Caring for children is one of the most fulfilling experiences an adult can have, and, of course, it wouldn’t be so rewarding if it wasn’t for the hurdles, the massive challenges that parents and carers encounter along the way. Let’s face it, being a carer is tough. Add to that the responsibilities associated with providing a happy, safe, stimulating and supportive family environment for a child or children challenged with physical disabilities, or SEND, behavioural or development difficulties. There’s no less love, no less joy, but in many cases there’s a lot more complexity to navigate, including challenges with communication, comprehension, vision, hearing and/or physical functioning.

A recent report highlighted that, on average, families with disabled children face extra costs of £581 a month, and for a quarter of families this rises to over £1,000. In many cases welfare benefits geared specifically to helping with the extra demands and special care needs of children are available, however these benefits are massively underclaimed. One such benefit is Disabled Living Allowance (DLA) for Children. Unlike DLA for adults which is being phased out and replaced by Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and Attendance Allowance for adults over pensionable age, the DLA benefit for children currently remains intact.

So why are families not getting access to DLA?

Choice

Sometimes not applying for DLA is just a decision that families make. That might be because of a reluctance to be seen ‘to be paid’ to look after their child or children – understandable, but the benefit is there to support with the extra costs of looking after a child under 16 who has difficulties walking, or who needs much more looking after than a child of the same age who does not have a disability, so that extra income can really help.

Families can understandably feel quite daunted with the prospect of the 38 page application for DLA for children for which existing guidance is complicated and limited, resulting in a decision not to apply. Those who do apply and fail, often because they haven’t had the support they need to express their circumstances in line with the DWP guidelines, will understandably then give up. However, an appeals process does exist and applicants should be encouraged to try again, with the right support, so we need to make sure they know where to turn for help.

Confusion

First and foremost, does the family actually know that DLA is available to help them? Many unfortunately don’t. Our mission at Society Matters is to put that right, by building the knowledge of the support systems of the potential of DLA – and other welfare benefits – and to help raise awareness of how to successfully apply for the benefit, to reduce this problem.

We also know that some families assume that they won’t be entitled to the benefit as they think their current income, savings or capital would preclude them from doing so. In fact DLA for Children is not a means-tested benefit so these factors aren’t taken into account, providing a level playing field for all families when applying for the benefit.

Some parents and carers also believe that the benefit won’t apply to them as their child doesn’t have a physical disability, but in fact DLA also supports children with learning or SEND, behavioural or development difficulties. The key factor for meeting the DWP criteria for DLA for children is an ability to demonstrate that the child needs substantially more care, attention or supervision than other children of the same age who don’t have a disability or health condition.

Families also sometimes believe they need to wait until they have a final diagnosis to make an application, particularly with younger children who will struggle to express their needs and frustrations and how they are feeling. Although a diagnosis will help with evidencing the condition, some conditions can take extended periods to diagnose fully, so a claim can still be made in advance of this.

Change

Often in the case of younger children awards can be at a lower level for the care and mobility elements that make up DLA, as more investigation is needed on their conditions by the professionals that are involved in the child’s development. When further evidence is available, supporting a claim that the child may be entitled to a higher rate, there can be a reticence from families to pursue an increased level of benefit in case this results in loss of the initial award altogether. Again this is understandable, but with the right support available to the family this risk is significantly lowered.

So why does the system need to support families to access DLA for children?

As well as the obvious financial benefits that come with benefit awards to meet the extra support needs of children, a successful DLA for children application can actually open doors to other benefits and vital support for families such as blue badges, carers allowance, a Motability car and exemption from the benefit cap.  This needs to be understood by families before they make a choice not to make a claim.

The hard fact in a report published by Public Health England 2012 is that children and young people with a disability are more likely to live in poverty than those without a disability.  Disabled children have, for a long time, had poor experiences using the welfare system. Difficulty in accessing benefits and delays in payments have often left disabled children financially insecure. So help is critical. A successful DLA for children application can make a huge difference for the family and the child, making sure their needs are met not just at this time but as they progress into adulthood.

You can make your mark

If you’re a professional that may be in a position to support families to understand their potential entitlement for DLA, and would love to be able to make your mark by helping them to make a successful application, we can help. Society Matters cic has designed a half day training workshop, ‘Get to Grips with DLA for children’. Find out more about the course here