Five steps to getting benefits sorted
Follow our five steps to make sure you know what benefits you are entitled to - it could make all the difference when you really need it.
Gather all your paperwork
You'll need details of income, savings and housing costs for yourself, your partner and any dependants living with you.
Make sure these are up to date and take copies so you can leave them if necessary. Don't hold anything back because this could invalidate you claim at a later date if the information comes to light.
Run a benefits check
A website such as turn2us.org.uk can quickly assess your benefit entitlement. Alternatively, if you prefer to speak to someone, call its confidential helpline on 0808 802 2000. Citizens Advice can also help through its local bureau or its website.
Older people can access advice on housing and care from FirstStop on its website, or by calling 0800 377 7070.
The department of work and pensions also has an online questionnaire to help you figure out the benefits you could be entitled to.
Look for grants
The services mentioned above will also be able to put you in touch with charities or grant providers that have been set up to help people in specific situations.
More than 3,500 organisations offer welfare and educational grants that can help with everything from days out for the kids to support if you're diagnosed with particular illnesses.
Often the hardest part is finding these organisations, so it is great to get help in doing so.
Check backdating opportunities
"You can often backdate claims if you have proof of eligibility," says Diane Buckby, senior counsellor at CCCS. This can differ depending on the type of benefit. For example, income support and jobseekers allowance can be backdated one month for administrative reasons or three months if you have had difficulty applying because of ill health or a disability.
Tax credits often have different rules so be sure to ask when you apply or speak to an independent adviser.
The sooner you get your application in, the sooner you'll receive what's rightfully yours. Emma Aldridge, projects manager at Turn2us, adds: "It's worth repeating this process on an annual basis too, just like an MOT. Circumstances and benefit rules change and you could become eligible for more benefits."
It is vital to inform the relevant parties if you have a change of circumstances. This allows them to keep on top of your situation and adjust your benefits accordingly.