How to claim Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
Disability Living Allowance is a mystery to many disabled people. You might not know who is entitled to it, or feel you are “not disabled enough” to qualify. However, the benefit is there to assist people who have mobility issues or regularly need someone to help them. If that could be you, or you know someone who might be eligible, then you should read on…
Let’s get one thing straight. DLA is a benefit created to compensate disabled people for the extra costs they incur compared to able-bodied people, such as the need to cover taxi fares, or the cost for someone to come in and help clean your house. DLA has nothing to do with whether you are in work, or are able to work. There are many people in work or running businesses – like myself – who are legitimately claiming DLA.
Nor is DLA means-tested, in fact it is the only disability benefit of which I am aware for which income is irrelevant. Higher living costs are incurred by most disabled people regardless of their income or ability to work and that is what DLA recognises. If you consider yourself disabled, do you need any help around the house or outside? If so, you could be eligible for DLA. Check out the criteria at this law centre website. Note that only people under 65 can apply; if you are older, you might be eligible for Attendance Allowance instead.
If you are considering applying, pick up the phone right away! Call the Department of Work and Pensions on 0800 055 66 88 (8.00am to 6.00pm Monday to Friday) for a form. Any DLA award will be backdated to the day you made the request. Online applications cannot be backdated so any “thinking time” while you work out how to answer would not be recognised. For this reason I recommend obtaining a hard copy and applying on paper.
As for the application, I am not an expert, just a lay person who happens to be someone with an impairment and so is familiar with the DLA forms. I can only write from my experience as an applicant who was awarded, I believe, an appropriate award for my needs. The purpose of this article is to offer advice on how to succeed in the initial application, based on my own experience.
I must be honest: applying for DLA is depressing. It is a laborious task, drawn out over many pages, in which you are invited to focus upon the things you can’t do, a dispiriting task at the best of times. Set aside plenty of time to complete the form, in chunks if necessary – you will be led into the mindset of assessing where you need help and struggle to manage, so do make sure to give yourself some time off to relax and regroup after completing these very negative questions. You will need it.
For every question, it’s useful to say what your problem is with the specific task, how you need help, and how DLA can provide it.
So if you are asked whether you can go out and about you might answer:
- I am unable to go swimming as I am frightened of being in the same place as strangers.
- I need someone with me to reassure me and to help me get home safely.
- If I had DLA I could pay for a taxi so I could avoid other people on the way there, and I could pay for someone to come with me and keep me calm while in the pool and changing rooms.
Or you might be asked about cooking, and answer
- I am unable to make myself a cooked meal as my wrist pain means I cannot chop food and my back pain means I cannot stand up for more than 5 minutes.
- I need someone with me to prepare food, chopping it and standing over the stove while it cooks
- If I had DLA I could pay for someone to come and prepare food for me. They could make me a cooked meal and wash up the dishes afterwards.
You can use this format regardless of the nature of your impairment, of course. It is:
- I cannot….
- I need…
- If I had DLA, I could…
This structure to question answering, which proved successful for me, was inspired by information from a group formerly known as BHAS – Barton Hill Advice Service. That group now appears to be part of Barton Advice Centre in Oxfordshire, and unfortunately their very valuable advice guides have now disappeared from the internet, so I am unable to credit them further. However, I feel that their advice is still valid and this is the best way to complete the forms; it gives the Department of Work and Pensions every reason to tick the box!
Now that you know the format to take when answering questions on the DLA form. I would suggest you initially step away from the forms and brainstorm. Consider the issues you have inside the house / outside the house / going out e.g. cinema / on public transport, and work out how extra money could help you to overcome these problems, then fit it to the form. Do answer their questions but don’t be afraid of repetition across different sections. There is bound to be some overlap between questions, so just give them all the information you’ve got at every stage. Help the adjudicator justify making an award!
If you use any equipment to help in your daily life (whether that is a walking stick or a magnifying glass), or you have developed a workaround to a particular task, remember to dismiss this for the application. Step back from your situation and look at it from the outside. If you are doing anything differently from an ordinary person in order to manage, you need to put this on the form, and to state what you could actually achieve without assistance. Also, if you have been offered equipment which is not appropriate do explain why alternatives are not suitable.
You are also able to submit extra supporting information, and I would strongly recommend you do so. In my case, I submitted a diary (7 days in my life, it had things like “I would like to do X but I have to rest because I spent all my energy earlier so I am unable to manage …” “I need to pee but have to crawl upstairs on all fours because …” “I am in pain and so I can’t stand for long enough to make lunch for myself, instead I have to eat a piece of fruit” etc.)
I also included letters from a variety of people: my flatmate (who had to take the bins out and do stuff for me around the house), my partner (who had general experience of my needs) and my mother (who described a day trip and all the planning that went into it to ensure I didn’t have far to walk between rest points). Any of this kind of personal information can only help to bring your situation alive in the adjudicator’s eyes – do send it!
It’s all about ticking the right boxes.
Many DLA guides say “write about your worst day” but I believe you should only write about an average day (while mentioning “but on my worst days I cannot…”) otherwise you may be found out, especially if what you say is not backed up by your GP. And there we hit upon another issue – many GPs do not realise exactly how life is for us.
Face it, how often do you tell your GP about the day to day pain and issues you experience? After all, you are unlikely to ring up and report “I’m in pain again today!” However if you are considering claiming DLA, I recommend that you write to your GP with a list of all the tasks you find difficult and need help to achieve. Then book an appointment with your GP to get these things formally on record. That way, you can name your GP as a referee on the DLA form confident in the knowledge that they realise how much pain you are in, how limited your walking may be, how you cannot lift objects heavier than a few kilos, how terrified you are in areas you do not know, or how you need someone with you to remind you of the task for which you set out. Be sure your GP understands your issues in explicit terms and will then be armed to support your application for DLA. Tell them that you are applying and ask for their support.
Above all, don’t let the process get you down! I know how dispiriting it can be to have to consider what you cannot do, but it is necessary in order to get a DLA award. If you find the process depressing, seek help from a partner, friend or family who can offer support. But please, don’t give in! The process may be unfairly arduous, but may ultimately mean you are provided with an extra few thousand pounds per year. DLA can also open other doors – depending on the award, you may automatically qualify for a blue badge, travel pass, or be able to take an assistant with you for free when visiting an exhibition or the cinema.
DLA will be paid to you whether or not you actually use it for the assistance you specify on the form. Nobody will be checking up – once you are entitled to it, the money is yours, to spend as you see fit. Personally I find it enabling – spending mine on a weekly cleaner, and minicabs to my nearest accessible station, both things that I could not justify out of my own pocket but which have made my life easier, and more equal to others.
Whatever your financial situation, Disability Living Allowance is money which can help. It is there to compensate you for additional expenses caused by your impairment, and you should not feel guilty when you receive it – just relieved that your needs have been recognised and a small step towards equality has been made.