News and information from Contact a Family - for families with disabled children and professionals that work with them.
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Welcome to the latest edition of What’s New Benefits Special - our quarterly publication that tells you more about the very latest changes to the benefits system that could affect you. Most of the issues discussed here apply across the UK but some of the changes are likely to be delayed in Northern Ireland.

Don’t forget, if you can’t find the information you need here Contact a Family have a team of expert benefit advisers, funded by the Big Lottery, to offer detailed, one-to-one advice to families with disabled children via our freephone helpline on 0808 808 3555 (open Monday to Friday from 9:30am-5pm). Call us and make your family is getting the benefits you are entitled to - more important than ever in the current economic climate.

We’ll continue to publish our free monthly e-newsletter What's New as usual, keeping you on top of important information for families with disabled children. If you have friends or family who you think might find this useful they can sign up and have What’s new and What’s new benefits special delivered straight to their inbox. 

Share your views on the Personal Independence Payment process
The government has agreed to an independent review looking into Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and they want to hear from you. This is your chance to tell the government about what you think about PIP, including: The claim process; assessment; getting a decision and reconsideration and the appeal processes. The deadline for responding to the consultation is Friday 16 September and applies to England, Wales and Scotland. You can respond via the online form or send your views by email: pip.independentreview@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

Alternatively, Contact a Family will be responding to this consultation so we want to know what you think. Please let us know your views by contacting una.summerson@cafamily.org.uk or ringing 020 7608 8742.

Worried about PIP?
Please call our helpline on 0808 808 3555 or read our PIP webpage for information and advice.

Forgot to renew your tax credit claim? 
The deadline for renewing your tax credits award was 31 July. If you missed that deadline you will need to act quickly to ensure that you don’t lose out. If you did not renew your claim in time, the Tax Credits Office will write to inform you that your payments have stopped. However your claim can be reinstated if you contact the Tax Credits Office (Tel: 0345 300 3900) to renew your claim within 30 days of receiving their letter. 

If you don't respond within the new 30 day deadline, your award will end. This means you will need to make a fresh claim for tax credits and you are likely to be asked to repay any tax credits you have received since April.

Tell the Tax Credits Office if you have a 16-19 year old who will be staying in recognised education
If your tax credit award includes payments for a 16-19 year old, make sure that you tell the Tax Credits office if they are going to be staying on in education or training after the summer. If you don’t your payments for them are likely to stop! This is because the Tax Credits Office assumes that all 16-19 years old are summer leavers. This is the case even if you live in England, despite the fact that most young people here can’t leave education until they are 18.

So long as you contact the Tax Credit Office by 31 August either by phone or online to tell them about your child’s course, your payments should not be affected. If you miss that deadline, phone the Tax Credit Office as soon as you can to make sure that payments for your 16-19 year old are re-instated as quickly as possible. 

New online tool makes Universal Credit eligibility clearer
Universal Credit is a new benefit for people of working age. It’s gradually replacing new claims for income support, income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit. The government is gradually rolling out the full Universal Credit service, otherwise known as the digital service, to various postcode areas. If you live in an area where the full (digital) Universal Credit service applies and you try to make a new claim for one of the benefits mentioned above, you will need to claim Universal Credit instead.

The problem is most parents don't know if they live in an area where they need to claim Universal Credit or not. To help, a new postcode checker has been introduced that tells you who can claim Universal Credit in your area. It also provides information about local advice services where you live. This is a free service developed by two charities LASA and LITRG. Simply enter your postcode at www.universalcreditinfo.net

Call our national freephone helpline to talk to one of our parent advisers if you are worried about Universal Credit or any benefit changes that may affect you. You can also find out about other ongoing benefit changes at our website.

Disability Living Allowance when your child is in hospital
At the end of June we told you that the government had scrapped the rules that previously stopped payment of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) when a child under 18 is in hospital. Our new factsheet Disability Living Allowance when your child is in hospital explains what the new rules mean for parents.

Contact a Family’s welfare rights service awarded another three years funding by the Big Lottery Fund.
We are delighted that the Big Lottery Fund has awarded Contact a Family funding for a further three years to ensure that our benefits advisers can continue to provide advice and information on benefits and other financial support to thousands of families with disabled children.

Updated Carer’s Allowance factsheet
Our Carer's Allowance summary factsheet [PDF] includes all the facts about who is entitled to this benefit and how you claim it. We have updated it to make clear that carers in Northern Ireland can now lodge a claim or report a change in their circumstances, using a new online service.

You can also take a look at our podcast mini-series which answers some of the most frequently asked questions about Carers Allowance we hear from callers to our helpline. If you ever wondered who qualifies for Carers Allowance, whether you’d be better off financially by claiming it or how your earnings or savings will affect your claim, then this podcast is for you.

You may also be interested in our other free guides and factsheets for parents:
All our guides are free to parents who call our freephone helpline on 0808 808 3555 or email helpline@cafamily.org.uk

The end of Learning Difficulty Assessments for young people in England
Until September 2014 when the Children and Families Act came into force, young people who needed significant additional support in further education college had a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA) in their last year of school. This assessment formed the basis of the support they received at college. The government set a date of 1 September 2016 for the phasing out of LDAs. This means any remaining LDAs will cease to have any legal effect from this September.

Young people with special educational needs (SEN) who remain in further education and need more support than a mainstream college could normally provide must now have an Education, Health and Care plan instead. There is lots of information on making a request for EHC needs assessment on our website alongside other education advice, and we suggest that families first contact our freephone helpline for further advice.
 
Received an EHC plan for your child in 2015?
Most families who received a final Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan between January and December 2015 will be contacted by the Department of Education sometime between now and September and invited to take part in an anonymous survey asking about their views and experiences of accessing an EHC plan. It’s the only government survey about EHC experiences and is a chance for families to express their views. The results (to be published in January) will help the government and local authorities learn from parents' experiences and make improvements to the system in the future. The results will show which parts of the EHC process are working well or need more support. It will also help to understand how this picture varies across the country.

If you are asked to complete the survey then please make every effort to do so. It is extremely important that the government hears the views of families like yours so that they understand what is and isn't working and continue to improve support for families. Read more about the survey and see FAQs or for more information email SEND.RESEARCH@education.gsi.gov.uk

Campaign win on early years funding in England
Last year we warned that government plans to double free childcare in England will not benefit disabled children unless long-standing systemic problems are tackled. Last week the Department for Education (DfE) announced that it is now looking for your views on changes to how the government funds free childcare and early education for three and four year olds in England. The proposals include extra funding for some disabled children - something that Contact a Family and thousands of parent carers have long been campaigning for.
 
You might also be interested to see our guide on your rights to free childcare for disabled children, with template letters on how to challenge decisions if your access to free childcare has been denied.
 
Help support our work
This free edition of What’s New takes many hours to research and write. If you have found it useful, please consider a one-off or recurring monthly donation of your choice to support Contact a Family’s work with families of disabled children in the UK. Find out more on our donation page.
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