Flash Says…

How to claim Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

Posted on: 2010-05-21

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.


10 Responses to "How to claim Disability Living Allowance (DLA)"

That was excellent advice. I got my award years ago but I always suspect they will come along and take it away, especially if I don’t look disabled enough when parking in a disabled bay.

At the time I was assessed my son, a psychatric nurse then, had a lot of exprience of escorting patients for assessement. His advice was: be aware that there is often, deliberately, a longish walk from reception to the doctor’s room and he will listen to you for signs of limping; he might compliment you on your hair and you will automatically put your hand up to your head; he will ask you to sit down, stand up, get on the bed, get up again and kneel.

All this happened just as expected, as well as a lengthy questionnaire. When we got to the kneeling bit I refused on the grounds that he didn’t look strong enough to lift me back up again. I then told him I was tired and had just enough energy to get home – I was fed up and quite rude. To my amazement he passed me as unfit enough to get DLA.

I found it an ordeal, even with my son’s insights, but from what I read and hear it is much worse now. And I am still waiting for the letter cancelling it.

Oh good heavens, that sounds horrid. Yes, I had heard about the long walk from reception (which they will have carefully measured, to see if you can in fact walk 50 metres) and they may have dropped a £1 coin on the floor (and someone will notice if you try to pick it up).
Hi Ann, thank you for your comment.

I’m so sorry you had such an ordeal. I am very worried by the government’s plans to change the way it is assessed (don’t know the detail but I’m guessing a compulsory medical, maybe by the muppets ATOS who currently assess entitlement to ESA). It is estimated that up to perhaps 1% of claimants are fraudulent, but in this case why does the government think that changing the way DLA is assessed will mean that there will be 20% fewer claimants? They will end up turning away people in genuine need, and I am very worried about this.

(Have you seen Where’s the Benefit? I’m one of the team: http://wheresthebenefit.blogspot.com/ )

I’m a final year student social worker and would just like to thank you for this advice, it’ll be really useful when I work with people who are applying for DLA. I’ve had lectures on how to fill in DLA forms at uni but, unsurprisingly, your suggestions from lived experience trump that hands down! Thanks again.

My pleasure to help, Lizzie! I hope that you will get enough time to go through forms thoroughly as I know it is a difficult process (so much needing to be entered, so much which is repeated, and so depressing to admit what you CAN’T manage) but if it is done thoroughly it will make a difference. Do encourage your clients to gather other information e.g. doctor’s letters which describe their situation, or a diary of a week in their life, I think these things help a great deal in giving the full picture, much more than you can fit in the boxes!

I think the most important thing is to pre-empt assumptions from the decision makers. So if someone has continence issues, the decision maker might assume they can just use pads or have a commode, it’s important for you to say “AND I couldn’t use a commode because the cats would knock it over / I have visitors and it would be embarrassing” or “AND I can’t use pads because I need someone to help me change them” or whatever the fact is.

For mobility they might assume you could use a wheelchair, when perhaps you are not physically able to push one or your house is too narrow to use one.

That’s just a for instance, but I think anticipating these assumptions and answering them in the form is a very important aspect to it, so do help your clients anticipate these things and answer “why not” before they’ve even been asked!

I hope your training goes well, good luck!

excellent blog,well done,invaluable comments,helping me fill out my wifes form as i write. thanks steve

my name is w i have had a bad back for 16 years i was fitted with a spinal brace when i was yonger and have allways suffered with a bad back. i had spinal surgery 14 months ago for a herniated disc this left me with numbness down my left side. i carried on suffering with a bad back and six weeks ago i had another spinal surgery on my right side this has left me ith numbness down my right side. Getting about is painful and getting up in the morning and just putting my feet flat on the floor is very painful i feel as if im a pensioner not 38 thinking about claiming dla but not sure if im severe enough.

Hi Wendy, sorry it took me so long to approve your comment over the Festive period.

