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 two 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.

The Scottish Government set up a new agency in 2018 called Social Security Scotland. This offers some benefits to people in Scotland. You can find out more at socialsecurity.gov.scot or call 0808 808 00 00 to talk to a Macmillan welfare rights adviser.

Sometimes there are differences between the benefits systems in different parts of the UK. We explain these differences in this information.

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 salary.

It is used to provide 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 paying National Insurance, for example if you are not working, you may be able to get National Insurance credits. These credits may mean you are still eligible for contribution-based benefits.

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

Changes to benefits

There have been some changes to benefits across the UK:

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 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) because your ill health stops you from working (this is called limited capability for work and work-related activity)
  • get UC because you care for someone with a disability
  • get UC and you and your partner earn more than £604 a month combined, after tax and National Insurance contributions.

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 less than £604 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.

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.

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 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm).

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.

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.

If you disagree with a decision about Housing Benefit, you can appeal to your local council straight away. You do 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 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. You can apply if your doctor thinks you may be reasonably expected to live for less than 6 months. That does not have to be certain and your payments will not be affected if you live longer.

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 a form called a DS1500. It will then be sent to the Department for Work and Pensions, or 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 given for a period of 3 years. They will be looked at again after this time if you live longer than originally expected.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    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 Sean Conroy, Macmillan Welfare Rights and Energy Advice Team Service Manager.

    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.