Ways to get financial help in the UK with benefits when illness impacts your income

This post deviates a little from my usual themes but I feel that this is something that is missing in our community. When I first found myself unable to work the financial burden was actually harder than the medical burden.

I had just become a single parent as well as being laid off for being sick and my whole world was turned upside down. I searched for helpful sites online but turned up blank every time. There are loads of articles for the USA but very few for the UK. I had to learn the hard way and through many, many hours of research how to get help and make ends meet somehow. Afterall, I had a little girl to look after as well. I wish I had had someone to help me through those early months but truthfully I had to resort to missing meals and defaulting on bills and my mortgage while receiving handouts form my parents. It was a very lonely time and I felt utterly useless.

This is a huge subject so I’m going to break it down into more bite size chunks. The first thing to look at should be the benefits system here in the UK. Our national insurance contributions pay into this and as it states, it’s an insurance. You should never feel ashamed to reach out for help, after all we have paid into the system to have insurance when we need help getting back on our feet.

 Financial help in the UK with benefits when illness or disability impacts your income

Benefits in the UK

Firstly, if you are unable to work full time or at all, make sure that you are applying for all the benefits that you might be entitled to. Go to the Government website to see what you might be able to apply for. Here are the main ones.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

ESA can be claimed if you are unable to work due to illness. If you have paid your national insurance during the last 2 years then you can apply for contribution based ESA for 12 months. If however, you haven’t paid enough national insurance you will then have to apply for means-tested ESA where limits are put on the amount of income you can have per year and limits on savings. These limits change periodically as the Government sees fit and they will also vary depending on if you are a single person or a couple.

It sounds complicated, I know, but you can do the application over the phone if you need extra advice. You can also use your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) as I did 8 years ago. They were full of advice for things that I didn’t even know existed.

If you apply for ESA you will be expected to attend a medical hearing and fill forms with medical evidence. Take your time filling these forms as it is worth getting it right. Again, CAB can help with this. I haven’t applied for ESA myself but I understand that the medical assessment is similar to that of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) medical assessment, which I have been through. Be aware that there is a LOT of scaremongering out there and yes, there are some awful mistakes made, BUT, my experience went smoothly and was NOT a problem. The assessor was really pleasant and considerate of my feelings. Most people I know in person who have been through the medical assessment have had an experience similar to mine.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP), replacing DLA

PIP is not a means tested benefit, meaning that you can apply for it even if you are still working full time. This benefit is meant to help with the additional costs associated with living with a chronic illness. Obviously things like, prescription costs and medical appointments. Also, the more hidden costs such as, travel costs where mobility might be an issue, specialist foods (like gluten free that my daughter and I both need and are very expensive compared to their counterparts), disability adaptions for your house, and so on. There are too many to list here.

The forms are available online but my tip (as with all benefits) is to phone DWP asking for the forms to be sent to you by post. This way, if you are awarded the benefit it will be backdated to when you first asked for the forms. These applications can be a lengthy process so apply soon. Also, be prepared for a long wait on hold for an adviser to become available. Make sure your phone is charged or near a charger, and have a cup of tea ready. I typically wait about 30 minutes at quieter times to get through. It is worth it though. Consider this your ‘job’ if you like. Remember as well that even though you might be frustrated or worried, the person on the end of the phone is only doing their job. It doesn’t get you anywhere by being funny with them. In my experience, most have been really helpful.

Another tip, make a note of who you spoke to at what time and date and a brief list of what was discussed. If there are any problems then you have all the details to take to a supervisor, who you can ask to speak with.

As with ESA, a medical assessment will be required before PIP award and level are decided. It is a good idea to take someone with you to these assessments to have extra input and to be another pair of eyes. There are lots of posts out there about how to get your award but I don’t like these. They make you unnecessarily nervous and they can never be pitched towards your circumstances as we are all different. There is not a one size fits all. If there was then these assessments wouldn’t be needed. Simply, tell the truth in your application form along with medical evidence, if you have any. Photocopy your application and read it though again the night before your assessment just to refresh your memory or to add anything that might have changed in the meantime. Then go with someone in plenty of time and simply let the assessor take the lead.

If your applications are unsuccessful and you think it is wrong then go back to the website (or better still phone DWP) and ask for instructions on reconsideration and/or appeal as is appropriate. I don’t have any experience with these processes myself as I have never been turned down (and have the enhanced rate for both care and mobility). That tells you that not everyone is turned down at first as it often said.

Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit

I’ve put CTB and HB together as they are applied for on the same form. The form you will need will be specific to your council and the rules can vary slightly so go to your council website and you should be able to find it there. CTB can (in most cases) cover all of your bill if you are the sole adult in the household, however certain special needs can also qualify for a reduction in some councils so it’s worth taking a look.

HB only applies if you are renting your property. I’ve never applied for this benefit as I have a mortgage, but it’s worth applying for if you are a tenant. Again, it will vary depending on your council and it’s always worth phoning up for advice. It might even be back dated in the the same way that DWP backdates to the initial phone call.

Mortgage help

So, what if you have a mortgage? There might still be help available through either Income Support (being replaced slowly by Universal Credit) or ESA. After my ex left me (years ago) I was stuck with a mortgage I couldn’t pay and I was a disabled, single parent. As my daughter was under 5 years at the time I initially got help through IS. If you don’t have children or the youngest is 5 or older, the same process occurs but through ESA. Again, phone DWP. This is the best way to get the forms you need (and backdated) and they will even help you fill them in over the phone. If you do the forms over the phone (as I did) make sure to have checked what documents you need on their website and have them to hand for the adviser to input your details. Things go much easier then.

When I applied, 8 years ago a fixed percentage of my mortgage interest was paid directly to my mortgage provider. Note, only part of the mortgage interest is paid, NOT any capital so make sure you speak to your mortgage provider as well. I went on an interest only mortgage for a couple of years while my divorce was being sorted out. My bank was super helpful as well and never once threatened my home because they knew what was going on. Since I’ve been on mortgage help the rules have changed a few times. It is no longer a fixed percentage of your interest and is now assessed ( I believe) on a case by case basis. Whatever the level of help though, any help is better than none at all so it’s worth doing.

Working Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits

I’ve deliberately left these until towards the end as I have made a pleasant discovery here. As some of my regular readers will know, I am registered as self-employed as I sell on Etsy and eBay (and hence not on ESA). I didn’t realise for years that while I have been self-employed (mainly to stay legal as I don’t earn much at all) I could have applied for WTC and CTC as my husband doesn’t earn much either. I had wrongly assumed (never assume!) that because my hubs was working we couldn’t get tax credits.

I phoned up and asked for the forms one day on a whim just to ‘try my luck’ as it was. My father always taught me that if I didn’t ask they couldn’t say yes! A great life lesson. So armed with our P60s and my tax returns I filled out the very short form. We qualified for CTC for one child.

Now here’s the surprising part that I didn’t know about. As I’m on PIP and work an average of more than 16 hours per week I qualify for the disability element of tax credits. Moreover, as I have the enhanced rate care component of PIP I also get the enhanced disability element of tax credits. The amount of tax credits that are paid to us (as we have to apply as a couple) are then proportional to our combined income. In our case we get over £4000 over the year! I can’t believe it took me so long to apply as I’m usually so on the ball with this. What it does mean is that it’s worth me staying self-employed and to persevere with the business until it is profitable enough that I no longer need help or until I realise (I’m stubborn) that I’m really too sick to be doing any employment. Either way, it affords me a safety net to try.

Child Benefit

If you have children make sure that you are claiming any child benefit that you are entitled to. The rules here are changing at the moment and only 3 children (unless already qualified) are considered. Multiple births are also considered. Importantly, if you’ve had to stop working and you were previously over the income level where you could qualify for child benefit, make sure to let DWP know of the changes in your circumstances. Children, are afterall, very expensive!

Winter Fuel Allowance

If you are on certain benefits you can also apply for Winter Fuel Allowance. It is automatic for pensioners but not for those of us on PIP (which seems really mean to me). We have to do the leg work and put in the claim.

There are two ways to do this, either go to the Government website and download the forms OR apply through your energy provider. I have always gone through my energy provider as it’s easier to do and the phone wait is a lot shorter. But if your provider doesn’t have this service then you can still apply online.

Note, with this benefit the money is paid directly to your energy provider and your account with them will be credited. You do not receive the money into your bank account. But it doesn’t really matter as your energy bills will go down to reflect the account credit and you are better off that way instead.


This list is not complete and there are other benefits that might be appropriate, for example, carers allowance. I don’t have any experience with these though. So I advise you to have a look at the Government website and use their eligibility checker to see what might be appropriate for your circumstances. And don’t forget that CAB are a great, and under used resource.

I hope this post has given you somewhere to start. If you have any more advice then please feel free to pop it in the comments below. Let’s help each other out and pass on the love. 🙂

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