Understanding benefits

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

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

There are different types of benefit:

  • Contribution-based benefits depend on whether you have paid National Insurance (NI).
  • Non-contribution based benefits do not depend on whether you have paid NI.
  • Means-tested benefits depend on your income and savings.
  • Non-means-tested benefits can be contribution-based or not and don’t depend on your income or savings.

There is a benefit cap to the amount of benefits you can claim. You may not be entitled to all of the benefits if you are a non-UK national. You can contact Citizens Advice for more information.

If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, visit gov.uk or HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for more information. If you live in Northern Ireland, visit nidirect.gov.uk or call 0800 232 1271.

You can also speak to one of our welfare rights advisers on 0808 808 00 00.

What are benefits?

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

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is responsible for benefits in England, Scotland and Wales. It gives benefits through different services, including local job centres. In Northern Ireland, the Department for Communities (DfC) manages most benefits through local Social Security or Jobs and Benefits offices.

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 can get 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. Benefits that depend on this are called contribution-based benefits. They are also called contributory benefits.

What is National Insurance (NI)?

NI is paid by people who work for an employer. Your employer takes the money from your earnings and pays them to the government. The government uses this money to help people who are ill, unemployed or retired.

Some people pay voluntary NI, for example if they are self-employed. This can protect your right to benefits that depend on NI, such as the State Pension.

You won’t pay NI if you are not working. But you can sometimes get NI credits if you get certain other benefits. If you get NI credits, they are treated as though you have paid NI. This can protect your right to benefits that depend on NI.

Can I get different types of benefit at the same time?

It is often possible to be entitled to both income-related and contribution-based benefits at the same time. You can get advice from a welfare rights adviser.

I never thought about applying for benefits. I wasn’t aware of the help that was available to me as I’ve worked all my life.


Government information about benefits

You can find official government information about benefits through GOV.UK (England, Wales and Scotland) and NiDirect.gov.uk (Northern Ireland).

What happens if my situation changes?

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

  • your income or capital (any financial assets, including savings)
  • the income or capital of a partner who lives with you
  • the people who live in your home and their financial situations
  • where you live
  • your health.

You should tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about any of these changes. You can do this by speaking to the service that pays your benefits.

Not every change will affect your benefits. But it’s better to report a change in case it does.

If you go into hospital

Some benefits won’t be affected by a stay in hospital. Other benefits may only be affected if the hospital stay is for more than four weeks. Separate hospital stays that are less than 28 days apart are treated as a continuous period.

If you go into hospital, you should tell the service that pays your benefits as soon as you can. It’s also important to tell them when you leave hospital, so that full payments can restart if they have been stopped.

The way your benefits are affected by a stay in hospital depends on your situation and the benefits you are claiming. Speak to a welfare rights adviser for advice.

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 straightaway without asking for a review first.

Challenging a benefits decision can be a complicated process, 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 about challenging a benefits decision.

Can I get benefits if I am not a UK-national?

You may not be able to receive 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 independent legal and benefits advice from Law Centres and Citizens Advice.

How long can I wait before applying for a benefit?

You should try to apply for any benefits you may be entitled to as soon as possible, so you don’t miss out on payments. Disability benefits cannot usually be backdated to cover days or weeks before you applied. Most other benefits can be backdated, some by up to three months before you applied. But there usually needs to be a good cause for the delay in applying.

Back to About benefits

The Welfare Reform Act

There have been changes to the benefits system. There are a number of ways your benefits could be affected.

Macmillan grants

A Macmillan grant is a one-off payment for adults, young people or children with cancer, to cover a wide range of practical needs.