It sags but there’s still a welfare safety net. And billions are left unclaimed

We pay taxes during good times so we can take money back out when things get tough. So why the stigma about claiming benefits. A shocking £20 billion of benefits goes unclaimed each year in the UK. Yet millions of us on low incomes are struggling to make ends meet and missing out. As the Lottery used to say, ‘It could be you!’

People are also forgetting to claim Council Tax support and other extra help they could be entitled to. New Universal Credit (UC) claimants are missing out most. Because they no longer claim housing benefit from their council, which is now included in UC, they don’t claim Council Tax support at the same time. There is a reported £234 million sat in council coffers uncollected by residents.

Money saving expert Martin Lewis said: “Councils are sitting on a staggering amount of money, at least £234m spread across 1.7 million accounts – which works out at an average of well over £100 sitting in each closed account.” Maybe councils should sort it out but they’re not always on top of repayments. We need to check with them.

Thousands of people, whether out of work or in a low paid job, have spotted hundreds of unclaimed pounds by doing a benefit check. With the help of online calculators, it’s easy. They ask simple questions about our living arrangements and, at the end, suggests what we might be missing out on. As benefits are changing, millions of people are missing out on critical financial help.

Online benefit checkers from Quids in!, EntitledTo and Turn2Us and Quids in! can also help us see how our benefits are affected if we start working. Just include the number of hours we might work in future and the rate of pay. With UC coming on-stream, the incentives to work (for many but not all people) can be huge. Follow this link and try it out – we literally have nothing to lose.

Even if we don’t receive much in benefits, if we’re on a low income there is other help we can claim to keep costs down. ‘Passported’ benefits are the help we can only access if we get a related benefit. We might only receive a few quid from Housing Benefit, or remain on UC despite not receiving a penny, but we could still qualify.

Free school meals, Council Tax support (or reduction) NHS treatment and prescriptions, and the Warm Home Discount can make a big difference to meagre budgets. In fact, there are dozens of extras we might not know about, including help with the costs of things from pregnancy and prison visits to funeral costs. Quids in! has more details here.

Work (or better paid work) is almost always the better option now, for those who are able to work and can find it. And the government has certainly tried to make sure employment pays better, ending the so-called benefit trap. But how this has been achieved has attracted criticism.

A heady mix of tough cuts to benefits, incentives for working claimants and forcing up wages have been pushed through to tip the balance in favour of finding work.

One way they make it harder for non-workers is by capping benefit payments. This means benefits can now only be a stop-gap if people want to provide for themselves and their family. Larger households have been affected worst because the maximum benefits any household can claim is £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere.

Other parts of the government strategy is to offer incentives as part of Universal Credit. There are allowances for families and others whose health limits them working that mean the first portion of any earnings do not affect what UC pays. For people claiming housing costs (previously Housing Benefit), the threshold is £287 per month. Claimants with no housing costs in their UC keep all of the first £503 they earn per month. Earn more than this and, like everyone else on UC, we keep 37p in the pound of what we earn, (as 63p for every pound we’ve earnt is deducted from our UC payment). Read Quids in!‘s better off in work guide here.

Quids in! continues to develop its content to help people on low incomes navigate the benefits system. We cannot cover everything but, where we can, we break things down to make things easier to understand and then provide links to more detailed, official information.

Other Quids in! info:

Housing Benefit (& LHA)
Universal Credit
Help for Jobseekers

Details on specific benefits:
Please note there are variations across the UK. Please check the links apply to your country.

Jobseekers Allowance:

Disability and Illness:

Housing Benefit:

Benefits Checker:

General Info from Specialists:

Things are changing all the time. If you notice something is out of date or wrong on our pages, let us know and we’ll check and put it right. Let us know if these pages help you or if your organisation wants to be listed by clicking here.

August 2019