The rules are more complex but a child may still qualify for DLA

Charlie Callanan  explains how claims for disability living allowance (DLA) can still  be made for children with a learning disability aged under 16 years

A child can qualify for the DLA care component either because of their need for attention with bodily functions (eg. eating, washing and dressing) and/or supervision to avoid ‘substantial danger’, as well as where the child has a terminal illness. They may qualify because of help or supervision that is reasonably required during the day and/or during the night-time.

Unfortunately, however, the rules around DLA for children are generally more complex than those that applied to adult claims.

To qualify for the care component a child claimant must meet one of the following extra criteria, along with the basic conditions of entitlement:

  • the child’s attention or supervision needs are ‘substantially in excess’ of the care or supervision normally needed by a child of the same age without a disability; or
  • the child has ‘substantial’ care needs or supervision needs that all younger children without a disability usually have, but which the older, learning disabled child may still also have.

When making a claim it is important to explain how the extent, nature and quality of help and attention given to the disabled child is additional and/or different. For example, a child of five may sit and eat her dinner once told to do so while an older child with ADHD may be easily distracted or leave the dining table during a meal, and so need prompting and encouraging.

Unlike a non-disabled 13-year-old child, one with Down’s Syndrome is very likely to need extra learning support at school, as well as possibly help, or prompting and encouragement, with carrying out daily activities at home. If an older child frequently wakes and gets up during the night-time, and then needs a lot of attention and reassurance to go back to bed and sleep, that is attention that a child aged four or five and upwards would not normally need.

It helps to build a picture for the decision maker by giving lots of examples of when, where and how extra help or supervision must be given.


The extra help given at nursery or school can form an important part of the picture of the child’s daily needs. So any evidence from schools about those needs and/or a statement of special educational needs, will help with the claim. Medical and other relevant written evidence can help to convince a decision maker to give an (appropriate) award of DLA.

Children can qualify for the higher rate of the mobility component on the basis that physical problems severely restrict their ability to walk. However, a child who has no physical problems with walking may still qualify for the higher rate where a severe mental impairment results in extremely disruptive and dangerous behavioural problems. Behaviours such as a risk of running into the road, or sitting down and refusing to walk when outdoors, are relevant for this test. Note that there is another hurdle, as the child must also qualify for the highest rate care component in order to qualify for higher rate mobility.

It is very likely that medical evidence will be needed to convince the DLA decision maker that the child meets the criteria for severe mental impairment.

To get the lower rate mobility component the child must need guidance or supervision with walking on unfamiliar routes. As for the care component, the guidance or supervision required must be substantially greater than that needed by a child of the same age without a disability. The full legal tests for a child to qualify for the different rates of the two components can be complex. See the links below for the various qualifying tests and conditions, as well as lots more tips and guidance on completing the application form.

An award of DLA means a regular cash payment that can be spent on additional costs resulting from the child’s disability. It can also lead to entitlement to certain concessions and to extra money in means-tested benefits and tax credits. And an award of the DLA care component is required before the child’s parent or carer can possibly claim Carer’s Allowance. So it is important that the parents or carers of learning disabled children are encouraged to consider making, and helped as necessary with making, a claim for DLA.



Charlie Callanan is a welfare rights adviser with over 16 years experience in the statutory and voluntary sectors.