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Benefits for the person you care for

Attendance Allowance

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Attendance Allowance (AA) is a benefit for severely disabled people aged 65 or over who need help with personal care. People aged under 65 should claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP) instead of Attendance Allowance.

As of April 2013 PIP started gradually replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for people over 16.

Most carers know AA as a benefit that can be claimed by the person they're looking after. However, a significant number of carers are not only looking after someone else, but have a disability or illness themself. If this applies to you, you may also be able to claim AA.

The person you're looking after can claim AA if they're 65 years old or older when they first make the claim. They can use the AA claim forms.

AA can be awarded as an ongoing benefit or for a fixed period. The length of an award depends on how long a decision maker from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) thinks the claimant's needs will last. You may want to challenge an AA decision if you do not agree with the award.

AA is not means-tested and it's tax-free. You don't need to have paid any National Insurance contributions to claim AA.

To claim AA you must:

  • be aged 65 or over
  • meet the disability rules for AA for a qualifying period (this means that you must normally have had care needs for a certain period of time before you can claim)
  • meet the residence, presence and immigration rules for AA

AA is paid at two different rates: the lower rate (£54.45) and the higher rate (£81.30). The amount of personal care the person needs determines whether they are eligible for AA and the rate they're paid.

If the AA claim is for someone who is terminally ill, special rules apply that make it simpler to claim AA. These special rules ensure that the claim is dealt with quickly.

The official source of government information on benefits is GOV.UK.

Click on the bars below for more detailed information on Attendance Allowance rules.

Qualifying periods

To qualify for Attendance Allowance (AA) you have to show that you have met one of the disability rules throughout the six months before the date the award starts.

Example

Tina is 82 and was fit and healthy until she broke her hip a week ago. She wonders whether she should now make a claim for AA. Tina must have needed help for six months before an award can start. It may be too early to tell right now, but she should make a claim if it looks like she will continue to need help after six months have passed.

Common questions

Do qualifying periods apply in the case of terminal illness?

No. If someone has a life expectancy of six months or less, they're automatically treated as satisfying the conditions for the higher rate of AA. For more information, see the section on AA special rules (further down this page).

Do I have to wait until the end of the qualifying period before I can apply?

No. Do not delay your application until the end of the six-month period. Provided it is likely that the person claiming AA will have care needs after six months have passed, a claim can be made in advance. However, if AA is awarded, it can't be paid before the qualifying period has finished.

Disability rules

To qualify for AA, the person claiming it must have a physical or mental disability that is severe enough for them to:

  • need attention, including help with things such as washing, dressing or eating; help with communication; encouragement and prompting to do something or look after themself; or help with reading if the person has a visual impairment
  • need supervision to avoid them putting themself or others in substantial danger
  • need someone with them when they're on regular dialysis

The attention that's needed has to be connected with a bodily function, such as breathing, eating, walking, sitting, seeing, hearing, communicating, sleeping, getting in and out of bed, going to the toilet, washing, or help with treatment. See Definitions of care, below, for more information about what counts as attention, care and supervision.

There are two rates of AA, depending on the amount of help needed. A person can get AA for their care needs even if they live alone or nobody is actually giving them the care they need.

Definition of care

Someone can qualify for Attendance Allowance (AA) if they need attention or supervision from another person. When applying for AA it can be helpful to know the official definition of these terms and the types of care needs that could help someone to qualify. Definitions of attention and supervision are outlined below.

What is attention?

Attention means active help from another person. The help must take place in the physical presence of the disabled person, so help given by telephone, for example, wouldn't count as attention. 

Attention can include hands-on care, such as help getting in and out of the bath, but it doesn't have to involve physical contact as long as there is some form of personal contact. This means that the following can also count as attention:

  • help with communication, such as someone interpreting spoken or written English to British Sign Language (BSL) for a deaf person
  • someone to help with reading for people who have a visual impairment
  • encouraging someone to look after themself, such as making sure that someone with a mental health disability takes their medication
  • prompting someone to carry out activities, such as prompting a person with a learning disability to eat regularly

The attention that the person claiming AA needs has to be in connection with their bodily functions.

What is supervision?

Supervision means keeping an eye on somebody to ensure that they don't put themself or others in substantial danger. For example, someone with a severe learning disability who may not recognise danger will need supervision.

