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Help for people on a low income - Income Support

Help for people on a low income

If you are on a low income you may be able to get benefit to help with your living costs, your rent and your Council Tax, or Rates in Northern Ireland. You may also be entitled to help with other costs like prescriptions.

This information is about support for people on a low income. It does not cover support for children and it does not cover Working Tax Credit, which is specifically for people who are working.

For more information on help for people who are working, see Benefits and tax credits for people in work. For information on support for children, see Benefits for families and children.

You may be able to get help with your day-to-day living costs through Income Support. If you have a mortgage or other types of housing costs, Income Support may also help towards these. However, if you are over state pension age, you can't get Income Support. You may be able to claim Pension Credit instead.

For more information about Pension Credit, see Benefits for older people .

If you're a woman, your state pension age is your pensionable age, and if you are a man, your state pension age is the state pensionable age of a woman born on the same day as you.

You can find a calculator to help you work out your state pension age on the GOV.UK website at: www.gov.uk.

You may also be able to get help with one-off expenses from the Social Fund, and help with health, education and legal costs.

For more information about the Social Fund, see Help for People on a low income – the Social Fund. For information about other costs if you are on a low income, see Help with health, education and legal costs.

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Help with living costs from Income Support

Income Support is a benefit paid to certain groups of people who do not have enough money to live on. It is means-tested, which means that any money you have is taken into account in deciding how much Income Support you should get. You will not get it just because you are on a low income – your weekly income must be below a certain level, and you must be one of a group of people who can get benefit without having to look for work.

Income Support is a non-contributory benefit. This means that it does not depend on national insurance contributions. You can get Income Support even if you have never paid national insurance, but you will need a national insurance number to make a claim.

Income Support is an important benefit because once you get it you can automatically get Housing Benefit and other help, for example, with health costs. You are also likely to get help with your council tax.

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Who can get Income Support

Your age

To claim Income Support you must be under state pension age, and you must usually be 18 or over. If you are over state pension age, you cannot get Income Support but can claim Pension Credit instead.

For more information about Pension Credit, see Benefits for older people

If you're a woman, your state pension age is your pensionable age, and if you're a man, your state pension age is the state pensionable age of a woman born on the same day as you.

You can find a calculator to help you work out your state pension age on the GOV.UK website at: www.gov.uk.

Most 16- and 17-year-olds cannot claim Income Support. If you are 16 or 17 years old, you may get Income Support if you:

  • have a child or are pregnant
  • are on certain kinds of training course.

Being entitled to Income Support will also depend on whether you are still at school or live with your parents. 16- or 17-year-olds who have been in care cannot usually get Income Support, but there are exceptions. Lone parents who have been in care can get the benefit.

If you are 16 or 17 and want advice about claiming benefits, or you are 16 or 17 and have been in care, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

You are resident in the UK

You must be living in the UK to claim Income Support. If you are from overseas or have recently come to live in the UK you may have difficulty claiming Income Support, depending on your immigration status.

If you are not sure about your right to claim benefit, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Not working or working less than 16 hours a week

To get Income Support, you must either not be working at all or work less than 16 hours a week. If you have a partner who lives with you, your partner must work under 24 hours a week. If they work for 24 hours or more, you won’t be able to get Income Support. If your partner is claiming income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance, this will also prevent you getting Income Support.

Off work because of sickness

You may be able to get some Income Support if you are off work sick and getting Statutory Sick Pay from your employer.

Your income and capital

You must have income and capital below a certain amount (see under heading How much Income Support you can get).

Not having to look for work

You cannot get Income Support unless you fall into a group of people who do not have to be ‘available for work’. (See under heading Who does not have to be available for work.)

Compulsory interviews

In some circumstances you may have to attend a compulsory interview as part of your claim for benefit, and in some cases, if you have a partner who is not working, they will have to have an interview too (see under heading How your claim is dealt with).

