It is estimated that more than 500,000 individuals and families in Scotland are not claiming the benefits they are entitled to, either due to the stigma that has been created around using the social security system, or simply a lack of awareness about what they could be entitled to.
A change in life circumstances and events such as having children, bereavement or becoming a carer for a family member can mean individuals are entitled to benefits.
“As part of my job I’ve spoken to literally thousands of disabled people,” says Bill Scott, director of policy at Inclusion Scotland.
“I’m constantly amazed at just how many aren’t receiving all the benefits they could be.
“As a result, billions of pounds of social security goes unclaimed every year.”
There are still some negative associations with social security, which Scott sees in his job every day.
“A lot of stigma has been created around claiming benefits, which can make people feel that they are perceived as looking for a handout,” he explains.
“But the social security system was set up to provide us with help to get through difficult periods in our lives.
“This support is an entitlement, not a handout, and everyone should claim what they are due.”
Fiona and Jonathan Fisher receive a range of support, including a Carer’s Allowance and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Jonathan has been affected by Lowe syndrome since birth, causing physical, learning and sensory disabilities.
“It helps pay for extra costs because of his disabilities, such as heating, hot water and laundry, sensory and special play equipment,” says Fiona.
“When he got his Motability car that was a great boost to have a reliable car for getting him about, plus we needed help with purchasing a wheelchair and other postural equipment.”
Finding out what support you are entitled to can be a challenge and it was the Fishers’ health visitor who first alerted them to DLA and Carer’s Allowance when Jonathan was just three months old.
“We learned from other parent carers about being able to apply for mobility allowance, but the Department of Work and Pensions also included information about it when we renewed Jonathan’s DLA claim at age five,” adds Fiona.
“Applying can be daunting and stressful if you don’t feel confident but there are welfare advisers to help you complete a form or help you to appeal if the decision doesn’t go your way.
“If you think you qualify – check the rules or ask someone if you qualify – the money is yours by right and can help your income improve.
“Claiming benefits can also be about getting your National Insurance stamp paid, or being able to claim a State Pension in the future.
“Sometimes getting one benefit opens up a gate to entitlement to another benefit such as being able to apply for a blue parking badge, or funding to do an ILA course, discounted tickets or membership fees, a council bus pass.
“Benefits are not a handout and not charity; they’re set aside for the reasons you apply, whether it’s illness, disability, unemployment or housing.”
For more information visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scotland/benefits/ or call the Citizens Advice free Benefits Helpline on 0800 086 7145.