8. Help for people on a low income
Income support is a means-tested benefit to help people with basic living expenses who have not reached the qualifying age for Pension credit and who are not required to be available for work, such as carers. There are strict criteria for people who qualify for Income support.
You may be able to claim Income support if you have a low income and limited savings, or limited joint savings with a partner. Whether or not you qualify may depend on the number of hours you and any partner work each week. Income support can be paid in full or as a top up to other pensions and income. If you have a partner, you must claim Income support together.Income support does not depend on National insurance contributions, but savings and income (including income from most benefits) will be taken into account. Income from AA, DLA and PIP will be ignored when calculating weekly income, but savings over a certain amount usually mean you cannot receive Income support.
The amount of Income support paid varies according to age, existing income and savings, and entitlement to any available premiums. Premiums are awarded to people receiving certain disability benefits and carers receiving the Carer's allowance, for example, so it is important to seek advice.
If you are a homeowner, you may receive help with mortgage interest payments, interest payments on loans for certain repairs and improvements, ground rent and some service charges. This will depend on the circumstances of those living in your home. You may not qualify for immediate help with your housing costs.
You can no longer claim Income support if you cannot work because you have a disability or illness. You should claim ESA instead - see 'Benefits if unable to work' section above.
Some people of working age who are not working, or are working less than an average of 16 hours per week, may claim Jobseeker's allowance. They must be capable of work and actively seeking work.
Jobseeker's allowance is in two parts:
- contribution-based - paid for 26 weeks, to people with sufficient National insurance contributions
- income-based - calculated in a similar way to Income support.
Social fund reform
Changes contained in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 mean that certain elements of the Discretionary social fund scheme, such as Community care grants and some Crisis loans (including rent in advance), were abolished in April 2013. New locally-based schemes are being delivered by local authorities in England and devolved to the governments of Scotland and Wales.
Crisis loan alignment payments
In April 2013, Crisis loan alignment payments, which are needed because of delays with benefit payments, were replaced by a new national scheme of short-term benefit advances. This is administered by DWP.
Budgeting loans are loans that are available to some people on income-related benefits to help to pay for a range of essential things such as rent, furniture and clothing. These will continue to be available until the new Universal credit is fully rolled out. As people migrate across to Universal credit they will have access to a new system of Budgeting advances that will replace Budgeting loans for Universal credit recipients.
If you are responsible for a funeral, you may be able to claim payment towards reasonable costs, providing you are the closest surviving relative and you are receiving certain benefits such as Income support, income-based Jobseeker's allowance or ESA, or Pension credit. Check your entitlement before making arrangements. You can claim up to three months after the funeral. The funeral payment often has to be repaid from the assets of the person who has died.
Cold weather and winter fuel payments
Cold weather payments are paid if the average temperature in your area falls or is forecast to fall to freezing point or below for seven consecutive days. These payments are made automatically to people receiving some means-tested benefits including Pension credit and Income support.
If you are of eligible age, you will normally qualify for a winter fuel payment to help with the cost of fuel. The age at which people receive a winter fuel payment is rising because it is linked to the State pension age for women, which is also increasing (see 'State pension' above). People over 80 may be eligible for more money. Many people living in care homes are not eligible for this payment. This benefit is not means-tested or taxable, and will not affect any other benefits you are claiming. For more information, or to apply, contact the Winter fuel payment helpline (see 'Other useful organisations' below).