I would say that DLA is not about what diagnosis you have, but what symptoms you have and how they affect your life. For example if you need any help with tasks (care) or if for example you need to take taxis rather than walk a short distance (mobility). So I would sit down and brainstorm things that you do differently to other people because of your condition. It helps if you can get someone who knows you well to comment, too, as they may spot things that are “normal for you” which are in fact not normal at all. For example we all develop coping strategies and ways of doing things, and it may take someone else to point out that your way of doing something has been adapted because of your condition BUT if you had DLA, you could use it to pay for assistance instead.

I wouldn’t worry about if you are “severe enough” – don’t compare yourself to others, what others do and what DLA they may get is their business, not yours! Just worry about yourself. Do you need assistance with tasks, or getting around? If you do, then you should apply for DLA and see if you get it. (And if you are sure you should get it, but it is not awarded, don’t be afraid of going to tribunal – often people are successful there when they weren’t on paper.)

I hope this helps, and best wishes.

I have been suffering with Intracranial Hypertension for so long – 20 years. I applied for this benefit back then but was refused. I was alone and too ill and fatigued to pursue it any further. I have since developed other medical conditions which makes life almost impossible, both physically and mentally.

One of our Church members who visited me the other day was quite shocked that I do not receive DLA and suggested I put in a claim. However I am afraid that they might disregard my claim as I have done without for so long. My son has been caring for me – 6yrs on, he is still pursuing his degree as he has little time for his studies. I feel so terrible for putting him in this situation.

Is it worth me trying? And if so, Is it worth mentioning my son’s situation on the form and how do I justify not claiming all these years?

Please help me.

Hi Flo,

I would say it is always worth applying, and if your circumstances have changed since you last applied it is certainly worth trying. I do realise that it is quite an effort to apply (and quite depressing as you have to focus on what you cannot do) but the worst that can happen is that they say no, so you have nothing to lose.

However, DLA will begin to be replaced by PIP – Personal Independence Payment – from 8 April 2013. It is widely thought that it will be harder to get PIP than it was to get DLA, but of course it is still worth applying. PIP is being introduced in stages; I’m not all that knowledgable about it, because as the holder of an indefinite award of DLA I am unlikely to be reassessed until 2015. You can only apply for DLA until 9 June 2013 – after that date you would have to apply for PIP instead. So I suggest you apply for DLA as soon as possible.

Regarding your son’s situation, you do not have to mention it, as DLA is paid whether or not you actually have someone to care for you (paid, or unpaid). However I think it would be useful to mention in terms of giving a good impression of your situation. For example, you might say “I am unable to empty the bins, as I cannot bend or lift without significant pain. Someone has to empty the bins for me.” I would also suggest you ask your son to brainstorm all the things he has to help you with or do for you, because he might think of things that you have overlooked, and including as much information as possible would help your claim. Personally I also asked my housemate to write a testimonial which I included, in which he detailed how much he did around the house, and how frustrating it was that we have to get a bus even if we are only going one stop / a very short distance. I think all of these things help to build up a picture and make it easier for the decision makers to tick the box to give you an award. This is just my opinion, though!

The fact that you have not claimed despite needing help for several years is neither here nor there. I don’t think you have to mention, or justify, not claiming in the past. If you have a face to face assessment and are asked that question, all you have to say is that you didn’t know you might be entitled to help until someone mentioned it to you recently.

Finally, aside from DLA, have you considered asking Social Services for help? They may be able to provide someone to come in and assist you for a set number of hours per week, which would free up your son to study. In my opinion Social Services will try to do the minimum so you would need to stress how much help you need and how it cannot continue with your son caring for you, because he needs to take more time to study and this would leave you alone without help. Ask them to come out and do an assessment. They won’t provide help for things like taking you shopping but will provide help with personal care such as washing, preparing food, or getting dressed. Once they have agreed that you need X hours of assistance per week I would suggest you go for “Direct Payments” – where they pay someone for X hours but you are able to advertise and hire the appropriate person yourself, rather than relying on an agency to send someone to help you. (Of course you can accept agency staff if you like, but I prefer to hire someone myself so I know I will always get the same person coming at a time of day that suits me.)

If you get stuck on any of the above, CAB may be able to help you, or if there is a Disability Action type group in your area they could also provide advice and help applying.

That was quite a long answer! I hope it helps.


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