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Benefits for the person you care for

Claiming disability benefits for mental illness

If you care for someone with a mental illness, they may be able to claim a wide range of benefits. It’s always a good idea to get a full benefits check, for you and the person you care for, to make sure you both get the benefits you're entitled to. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau or carers' centre can help.

Benefits that someone with a mental illness can claim include:

  • Disability Living Allowance
  • Attendance Allowance
  • Employment and Support Allowance

The person you care for may be able to get help exercising their rights, including rights to benefits, through an independent advocate (see below).

Carer's tip from Netbuddy

"Always photocopy and keep electronic copies of complete forms before sending them in so you can refer to them next time round. Keep hard and electronic copies of all correspondence you send and receive."

Visit Netbuddy to read more carers' tips like this

Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Attendance Allowance (AA) are benefits for people with disabilities who need help looking after themselves or who find it difficult to walk or get around. You can only get DLA if you're under 65 years old when you claim. If you're older, you'll need to claim AA.

DLA is paid to cover costs associated with care and mobility. A person's eligibility for the care and mobility "components" are considered separately. You can be paid the care component or the mobility component on its own, or both at the same time.

  • The care component, for help with personal care needs, is paid at three different levels. 
  • The mobility component, for help with walking difficulties, is paid at two different levels.

When someone applies for DLA or AA mainly for mental health reasons, it’s important to consider any physical problems they may have too. Sometimes, mental and physical problems may be linked. For example, being tired as a result of taking medication can affect someone mentally as well as making things difficult physically.

It’s important that the person you care for gets help filling out application forms and obtains supporting statements from any professionals involved in their care, such as a community psychiatric nurse (CPN). It can be difficult for someone to remember the things they struggle to do when they're part of daily life. While it’s never pleasant to think about what people can’t do rather than what they can, describing what the person you care for finds difficult will give a more accurate picture of their situation.

People with mental illness may also have a less clear view about what is “normal” in their daily life, so outside help can be particularly beneficial, if not vital.

Find out more about DLA and AA, or call the Carers Direct helpline free on 0300 123 1053.

If the DLA or AA claim is successful, you may be able to claim Carer’s Allowance for looking after them. For information about eligibility and how to claim, see Carer’s Allowance or call the Carers Direct helpline.

Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is paid to people whose ability to work is limited by mental or physical ill health or disability.

For the person you care for to be paid ESA, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has to know that they have limited capability to work. If they're an inpatient in hospital when they apply for ESA, the DWP automatically assumes they have limited capability to work.

The DWP may be able to establish that the person you care for has limited capability to work from their initial application alone. If not, they will be sent a work capability questionnaire, also known as an ESA50. The first half of this form focuses on physical health and the second half on mental health.

Once the DWP gets this form back, the person you care for may have to attend a medical assessment carried out by a doctor or nurse.

When filling out the initial application, the person you look after should think about whether the following are relevant:

  • any medication they're taking and its physical or behavioural effects
  • other treatment, such as talking therapies or support groups they attend
  • whether they need to be reminded or encouraged to carry out daily activities
  • whether they lack inhibition which might cause them to endanger themselves or other people
  • whether they avoid people or particular situations
  • any communication problems they have
  • whether they are paid DLA
  • how their good days compare with their bad days

It may help the person you care for to keep a diary of their illness for a week or so before they fill out the form. This can help them spot any patterns in behaviour, feelings or difficulties they’ve had.

If they haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, they may find it helpful to speak to their doctor about their symptoms to help clarify which tasks they find difficult. This could help ensure the form accurately reflects their circumstances.

Find out more about ESA.

Help understanding rights

The person you care for may be entitled to help to understand and exercise their legal rights.

Some people who use mental health services are entitled to an independent mental health advocate (IMHA). An IMHA can help people understand their condition, treatment and their rights.

Someone may be eligible for support from an IMHA if they:

  • are detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act
  • are subject to guardianship under the Mental Health Act
  • are subject to community treatment orders
  • are being considered for serious treatments (including neurosurgery or electroconvulsive therapy)

The person you care for can access an IMHA through:

  • a "responsible clinician" – as well as a doctor, this could be a nurse, psychologist, occupational therapist or social worker who has undergone training to be a responsible clinician
  • a member of staff on the ward on which they're staying
  • an approved mental health professional – including approved social workers, as well as nurses, psychologists or occupational therapists with appropriately recognised training

For more information about the support available for people with mental illnesses and preparing for the future, see the sections on mental health support and the mental capacity act.


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Page last reviewed: 19/08/2013

Next review due: 19/08/2015

Call Carers Direct on 0300 123 1053

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Media last reviewed:

Next review due:

Media last reviewed: 27/12/2012

Next review due: 27/12/2014