Top tips for managing your benefits

Benefit claims can be confusing and time consuming. Here are our tips to prevent problems from cropping up, and to help sort them out quickly if they do occur.
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  • Benefits rules are very complicated and it is easy to miss help you are entitled to. Get your benefits checked by an advice agency to ensure you receive everything you can. Alternatively, you can use the online benefits checker on the Turn2us website.
  • Different benefits are dealt with by separate bodies and departments - for example, Housing and Council Tax Benefit are dealt with by your local council, Tax Credits and Child Benefit are dealt with by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and most other benefits are administered by different departments within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) - the Pensions Service, the Disability and Carers Service, and Jobcentre Plus. If you inform one department of a change in your circumstances do not assume that they will pass on this information to any other department, at least not in a helpful way. You must inform all of the offices you get benefits from. It is best to do this in writing.
  • If any of your benefits are temporarily stopped, for example if you have been sanctioned, act fast to prevent it wreaking havoc with your other benefits. If you get sanctioned for Jobseekers Allowance, the Jobcentre usually tell Housing Benefit that your benefit has stopped so they stop your claim for Housing Benefit too (even though as you have just been sanctioned they shouldn't do). Get in touch with any connected benefit departments and make sure they know your entitlement hasn't changed.
  • Read all the letters you receive from any benefit office. You just know the one you put down and forget about will be the one that leads to trouble....
  • Keep all important letters together in a file. If you receive any letters that you don't understand, phone the benefits office for an explanation.
  • If you want to give a benefits office, HMRC, or the council, any information, or want to ask them questions, it is best to do so in writing as then you can prove what you have said and what was said to you. 

  • When you phone a benefits office, HMRC, or the council, always write down the name of person you spoke to, the date, the time, and what was agreed in case the problem is not sorted out straight away.
  • Get a receipt when you hand in forms or evidence and keep it safe. If you are asked for the same information again you will be able to prove that you have already supplied it.
  • If you do receive a letter asking for information you have already supplied don't assume that the benefits office will realise their mistake and continue processing your claim. You must respond, if only to show them your receipt, otherwise they may close your claim.
  • If the council fails to process your Housing Benefit application within 14 days you can ask for a payment on account if you rent privately or from a Housing Association. If you are really struggling, or your landlord is kicking up a fuss, make use of this.
  • If you need to apply for a benefit like Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, try to get help from an adviser to fill in the form. If you can't find one, read advice online about how the benefit works and what information to include on the form to ensure they understand why you are entitled.
  • If you get turned down, use our DLA Mandatory reconsideration request letter tool or PIP Mandatory reconsideration request letter tool to ask the DWP to look at the decision again. Also see our award-winning guide to winning your PIP appeal or DLA appeal.
  • For top tips about how to try and avoid building up a tax credit overpayment, have a look at Know how to avoid a tax credit overpayment.
  • If you get a letter saying that you've been overpaid tax credits, have a look at our survival guide to dealing with tax credit overpayments. It will help you to find out more about your overpayment, explain what you can do about it, and guide you through the steps to dealing with it.
  • Don't be afraid to complain. If you have provided all the information they need and they are taking ages to process your claim or sort out the problem, consider making a complaint. This can help speed things up and ensure the correct decision is made.

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December 2017

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