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Who does not have to be available for work

To get Income Support, you must be a person who does not have to look for work in order to get benefit. This means you can claim Income Support instead of Jobseeker’s Allowance which would require you to sign on and seek work. You may be able to choose between claiming Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance if you would rather meet the requirements of seeking a job.

For more information about Jobseeker’s Allowance, see Benefits for people looking for work.

You don’t have to be available for work if you are:

  • a single parent under the age of 18, or a single parent bringing up a child under five on your own. In some cases, you don't have to be available for work and you can carry on getting income support for a certain period if your child is older than this
  • getting Carer’s Allowance
  • looking after your partner, who is temporarily ill
  • looking after a child under 20 for whom you are responsible and who is temporarily ill
  • incapable of work because you’re pregnant. Some pregnant women might be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) instead.

For more information about ESA, see Benefits for people who are sick or disabled.

There are other categories of people who do not have to be available for work. If you do not fall into one of the categories listed here, but you have no income or a low income, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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People who may have problems getting Income Support

Depending on your circumstances, you may have difficulty getting Income Support. This could be because you fall into a group which is usually excluded from benefit, because you cannot meet the benefit conditions or you have problems proving your identity. You should seek advice if you are:-

  • 16 or 17 years old
  • on strike
  • from overseas
  • suspected of living with a partner. This applies to lesbian and gay partners as well as heterosexual partners
  • living in a care home or a hostel
  • homeless.

If you fall into one of these categories, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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Who can you get Income Support for

You can claim Income Support for yourself and a partner who lives with you. If you are making a claim for Income Support and you have children, you should claim Child Tax Credit as well.

For more information about Child Tax Credit, see Benefits for families and children.

Claiming as one of a couple

If you live with your partner, only one of you can claim Income Support. This applies to both heterosexual and same-sex couples, regardless of whether you are married or in a civil partnership. Whoever claims, claims for you both as a couple and this means that your partner’s income and capital will be taken into account as well as yours. You can swap the claim around so that your partner claims instead of you, but this will only be possible if they don’t have to be available for work (see under heading Who does not have to be available for work). Otherwise, they may have to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance if they make the claim. In some cases, even if your partner is not making the claim for benefit they will have to attend an interview as part of your claim.

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How much Income Support can you get

Your capital

If you have more than £16,000 in capital, you cannot get Income Support.

Capital means things like savings, property and land. However, some capital is ignored, for example, your personal possessions and the home you own and live in. Certain other types of property are also ignored. For full details of other property which is ignored, you should get advice.

Capital of more than £6,000 will affect how much Income Support you get. You will be treated as getting £1 a week in income for every £250 of capital (or part of £250) above the £6,000 limit. This is regardless of how much money you actually receive from your capital, if any.

If you or your partner live in a care home, you must not have more than £16,000 in capital. You will be assumed to have an income from any capital over £10,000. If you own property where you used to live or normally live, this may be included in your capital.

If you or your partner are in a residential care or nursing home, you must not have more than £16,000 in capital. You will be assumed to have an income from any capital over £10,000. If you own property where you used to live or normally live, this may be included in your capital.

If you live in a care home and are concerned about the treatment of your property for income support purposes, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Your income and the amount you need to live on

Your income is the money you have coming in each week. This could be other benefits, earnings from part-time work, income from capital (see under Your capital) or any other money you have coming in. Your income will affect your Income Support though some income is disregarded. This means that various types of income are not taken into account, for example child maintenance. Other types of income are only partially disregarded so that only part of it affects your benefit.

Your weekly income is compared to a fixed weekly level which the Government considers is the amount you need to live on for Income Support purposes. It is known as the ‘applicable amount’ and it is less than most people need for their day-to-day living costs. The difference between the applicable amount and your income is the amount of Income Support payable. The applicable amount will vary for each person because it is made up of different elements which depend on your circumstances. The rates of the different elements are fixed each year and are usually increased every April.

