make an appeal. The exception is Housing Benefit, where you can appeal straight away without asking for a review first.

Challenging a benefits decision can be complicated, so it is a good idea to ask a welfare rights adviser for help as soon as possible. You can speak to a welfare rights adviser by calling us on 0808 808 00 00. They can talk you through the process and send you more information.

A Macmillan welfare rights adviser checked what benefits I could apply for and helped me fill in the forms. Later, I appealed a decision, and they helped with that too.

Cath


Can I get benefits if I was not born in the UK?

You may not be able to get some benefits if you:

  • have come from another country to live or work in the UK
  • are an asylum seeker or refugee.

The rules are complicated. You can get advice from Law Centres and Citizens Advice.

We have a fact sheet about claiming benefits, which we have translated into a number of different languages.


Can benefits be backdated?

Disability benefits cannot usually be backdated to cover days or weeks before you applied. But most other benefits can be backdated.

When benefits can be backdated, there is usually a limit of one month. Some benefits can be backdated by up to three months.

There usually needs to be a good reason for the delay in applying. For example, because you were in hospital or waiting for a decision to be made about another benefit.

You should try to apply for any benefits you may be entitled to as soon as possible. Otherwise you may miss payments.


Who can help me apply for benefits?

Macmillan has welfare rights advisers who you can speak to by calling the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00. They are specially trained to help you get any benefits you might be entitled to.

Depending on where you live, you may also be able to meet a Macmillan welfare rights adviser in person through a local service. Visit In Your Area to see whether this is available. Other organisations can also help, such as your local Citizens Advice.

Speaking to one of our welfare rights advisers, or a benefits adviser from another organisation, can help you get the financial support you need.

Who else can help?

On the Macmillan Support Line, we have other financial specialists who can help you deal with money worries. We have:

  • Financial guides who can give you guidance on your personal finance options, such as insurance, pensions, mortgages and tax.
  • Energy advisers who can help you try to reduce your heating and electricity costs.

We can also give you information about Macmillan Grants. If you are worried about debt, we can refer you to our charity partner StepChange Debt Charity for advice.


What information do I need when I speak to a welfare rights adviser?

The more information you can give the adviser, the more they will be able to help. Try to have these things with you:

  • any forms you need help with
  • details of your income, for example recent payslips
  • details of any savings or investments, for example recent bank statements
  • details of expenses such as rent, mortgage payments and council tax
  • your National Insurance number.

For health-related benefits, try to also have:

  • a record of your diagnosis
  • details of your medical condition and treatments, including the names of any medication you are taking
  • contact details for your GP and any other health or social care professionals you see.

If you already get benefits, you should also have:

  • details of any benefit payments, for example bank or Post Office account statements, or recent award letters
  • letters about your existing benefits, including letters about any benefit applications that were not successful.

Back to About benefits

Macmillan Grants

Every week, over 600 people receive a grant from Macmillan Cancer Support.