Looking after welfare benefits can put a huge stress on people. However, professionals who work with people with a learning disability can help clients manage their benefits in various ways. Common types of everyday help given by professionals will usually involve assisting people with processes such as making benefit claims or completing forms (eg the capability for work questionnaire). Where a claimant is mentally capable of doing these tasks, the responsibility for their benefits remains with them. However, many people who are less able to understand and manage their benefits will need some help to claim and maintain their benefit awards.
Advice workers and other professionals can telephone the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), even without the client being present, to discuss issues or problems about a benefit claim. If an advice worker is able to provide enough personal information and details about the issue (eg the date of a recent DWP decision), the DWP should accept they have implicit consent from the client to discuss their case.
However, in universal credit, the enquiry helpline will not discuss anything with anyone other than the client about their claim unless they have given explicit consent to another person. The client can give this consent verbally or in writing in their universal credit journal. They must state what information they want to be disclosed, why it is needed and the details of the person and/or organisation who is assisting.
If you become a DWP appointee, the issue of consent is not a problem. Anyone who holds an appointeeship is authorised to act on the claimant’s behalf regarding all of their DWP benefits. An appointee may be personally known to the claimant, such as a relative or friend, or may be a professional, for example an employee in the council’ social services department.
The appointee has all the rights and responsibilities the claimant would have so they should do certain things. They must inform DWP of any material changes to the client’s circumstances, for example about increases and decreases in their capital (eg savings), or any deterioration or improvements in their disability. The appointee should try to maximise the client’s income from any benefits to which they are entitled. This may involve getting a benefit check from a welfare rights adviser; it could be to check the correct level of means-tested benefit is being paid or that the level of disability benefit award, such as a personal independence payment (PIP), is still appropriate. If any letters or forms are sent to the appointee that require a response, such as a PIP review form, the appointee should act on these. The appointee should, of course, provide money for the client to live on and may have to pay bills on their behalf.
Some clients like to build a nest egg for future security. However, the appointee should make them aware that if they are of working age, their means-tested benefits may be reduced if their savings rise above £6,000 and, if savings go above £16,000, their means-tested benefits will be stopped. For a client of pension age, capital worth over £10,000 will affect their means-tested benefits.
The process to become an appointee involves completing form BF56, followed by the prospective appointee attending an interview with a DWP official and the disabled person.
Power of attorney
A power of attorney is an option that means you can manage both the welfare benefits and the broader financial affairs of a person with a learning disability. In England and Wales, this is called a lasting power of attorney (LPA) for property and financial affairs (similar powers are available in Scotland and Northern Ireland). The client can make an LPA only while they still have the mental capacity to make decisions.
However, an attorney can help them with benefits and other money matters even if they have mental capacity. An attorney can assist with matters of the client’s choosing, including managing welfare benefits and pensions, paying bills, arranging repairs to the client’s property and investing money. The attorney should keep accounts to show what monies have been spent or given to the client, and how much money is available in bank accounts and investments. This protects both the client and the attorney.
In cases where the client no longer has or has never had the capacity to manage their finances and does not have an LPA in place, an application to the court of protection for a financial deputy to be appointed can be made instead. As always, where the client’s position is complex or if they need more expert advice, the help of an experienced welfare rights adviser should be sought.
- HM Government. Make, Register or End a Lasting Power of Attorney. https://www.gov.uk/power-of-attorney
- HM Government. Become an Appointee for Someone Claiming Benefits. https://www.gov.uk/become-appointee-for someone-claiming-benefits
- Mencap. Appointees, Deputies and Power of Attorneys. https://tinyurl.com/dzsbmwup