You will only be entitled to Income Support if your income is less than your applicable amount. If you have no income, or all your income is disregarded, you will get Income Support at the level of your applicable amount. Otherwise, your Income Support level will be your applicable amount minus your income. This means that any extra income you have coming in each week, if it is taken into account for Income Support, will reduce the amount of your benefit.

The applicable amount includes a personal allowance, which is a basic amount for you and your partner if you have one, premiums which depend on your circumstances, and in some cases, housing costs for mortgage or home loan interest.

You can find out how much Income Support you might get on the GOV.UK website at: www.gov.uk.

In Northern Ireland you can find out how much Income Support you might get on the NIDirect website at: www.nidirect.gov.uk.

Personal allowance

Your personal allowance will depend on your age, whether you have a partner who lives with you, and whether you are a lone parent.

Premiums

Premiums are added to your applicable amount if you are in certain circumstances where you are considered to have higher living costs. You may be entitled to a premium because, for example, your partner is over state pension age, you or your partner are disabled, or you are caring for a sick or disabled person.

If your partner is a woman, their state pension age is their pensionable age. If your partner is a man, their state pension age is the state pensionable age of a woman born on the same day as him.

You can find a calculator to help you work out your state pension age on the GOV.UK website at: www.gov.uk.

Housing costs

You may be able to get help towards some of your housing costs included in your applicable amount. This could include help with mortgage interest. No help is available with paying the capital part of a mortgage or any other payments, for example, endowment premiums, and there are restrictions on the amount of interest which can be paid. You will usually have to wait a few weeks after you start getting Income Support before you can get any help with interest, unless your partner is over state pension age. If your partner is a woman, her state pension age is her pensionable age. If your partner is a man, his state pension age is the state pensionable age of a woman born on the same day as him.

You can find a calculator to help you work out your state pension age on the GOV.UK website at: /www.gov.uk.

You will usually have this part of Income Support paid directly to your mortgage lender.

You may also be able to get help towards some other housing costs, for example, ground rent for long leases and some service charges. However, in most circumstances, if you rent your home you cannot get any Income Support for housing costs and you should claim Housing Benefit instead.

If there are other adults living in your home apart from your partner, your landlord, or a joint owner, tenant or lodger, a deduction may be made from the housing costs which Income Support can cover. This might apply, for example, if you have an elderly relative or an adult son or daughter living with you. The amount of any deduction will depend on their income and circumstances.

The rules about housing costs and Income Support are very complicated. If you want advice about help with housing costs and Income Support, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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How to claim Income Support

In England, Wales and Scotland you can claim Income Support by phone or textphone, online or by filling in a form.

There is a freephone number to claim by telephone or textphone:

Telephone: 0800 055 6688
Textphone: 0800 023 4888
Welsh language line: 0800 012 1888

The phone lines are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm.

Or you can find out how to claim online on the GOV.UK website at: www.gov.uk.

Or you can download a form to fill in to claim Income Support. You can download the form from the GOV.UK website at: www.dwp.gov.uk.

In Northern Ireland, you can claim Income Support by telephoning or writing to your local Jobs and Benefits Office or Social Security Office. For contact details, see the nidirect website www.nidirect.gov.uk.

You cannot claim online, but you can download a claim form from the nidirect website at www.nidirect.gov.uk. [link to http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/apply-for-income-support-forms]

If you're reclaiming Income Support within 26 weeks of getting it and there has been no change in your circumstances, you can complete a simpler and shorter Rapid Reclaim form instead when you go to your local Jobcentre Plus office. This might apply if you have taken up a job or increased your hours but it has not worked out and you need to go back on benefit.

When you claim Income Support, you will have to provide your national insurance number. If you're claiming as a couple, you will normally have to give your partner's national insurance number as well. If you don’t know your national insurance number, but you think you have one, try to provide information that will help the office find your number. If you do not have a national insurance number, you will have to apply for one. To show that your number belongs to you, or to apply for a number, you will also have to provide evidence of your identity, for example, a birth certificate.

