Benefits and money

Two important aspects of independent living for an autistic adult are managing your finances and applying for social security benefits. Both of these can be complex at times and may require some additional help and advice.

Social security benefits

The social security benefits system in the UK is not the easiest of subjects to understand which is due to constant changes in legislation. As a result of this many people fail to claim benefits which they are rightly entitled to or are put off by the lengthy form filling.

Plus it can be several weeks before you receive a decision. This is another stumbling block which prevents people from making a claim.

This results in millions of unclaimed benefits each year.

Personal finances

Being able to manage your finances it is a vital skill to have. It is something which some people find easier than others and can cause a great deal of stress and worry.

It can be a complex area which may confuse and overwhelm the autistic adult. But, there are plenty of people without a disability who also have difficulty managing their personal finances, hence the rise in personal debt, e.g. credit card debts.

When we say ’managing your finances’ we mean being able to understand the difference between income and expenditure, or in other words, what is coming in and what is going out.

Money and the autistic person

You need enough money to cover the day to day costs such as rent/mortgage, utility bills, e.g. gas, electric, water, and food. Other items include paying for broadband, phone (landline/mobile) and SKY package etc.

This means not only having enough money to pay for all of this but doing so on a regular basis. It is important to set a budget and stick to that budget. Try and save some money each month even if it is only a small amount and learn about living within your means. This is important as a fall back if an unexpected bill crops up or you are unable to work. Plus you can save over a long period of time for something beneficial such as going to university or a new item of furniture.

You will have to take out insurance if you own your own home. This covers the costs of any damage to your house as well as the contents.

Open a bank account and familiarise yourself with how that works. Get into the habit of checking your bank statements on a regular basis so that you know exactly what is in your account. Avoid going into an overdraft or any other unsecured borrowing, e.g. loan.

If you use a credit card then make sure you have sufficient funds to pay this and do so in full. When out shopping it is easy to be tempted to use your card but try and decide between what is essential and what is ’nice to have’.

Saving money is useful if you want to go away on holiday. Start by saving a certain amount each week or month as this will soon add up. This will enable you to have enough money to cover the cost of your travel, accommodation and spending money.

Do not be pressurised into paying for something or handing over money, for example, a phone call from a salesperson, a homeless person on the street or even a regular donation to a charity. Ask for help and advice before doing so.

Do this with any issues you may have about money.

Benefits and the autistic person

The benefits system is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), a national government department which is responsible for most social security benefits.

This organisation is comprised of small sub-divisions which include:

  • Jobcentre Plus: administers Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support and Employment & Support Allowance. There are Jobcentre Plus offices all around the UK and these help people to find work.
  • The Pension Service: this is responsible for the State Retirement Pension and Pension Credit.
  • Disability and Carers Service: this department is responsible for Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance. These are two benefits which are paid to anyone with a chronic (long term) illness. Another benefit is Carer’s Allowance which is paid to someone who looks after a disabled person.

Other organisations which often work in conjunction with DWP are Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Local Authorities.

HMRC was formerly known as The Inland Revenue and local authorities are more commonly referred to as councils. HMRC is responsible for tax credits and child benefit as well as collecting taxes. Local authorities are responsible for Housing Benefit and Council Tax amongst other things.

The main thing to know with benefits is that they are divided into two categories:

    • Means tested benefits
    • Non-means tested benefits

Means tested benefits

The term ’means testing’refers to benefits in which your personal circumstances are taken into account when making a claim. This means that the department will look at your individual needs, your age and whether you have a family or are on your own.

They will decide how much you need to live on and will take into account any savings or income you have.

Examples of means tested benefits include Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance (income based) and Housing Benefit.

Non-means tested benefits

These include benefits which are paid irrespective of your level of savings and/or income or how much National Insurance contributions you have paid.

But there are a few benefits which are purely based upon National Insurance contributions. You are only applicable for these if you have paid enough national insurance contributions throughout your working life. These are known as ’contributory benefits’. National Insurance contributions are usually deducted by your employer before you receive your salary.

Examples of non-means tested benefits include Disability Living Allowance, Carer’s Allowance and Statutory Sick Pay. Disability Living Allowance is one of the most commonly paid benefits to people with an autistic spectrum disorder.

Examples of contributory benefits include Jobseeker’s Allowance (contributory based), Incapacity Benefit and the State Retirement Pension.

More information about these and other benefits can be found on the DWP website. Another useful source is the Direct Gov site.

Details of both of these are available on our links page.

If you are thinking of applying for a social security benefit then it may be helpful to have someone with you who understands the system and the many complexities it often throws up.

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