Disability Living Allowance

Having a disability can be expensive. There are unavoidable costs which range from needing a carer in more extreme cases to spending constantly on transport if walking causes discomfort. In an attempt to try and level the field a little with other recipients of benefits, a special allowance exists for people with disabilities. This is the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which is a tax-free benefit to help with these extra costs.

The DLA will be replaced in 2013 by the new Personal Independence Payment. If you need assistance with basic activities such as personal hygiene or feeding yourself; if you have mobility issues; or if you have a disabled child – you may currently be able to claim a DLA.

Qualification criteria for the allowance

The DLA payment is intended to provide financial help to people who are under the age 65 and physically or mentally disabled (or both), and that disability is severe enough to mean that you need help caring for yourself. If you have walking difficulties, you may also qualify. If you have - or permanently care for - a child that these statements apply to, you're probably eligible as well.

There are 3 types of DLA: a care component, a mobility component, and the child carer's allowance. More than one of these could apply to one person, and they each have specific rules about who may claim for them. They are also divided into different tiers of payment, based on the severity of your condition.

The care component requires that you need assistance with basic life functions. Eligibility for the Lowest Rate means that you need someone to prepare a cooked main meal, even if the ingredients are provided; or support for just a part of the day. The Middle Rate applies to people who need more regular assistance. This can range from needing someone to watch over you during dialysis, through requiring frequent help with personal care, to needing constant support or supervision during the day or during the night. To qualify for the Highest Rate, you must need this support frequently (or constantly) both day and night.

The mobility component of the DLA system demands that you fit into one of a range of fairly complex criteria. Your difficulties with walking must be severe enough to meet the requirements we're about to discuss even when wearing or using some form of mechanical or prosthetic aid that would normally be used to adequately compensate for any problems. You must be without feet; without legs; or your physical disability must be challenging enough to mean that you suffer severe discomfort, endanger yourself, or risk your overall health by attempting to walk.

You will also be granted an allowance if you need someone to assist you when you're out of doors, having been you've been assessed as 100% disabled because of defective eyesight, or at least 80% disabled as a result of hearing impairment. Qualification as severely sight impaired person requires a very specific diagnosis of your “best corrected visual acuity”.

A consultant ophthalmologist can determine this for you. If a mental condition means that you need support whenever you're in an unfamiliar place, you'd almost certainly also have your claim granted. If a mental impairment or behavioural problem is sufficiently severe to qualify you for the highest level of the care component, the mobility component will also be added.

There is a Lower Rate and a Higher Rate for this component of the DLA as well. The Lower Rate applies to you if you need help outdoors, while the Higher is intended for people whose condition requires more constant support.
If you want to claim for a disabled child, you'll need to prove that the child needs significantly more help or supervision than most other children of the same age. However, if your child is unable, or very nearly unable, to walk at all, or if walking would present a clear risk to them, you should qualify with very little difficulty.

The children's component of DLA can apply from just 3 months of age. There are also special rules which may apply before then. The most normal of these is terminal illness.

This special rule applies across all parts of this allowance, and indeed across almost all state benefits. The ruling is that if qualified medical staff believe that the patient in question is unlikely to live more than 6 months, full delivery of allowance happens extremely swiftly. You would automatically get the highest rate of the care component, and the standard 3 month waiting period for claims would be waived on any applicable part of the DLA. It's an especially humane and laudable aspect of this rule that you can request its application to someone else without their knowledge. If the rule is applicable, they will receive a letter which simply tells them that their claim has been awarded. No mention of special rules will be made.

Factors that affect your DLA payments

Disabilities of the type under discussion for this allowance are prone to change. Bearing in mind that the allowance is designed to respond the the effect these impairments have on your life, rather than the state of the disability itself, you need to communicate with the Disability & Carers Service regularly.

Examples of changing circumstances which may affect the level of payment you receive include changes in medication – which may yield mild or even dramatic improvements in someone's ability to care for themselves. Surgery (such as a hip replacement) can significantly impact on your needs – especially mobility-related problems. A new or improved mobility aid may also create a change in status. Naturally, entering or leaving hospital or a care facility will need to be communicated as well. This need to contact them is especially emphasised by the Disability & Carers Service if it's an NHS hospital.

If you relocate to live abroad, it's very unlikely that this allowance will continue to accrue to you. However, if your move is to another European Economic Area (EEA) nation, or Switzerland, there are circumstances under which you can continue to receive your payments. Primary among these is that you must already be receiving the care component of the allowance. You may leave Great Britain for up to 26 weeks a year – even on holiday – and still receive your allowance. You'll be regarded as being in Great Britain if you're a member of HM Armed Forces, in the merchant marine or a civilian airman working abroad, or if you work on a non-land-based venue that is still on the UK sector of the continental shelf (like an oil rig).

The DLA generally doesn't apply to people subject to immigration control. It can however if you're a family member of an EEA national; if you're a national of a country with an equal-treatment agreement with the EU (Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria and San Marino); or if you're living here as a family member with one of these qualifying people. You can also qualify if you're registered as a person who's been granted leave to enter or live in Great Britain under a sponsorship by someone else for all maintenance and accommodation.