For information on how to apply for a national insurance number and on problems with proving your identity, see National insurance – contributions and benefits.

You will have to provide other evidence as part of your Income Support claim, for example, evidence of your income. If you don’t have this available straight away, don’t worry as you can supply it afterwards, but it is important to do so within one month of your claim to get all the money you are entitled to.

If you have problems providing a national insurance number or any of the other evidence you are asked for, or if you would like help with making your Income Support claim, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Getting Income Support backdated

You may be able to get some Income Support for a period before you make your claim if you could have claimed earlier and have reasons for claiming late. These have to be particular reasons laid down in law which are accepted by the benefits office, for example, you have language difficulties, or you were given wrong advice which made you think you would not get any money. Getting benefit for a period before you claim is called ‘backdating’. You will not get any backdated benefit just because you did not know that you could make a claim.

If you do have one of the accepted reasons for backdating your claim, your income support may be backdated by up to a maximum of one or three months depending on the reason you failed to claim earlier. You will have to show that you met the entitlement conditions throughout the period of backdating. You should explain that you are claiming backdated income support, and why, on your claim form.

If you want to claim backdated income support, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Civil penalties for causing an overpayment

In some cases, you may have to pay a civil penalty if you do something which causes an overpayment. This can happen if, for example, you give wrong information or you keep quiet about something, and as a result you get more Income Support than you're supposed to be getting. You can only be asked to pay this penalty if you haven't committed fraud. If you have committed fraud, different rules apply.

You can appeal against a decision to impose a civil penalty.

Checks on Income Support, change of circumstances and fraud

You may commit a benefit fraud if you deliberately give incorrect or misleading information, or fail to report a change of circumstances. Even if you are not committing fraud, you can cause an overpayment which will have to be repaid. Your circumstances can be checked at any time while you are claiming and fraud officers can also get information about you from other government agencies and from your employer, bank or utility companies. Benefit fraud is a criminal offence and you can be prosecuted or asked to pay a penalty. If you are being investigated for benefit fraud, your benefit will be suspended. If you are convicted of benefit fraud more than once, your benefit can be reduced or stopped in the future.

For more information on what to do if you are asked to attend an interview under caution, see Problems with benefits and tax credits.

If you are worried about whether you might be suspected of fraud, you are under investigation or you have been convicted, or if you have been asked to repay an overpayment of benefit, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens’ Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction and Housing Benefit for Rates

When you claim Income Support in England, Wales and Scotland, the person you speak to should also help you claim Housing Benefit. You may also be advised to claim Council Tax Reduction. In Northern Ireland, they should help you to claim Housing Benefit for Rates.

They will send your details to the local authority so that they can assess whether you can get any of these benefits. However, if you want to claim these benefits, it might be best to get hold of the local authority’s own claim forms for Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction or Housing Benefit for Rates and return these to the local authority directly. This helps to avoid delays and makes sure that the claim is registered as soon as possible.

For more information about Housing Benefit, see Help with your rent - Housing benefit. For more information about Council Tax Reduction, see Council Tax Reduction - what you need to know. For more information about housing benefit for Rates in Northern Ireland, see Help with your Rates.

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How your claim is dealt with

You may have to have an interview when you claim Income Support. This could be a compulsory interview which is a condition of receiving benefit, or because the benefit office wants to check your circumstances, for example, who you are living with. You can get help with the cost of fares to go to the interview. In some cases, you may be able to get a home visit.

If you are a lone parent with children, you will have to attend an interview with a personal adviser. If you do not attend without a good reason, your benefit may be reduced. Further compulsory interviews will be required during the claim and failure to agree to an interview could result in losing some of your benefit. Going to a job interview does not mean that you have to start looking for a job but if you decide to do so you may be able to get extra help with the costs of looking for, and starting, work.

If you are claiming as one of a couple, your partner may have to have an interview with a personal adviser too.