It includes being ready to intervene if something goes wrong – for example, if someone with dementia is prone to wandering off.

It's not always easy to make a clear separation between attention and supervision, but it's important to try to describe both in detail when making an application for AA, even if you're not sure which is which.

Example

Liz has multiple sclerosis (MS) and is partially sighted. Her partner Pete watches over her as she walks downstairs and is prepared to intervene if she's dizzy or stumbles on a step. He warns her that the last step is coming up and when she gets to the bottom, he reaches out his arm to her to steady her. Both supervision and attention are involved here.

Housework, cooking and cleaning

Domestic tasks such as housework, cooking and cleaning do not normally count as personal care. But there are exceptions to this general rule. Here are some examples of when help with domestic tasks can count:

  • Tony looks after his father Dave, who is sometimes incontinent during the night. When Tony changes the bed and rinses the soiled bed sheets, that counts as attention in connection with his incontinence.
  • Michael can feed himself, but he spills food and needs help cleaning up afterwards. That counts as attention in connection with eating.
  • Jennifer is blind and likes to clean her own house. However, she needs someone to tell her where she needs to clean. That counts as attention in connection with sight.
  • Denise is a profoundly deaf British Sign Language user. She sometimes needs her friend to come to the shops with her to interpret for her during conversations with shop assistants. That counts as attention in connection with hearing.

The key thing is that the help is provided immediately, and that it's provided in close connection with bodily functions.

Needing attention or supervision

The law says that for attention or supervision to count, it must be reasonably required. What this means is that attention or supervision would enable a disabled person to live as normal a life as possible.

For example, you could argue that it's reasonable for someone with learning difficulties to have assistance to take part in social and leisure activities. What is reasonable will depend on an individual's circumstances.

Remember, what counts is whether a person needs the help, not whether they're already getting it.

Lower rate AA

To get the lower rate Attendance Allowance (AA), the person claiming it must have a physical or mental disability that is severe enough for them to:

  • need attention, which includes help with washing, dressing or eating
  • need help with communication; need encouragement and prompting to look after themself or to do something; need help with reading if the person has a visual impairment
  • need supervision to avoid them putting themself or others in substantial danger
  • need someone with them when they're on dialysis

The lower rate of AA is paid if:

  • attention is needed frequently throughout the day
  • supervision is needed continually (for most of the day)
  • prolonged or repeated attention is needed during the night, or someone needs to watch over the person at night
  • someone needs to be with the person while on dialysis twice or more a week

Common questions

What does 'frequently throughout the day' mean?

This means that the attention required is spread throughout the day, rather than being needed only in the morning or evening. It is required frequently if it is needed several times, not just once or twice. Different types of attention can count, and together they establish a pattern of help needed throughout the day and at different times of the day.

What does 'continual supervision' mean?

'Continual' supervision doesn't have to be completely non-stop, but it should be more than just occasional supervision. It can include being on standby ready to intervene if necessary.

What does to avoid 'substantial danger' mean?

This means that the supervision needed lessens the risk of substantial danger to the person with the disability or to others. The danger must be something that might happen, but it doesn't have to be something that is likely to happen.

What does 'prolonged' or 'repeated' attention during the night mean?

Prolonged usually means at least 20 minutes, and repeated means at least twice. Attention is not necessarily required every single night, as long as it is regular.

What does 'watch over at night' mean?

Watching over at night means being awake and able to keep an eye on the person you're looking after. Watching over must be needed for at least 20 minutes or more than twice for it to count, and it must be necessary to avoid harm to the person or others.

Here are some examples of the kinds of difficulties that may allow someone to qualify for AA (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • difficulty getting in or out of bed without help
  • difficulty getting dressed or undressed (it presents problems or takes a long time)
  • needing physical help or supervision with activities such as having a bath, showering, brushing teeth and shaving
  • difficulty moving around indoors, getting in and out of chairs, or getting to and from the toilet
  • being forgetful and needing reminders for things such as taking medication or turning off the gas
  • not realising when a condition is getting worse
  • getting dizzy, stumbling or falling
  • needing encouragement to eat, wash or sleep properly
  • needing help at night to take medication, go to the toilet, or needing someone to help soothe them back to sleep

Many people will have difficulties other than those listed above. Keeping a diary for a week can help identify what difficulties someone has, how often these difficulties arise, what help is needed, and for how long.

