What are benefits?

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

  • help with extra costs
  • support you if you have 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 two main organisations that manage most benefits.

Some benefits are provided by the NHS. These include help with health costs. Others are provided by local authorities. These include Housing Benefit. Tax credits and Child Benefit are provided by HM Revenue and Customs.

The Scottish Government set up a new agency in 2018 called Social Security Scotland. This is responsible for providing some benefits to people in Scotland. Sometimes there are differences between the benefits systems in different parts of the UK. We explain these differences throughout this information.

Can I claim benefits?

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

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

Other benefits can only be paid to you if you have paid enough National Insurance contributions. These are called contribution-based benefits or contributory benefits.

National Insurance

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

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

If you are not paying National Insurance, for example because you are not working, you may be able to get National Insurance credits. These credits can mean you are still eligible for contribution-based benefits.

If you would like to check your National Insurance record, visit gov.uk. You can also request a statement online at tax.service.gov.uk.

Or you can call the National Insurance helpline on 0300 200 3500 or textphone 0300 200 3519 to ask for a statement.

Changes to benefits

There have been some changes to benefits across the UK. These include:

In Northern Ireland, extra payments have been introduced for people who may lose money because of changes to the benefits system. These are called Welfare Supplementary Payments.

The benefit cap

There may be a limit to how much you can get in benefits each week. This is called the benefit cap. It applies to most people aged 16 and 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.

There are some exceptions, which mean the benefit cap might not apply to you. For example, if you or your partner:

  • get Working Tax Credit
  • get Univeral Credit (UC) because your ill health stops you from working (you must be getting the limited capability for work and work-related activity payment)
  • get UC because you care for someone with a disability
  • get UC and you and your partner earn more than £569 a month combined, after tax and National Insurance contributions.

The cap might not apply if you, your partner, or any children under the age of 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 only happens if you (and any partner) earned at least the amount you would get for 16 hours a week at the national minimum wage for the previous 12 months.

It is important to check if you will be affected by the benefit cap. For a full list of benefits that are not included in the benefit cap, visit gov.uk 

The benefit cap limits

If the benefit cap applies to you, the amounts you can claim are different depending on whether you live in London or not.

If you live outside of London, the benefit cap is:

  • £257.69 a week (£13,400 a year) if you are single and do not have children who live with you
  • £384.62 a week (£20,000 a year) if you are single and have children who live with you
  • £384.62 a week (£20,000 a year) if you are in a couple, whether you have children who live with you or not.

If you live in a Greater London borough, the benefit cap is:

  • £296.35 a week (£15,410 a year) if you are single and do not have children who live with you
  • £442.31 a week (£23,000 a year) if you are single and have children who live with you
  • £442.31 a week (£23,000 a year) if you are in a couple, whether you have children who live with you or not.

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. You can find out more information about Welfare Supplementary Payments at nidirect.gov.uk, or call the Welfare Supplementary Payments team on 0800 587 0971 or Textphone 0800 587 0973 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm).

Who can help me apply for benefits?

You can speak to Macmillan’s welfare rights advisers 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.

You might also be able to meet a Macmillan welfare rights adviser in person through a local service. This depends on where you live. 

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 finances, including insurance, pensions and mortgages
  • energy advisers who can help you to find support with your fuel and water bills.

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, try to also 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 receiving 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 in your home 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 to being in hospital or abroad for 4 weeks or more.

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

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

Can I challenge a benefits decision?

If you are unhappy with a decision about your benefits, you may be able to ask for it to be looked at again. For example, this could be 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 are unhappy with the result, you can then make an appeal. You must do this within one month of the reconsideration decision date. If you miss the deadline for a mandatory reconsideration or appeal, speak to a welfare right adviser. It may still be possible to challenge the decision.

If you are unhappy with a decision about Housing Benefit, you can appeal straight away. You don not need to ask for a mandatory reconsideration first.

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 a Macmillan welfare rights adviser by calling 0808 808 00 00. They can talk you through the process and send you more information.

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 might also not be immediately eligible for some benefits 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.

Can benefits be backdated?

Some benefits can be backdated. This means you can be paid the benefit for a period of time before you made your claim. You need to request 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. Otherwise you may miss payments.

Terminal illness benefits and special rules

If you are terminally ill, and your doctor thinks you may be reasonably expected to live for less than 6 months, you can apply for some benefits using a fast-track process called special rules. This does not have to be certain and it doesn’t matter if you might live longer.

Special rules apply to:

If you apply for benefits under special rules, you can avoid extra assessments. You will automatically be paid the higher rate, except for the mobility component of PIP and DLA, which you will still need to apply for.

You will need to claim the benefit and explain that you are claiming under special rules. Your doctor or cancer nurse will also need to fill out a form called a DS1500 and send it to the Department of Work and Pensions, or to the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland.

You should get your payment within 2 weeks of sending the DS1500 form. If you get benefits under special rules, they are usually awarded for 3 years. Then they are looked at again after this time if you live longer than originally expected.