If you want to know more about attending an interview as part of your Income Support claim or you are worried about the effect on your benefit, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

I've recently had an interview because I claimed Income Support. I felt that the person who interviewed me was very rude and unfriendly. My English isn't very good and I think there's a problem with racism at that office. Some of my friends have also complained about this particular person. Is there anything we can do?

You could ask for an interpreter if your English is not good enough for you to be interviewed properly. You could also make a complaint about racist treatment. It's against the law to discriminate against you because of your race or nationality. Everyone who works for the Department for Work and Pensions has a personal responsibility to promote equality in their day-to-day dealings with their customers and inappropriate behaviour is not acceptable. Get help to make a complaint from an experienced adviser, for example, at your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

It's against the law for you to be treated unfairly because of your race, sex, sexuality, religion or disability when you have an interview. Also the DWP has a policy which says it will not discriminate against you because of other things, for example, if you have caring responsibilities. Interviews should be held in a place which is accessible to you and if you need an interpreter this should be provided.

If you feel that you are being discriminated against at the interview, you can make a complaint about this.

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Decisions on your Income Support claim

After you have applied for Income Support, had an interview where necessary and provided the necessary evidence for your claim, you will get a letter stating whether you are entitled to Income Support, and if so, how your benefit has been worked out.

The benefit office can make one of a number of decisions:-

  • they can decide to pay you Income Support
  • they can decide to give an interim payment while they make further investigations into your circumstances, for example, a home visit
  • they can decide that you are not entitled to Income Support.

If there is a long delay in your Income Support decision, you should consider making a complaint. You can ask for an advance payment of benefit, or help from a welfare assistance scheme. In Northern Ireland, you can apply for a crisis loan.

For more information on advance payments of benefit and other help you can get, see Help for people on a low income – the Social Fund and other welfare schemes. For information on complaining about the payment of benefit, see Problems with benefits and tax credits.

If you are not entitled to Income Support, you may still be entitled to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction, or to Child Tax Credit if you have children. You may be able to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance if the benefits office decided you cannot get Income Support because you have to be available for work. You may be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you have an illness or a disability.

For more information, about Housing Benefit, see Help with your rent - Housing Benefit, and for more information about Council Tax Reduction, see Council tax Reduction - what you need to know. For more information about Jobseeker’s Allowance, see Benefits for people looking for work. For more information about ESA, see Benefits for people who are sick or disabled.

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How Income Support is paid

You will usually be paid Income Support directly into a bank, building society or Post Office Card account. You do not have a choice about how you will be paid. However, if you would have problems opening or managing an account, you still have a right to get your benefit. You should tell the benefits office and Income Support can be paid by Simple Payment in this situation. You will be issued with a Simple Payment card which you can use to collect payments at a PayPoint outlet displaying the Simple Payment sign.

For more information on how benefits are paid, see Payment of benefits and tax credits.

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Problems with an Income Support decision

If you have been refused Income Support and you think you should get it, or if you think the amount you have been awarded is wrong, you can challenge the decision. You should do this within one month of the decision.

For more information about challenging Income Support decisions, see Problems with benefits and tax credits.

It's against the law for you to be treated unfairly because of your race, sex, disability, sexuality or religion when the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decide about your Income Support claim. Also, the DWP has a policy which says it will not discriminate against you for other reasons, for example, if you have HIV or have caring responsibilities. If you feel that you've been discriminated against, you can make a complaint about this.

If you are not happy with an Income Support decision, you can also consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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Information in other languages

If you need information about Income Support in other languages, you can go to your local Jobcentre Plus office. They can provide interpreting and translation services. You can find your nearest Jobcentre Plus on the Directgov website at: www.direct.gov.uk.

In Northern Ireland if you need information about Income Support in other languages you can go to your local Jobs and Benefits office. They can provide interpreting services. You can find your nearest Jobs and Benefits Office on the NIDirect website www.nidirect.gov.uk.

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