Higher rate AA

To get the higher rate of AA, the claimant must have a physical or mental disability that is severe enough for them to:

  • need attention, which includes help with things such as washing, dressing or eating; help with communication; encouragement and prompting to look after themself or to do something; or help with reading if the person has a visual impairment
  • need supervision to avoid them putting themself or others in substantial danger

The higher rate of AA is paid if:

  • attention is needed frequently throughout the day or supervision is needed continually (for most of the day)
  • prolonged or repeated attention is needed during the night, or someone needs to watch over the person at night
  • the person claiming AA is terminally ill and you claim under the special rules

In other words, to qualify the person claiming AA will need to show that they have a pattern of care needs both during the day and during the night. If the help they need is only during the daytime or only during the night, they may be eligible for lower rate AA instead.

Common questions

What does 'frequently throughout the day' mean?

This means the attention required is spread throughout the day, rather than being needed only in the morning or evening. It's required frequently if it's needed several times, not just once or twice. Different types of attention can count, and together they establish a pattern of help that's needed throughout the day and at different times during the day.

What does 'continual supervision' mean?

'Continual' supervision doesn't have to be completely non-stop, but it should be more than occasional. It can include being available and ready to intervene if necessary.

What does to avoid 'substantial danger' mean?

This means that the supervision needed lessens the risk of substantial danger to the person with the disability or to others. The danger must be something that might happen, although it doesn't have to be something that's likely to happen.

What does 'prolonged' or 'repeated' attention during the night mean?

Prolonged usually means at least 20 minutes, and repeated means at least twice. Attention is not necessarily required every single night as long as it's regular.

What does 'watch over at night' mean?

'Watching over at night' means being awake and able to keep an eye on the person claiming AA. 'Watching over' must be needed for at least 20 minutes or more than twice for it to count, and it must be necessary to avoid harm to the person or others.

Example

At night, Wendy sleeps badly and often gets up to wander round the house. She needs someone to be awake at night to get her back to bed and soothe her back to sleep. This can be classed as watching over someone at night, as Wendy regularly wanders around the house and needs supervision and help to get her back into bed.

Special rules for AA in terminal illness

Someone who is terminally ill can make a claim for Attendance Allowance (AA) under special rules. Claiming under these special rules ensures that the claim is dealt with quickly, normally within eight working days.

The meaning of 'terminally ill'

The law on AA says that someone is regarded as terminally ill if they have a progressive disease and their death from that disease is reasonably expected within six months.

Although there must be a reasonable expectation that death will occur within six months, naturally there is no certainty about this. AA will normally continue to be paid for three years under the special rules. At the end of this time, the claimant may be asked for further information about their health and how it affects them so that their entitlement can be reassessed.

If the claim is accepted under the special rules, the claimant will automatically qualify for the higher rate of AA. The claimant doesn't need to complete a qualifying period to be entitled to the benefit, nor do they have to satisfy residence rules, although they will have to be ordinarily resident in Great Britain.

Making a claim under the special rules

If someone is making a claim under the special rules, it's a good idea to discuss it with their GP or consultant. The GP or consultant will need to complete a form (called DS1500), which asks for information about the person's diagnosis and treatment. The DS1500 form should be sent to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) with an AA claim form.

You can get a claim form:

When claiming under the special rules, the questions about help with care do not have to be completed.

If someone is already receiving the lower rate of AA, they don't need to make a separate claim under the special rules. They, or you, should ask for the existing award to be looked at again by the DWP under the special rules and enclose a DS1500.

A decision maker will decide if the claim qualifies for entitlement under special rules. If the claim is refused under the special rules, you or the person you're looking after may want to consider asking the DWP to look at the decision again. Even if the claim is refused under the special rules, you may qualify anyway under the normal disability rules.

Making a claim on behalf of someone else

A claim can also be made on someone's behalf by a carer, family member, friend or professional person. The person who is terminally ill doesn't have to sign the claim form. They will simply be notified that they have been awarded the benefit and payment will be made to them.

The claim can be made without their permission or knowledge. A decision not to award AA under the special rules can also be challenged without their permission or knowledge. This allows a claim on behalf of someone who is terminally ill to be dealt with under the special rules, even if a decision has been made not to tell them that they're terminally ill.

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Page last reviewed: 09/04/2014

Next review due: 09/04/2016

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