What are benefits?

Benefits are payments from the government to people who need financial help. When you are affected by cancer, you may be able to get benefits to:

  • help with extra costs
  • support you if you need to stop working.

The benefits system can be hard to understand. We have information to help you get the support you need.

Who manages benefits?

There are 2 main organisations that manage most benefits:

  • The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) manages benefits for people who live in England, Scotland and Wales. This is through different services, including local Jobcentre Plus offices.
  • The Department for Communities (DfC) manages benefits for people who live in Northern Ireland. This includes different services, such as Jobs and Benefits offices, Social Security offices and the Northern Ireland Pension Centre.

The NHS provides some benefits, such as help with health costs. Local councils provide other benefits, such as Housing Benefit. HM Revenue and Customs provides tax credits and Child Benefit.

Social Security Scotland offers some benefits to people in Scotland.

There are some differences in the benefits systems depending on where you live in the UK. We explain these within this information.

You can also call 0808 808 00 00 to talk to a Macmillan welfare rights adviser.

Can I claim benefits?

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

The amount of money you have affects whether you can get some benefits. These are called income-related or means-tested benefits.

You can only get other benefits if you have paid enough National Insurance contributions. These are called contribution-based benefits or contributory benefits.

If you are self-employed

If you are self-employed, the benefits you are entitled to may be different. Our Macmillan welfare rights advisers can help you understand what support you may be eligible for.

National Insurance

National Insurance is money collected by the government. You normally pay National Insurance from your earnings.

It is used for benefits and public services, such as the NHS. Paying National Insurance means you will be able to claim some benefits such as the State Pension.

If you are not working, you do not pay National Insurance. But you may be able to get National Insurance credits. These credits may mean you can still get contribution-based benefits.

If you would like to check your National Insurance record, you can:

  • visit GOV.UK
  • request a statement online at tax.service.gov.uk
  • call the National Insurance helpline on 0300 200 3500 or textphone 0300 200 3519 to ask for a statement.

Changes to benefits in Scotland

In Scotland, Adult Disability Payment is replacing Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for adults.

If you live in Scotland and currently get PIP or DLA for adults, you do not need to apply for Adult Disability Payment. Social Security Scotland will move you to the new benefit without you having to do anything.

The DWP will continue to pay you PIP or DLA for adults until you start getting Adult Disability Payment. You do not need to contact the DWP to stop your PIP or DLA for adult payments.

To find out more about Adult Disability Payment, visit mygov.scot.

Also in Scotland, Child Disability Payment has replaced DLA for children. Social Security Scotland is moving children who are already getting DLA for children to Child Disability Payment. To find out more, visit mygov.scot.

The benefit cap

There may be a limit on the total amount of benefit you can get. This is called the benefit cap. It applies to most people aged 16 or over, who have not reached State Pension age.

If you are part of a couple and one of you is under State Pension age, the cap may apply.

You are not affected by the benefit cap if you or your partner:

  • get Working Tax Credit
  • get Universal Credit (UC) and have been assessed as having limited capability for work-related activity
  • get UC because you care for someone with a disability.

You are also not affected if you or your partner get UC and earn more than a certain amount a month combined, after tax and National Insurance contributions. This amount is usually the amount you would get for working 16 hours a week at the national minimum wage for the previous 12 months.

You are also not affected by the benefit cap if you, your partner or any children under 18 who live with you get certain benefits. These include:

If you are working, the benefit cap may not apply to you.

You may have to stop working due to ill health. If you are claiming UC, the benefits cap may not apply for the first 9 months. This is called the grace period. It only happens if you and any partner:

  • earned at least the amount you would get for working 16 hours a week at the national minimum wage for the previous 12 months
  • are now earning a certain amount a month.

It is important to check if you are affected by the benefit cap. For a full list of benefits that are not included in the benefit cap, visit GOV.UK or call 0808 808 00 00 to speak to a Macmillan welfare rights adviser.

Benefit cap limits

If the benefit cap applies to you, the amounts you can claim are different depending on whether:

  • you live in London
  • you are single or in a couple
  • your children live with you if you are single.

For more information on the amounts you can claim, visit GOV.UK.

If you live in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, some people affected by the benefit cap may get a Welfare Supplementary Payment. This payment will be the same as the amount of money you have lost under the benefit cap.

To find out more information about Welfare Supplementary Payments:

  • Visit nidirect.gov.uk
  • call the Welfare Supplementary Payments team on 0800 587 0971 or textphone 0800 587 0973.

