A smiling carer chats with an elderly lady

Accessing state benefits for elderly and vulnerable people

Access to state benefits can be particularly difficult for elderly or vulnerable people. My colleague Michelle Manley works in our Court of Protection team and works closely with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) on behalf of our clients.  Here she looks at some of the issues that can arise when someone has a change to their benefits or needs to make a new benefit claim.

When a deputy has been appointed to take responsibility for someone who has lost the capacity to manage their own affairs, it is normal practice for the client’s benefit payments to be re-directed to a designated deputy account. The procedure involves submitting the relevant application forms and a copy of the order appointing the deputy to the DWP or the Pension service.

Although guidance is available for anyone completing the forms, the process is often hindered by delays and procedural complications. The DWP usually acknowledges the documents by sending a standard leaflet indicating that they will reply within 21 days, but we frequently wait far longer.

Frustratingly, the different departments at the DWP have several addresses for correspondence and many of the fax numbers supplied don’t work. Consequently a request may not arrive at the appropriate office for it to be dealt with expeditiously and when documents go astray, the only solution is to send them again.

One of the practical solutions that we have found to work well is to call the DWP or Pension Service seven to ten days after the Deputy Order has been sent to them. All post is scanned when it is received which allows the relevant team to check the Deputy Order on their system before updating the Deputy or advising on progress over the telephone. The DWP and Pension Service deal with telephone enquiries before written requests and this can shorten the waiting time significantly.

The telephone number for the DWP is 08457 123456 and the Pension Service is 0845 606 0265.

Benefit payments may be the only income for elderly and vulnerable people and are vital when other payments are on hold pending the formal appointment of a deputy.  Making sure that our clients have sufficient funds for living is our priority task when we are appointed but the time taken for the DWP to process an application makes it very difficult to achieve this effectively.

As more professional deputies need to be appointed for elderly and vulnerable people, a more efficient way of dealing with these procedures is required. One recommendation would be for the DWP and the Pension Service to create a specific team to handle all Court of Protection related matters.