Who can help me apply for benefits?

You can speak to Macmillan welfare rights advisers by calling our support line on 0808 808 00 00. They are trained to help you get any benefits you may be entitled to. Find out what happens when you call our welfare rights advisers and what you need to have ready.

You might also be able to meet a Macmillan welfare rights adviser in person through a local service. This depends on where you live. Visit macmillan.org.uk/inyourarea to see if this is possible.

Other organisations can also help you get the financial support you need. These include your local Citizens Advice.

Our welfare rights advisers can also help you to apply for a Macmillan Grant.

Who else can help?

We have expert advisers on the Macmillan Support Line who can help you deal with money worries. These include:

  • 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.

If you are worried about debt, we can refer you to our charity partner StepChange Debt Charity for advice.

For more information about benefits, visit:

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 your partner’s income, if you have one
  • 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, also try to have:

  • a record of your diagnosis
  • details of your medical condition and treatments, including the names of any medications you are taking
  • contact details for your GP, your cancer doctor 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.

What happens if my situation changes?

If you are getting benefits, these may be affected 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 with you and their financial situations
  • where you live
  • your health.

Some benefits may also be affected if you have a long stay in hospital or go abroad. This normally applies if either lasts for 4 weeks or more.

If you are aged under 18 on the day you go into hospital, Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment are not usually affected.

Not every change will affect your benefits. But if you are not sure, you should tell the service that pays your benefits. Not telling them could mean you are missing out on extra money. Or you could be paid money that you have to pay back.

Can I challenge a benefits decision?

If you disagree with a decision about your benefits, you may be able to ask for it to be looked at again. For example, you might ask for this to happen if you are refused a benefit or paid less than you think you should get. This is called a mandatory reconsideration. You must ask for this within 1 month of the decision date.

If you disagree with the mandatory reconsideration, you can appeal. You must do this within 1 month of the reconsideration decision date. If you miss the deadline for a mandatory reconsideration or appeal, speak to a welfare rights adviser. It may still be possible to challenge the decision.

Sometimes you can choose to appeal without asking for a mandatory reconsideration first. This is an option if:

  • you disagree with a decision that you are fit for work when applying for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • you disagree with a decision about Housing Benefit – you can appeal to your local council to change the decision or go straight to an independent appeal tribunal.

Challenging a benefits decision can be complicated. It is a good idea to ask a welfare rights adviser for help as soon as possible. You can speak to our welfare rights advisers by calling 0808 808 00 00.

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.

You may not be able to get some benefits straight away if you have lived abroad, even if you were born in the UK.

The rules are complicated and can depend on which country you and your family are from. You can get advice from Law Centres and Citizens Advice. Or, you could speak to our welfare rights advisers. Our support line has an interpretation service in over 200 languages. Call 0808 808 00 00 and just state, in English, the language you want to use.

We have a factsheet about claiming benefits, which we have translated into different languages.

Can benefits be backdated?

Some benefits can be backdated. This means you can be paid the benefit for a period before you made your claim. You need to ask for this on your application.

Not all benefits can be backdated. You should try to apply for any benefits you may be entitled to as soon as possible, or you may miss payments. You can speak to our welfare rights advisers to find out more.

Terminal illness benefits and special rules

If you are terminally ill, you can apply for some benefits using a fast-track process called special rules. The rules are different depending on where you live in the UK and which benefit you are applying for. You can apply for special rules if your doctor or cancer nurse completes a form saying you have a terminal illness.

Special rules can be used for:

If you apply for benefits under special rules, you can avoid extra assessments. You are automatically paid the higher rate, except for the mobility component of PIP and DLA. You must still apply for that, but the process may be quicker.

You must claim the benefit and explain that you are claiming under special rules. Your doctor or cancer nurse must also fill out:

  • an SR1 form – if you are claiming AA, DLA, ESA, PIP or UC
  • a BASRiS form – if you live in Scotland and are claiming Adult Disability Payment or Child Disability Payment.

The form will then be sent to:

If you get benefits under special rules, you usually have them for a period of 3 years. They will be looked at again after this time if you live longer than originally expected. In Scotland, there is no time limit for getting Adult Disability Payment or Child Disability Payment under special rules.

About our information

  • This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by Macmillan professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Macmillan’s Welfare Rights team.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Our Pay PIP Now campaign

We campaigned for the UK government to cut long waiting times for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Over the course of the campaign, average waiting times fell from 20 weeks to 13 weeks.

Find out more

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 May 2022
Next review: 01 May 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.