James Thellusson warns that applying for Attendance Allowance is a marathon, not a sprint.
If my brother or I ever complained about feeling unwell or whined that lady luck had dealt us a bad hand, my mother would tell us to stop whinging. Firmly and quickly. She prescribed the same medicine to those outside the family, too.
One evening over dinner, I remember her turning to a friend of hers, who was waxing on about a health problem, and saying: ‘Don’t give me your problems and I won’t give you mine.’ It was a knock-out punch, which stopped the conversation dead in its tracks. I was eleven at the time. I’m not sure if the friend ever came around. again.
She hated self-pity and admired people who get on with solving their own problems quietly and without begging for help or hand-outs from others. Still does. Which is why she has never applied for any state grants, loans or allowances apart from the State Pension. She doesn’t like the idea of them, and she doesn’t feel she deserves them, either.
What’s attendance allowance?
‘What’s attendance allowance?’ she asked.
This was lesson number one: do your research. Lots of old people and their families aren’t aware of the range of help which is potentially available. It took me a couple of days on the internet and a couple of calls to helpful organisations like Age UK to get a picture of the options available to her and us. (My Mother, 96, moved in with us about 15 months ago).
At first, I didn’t note down what I was researching. Big mistake. There are too many schemes, eligibility rules and other details for anyone to keep it all in mind. Open a folder in your email to keep track of emails, create a folder on your PC with notes and web links to relevant web pages about the grant or service you might apply for. I also sent emails to people I had spoken to confirming my understanding of the rules to ensure I had understood things right and to keep a track on any process.
My second lesson learnt was: get organised. My mother’s paperwork (and much of my own personal details) were scattered over several different files and lever arch files. Put everything in one place and then scan or photocopy it.
If you don’t have the right information, for example, NI number or forms like birth certificates you won’t get anything. I learnt this the hard way. My Mother’s application to get on the housing register was held up for a month because her first name on her birth certificate was different to the first name on the application form.
It didn’t matter to the council that she had been paying council tax or that she was on their electoral register in the same names in the same order as on the application form. They would only accept her birth or marriage certificate. Unfortunately, she had lost her marriage certificate and so we had to buy a copy of her lost marriage certificate to qualify. Money and time were lost in the process.
‘If I apply for that, I’m taking the money away from someone who needs it more than I do,’ she said when I first mentioned applying for attendance allowance, last month.
Why should the government pay me more?
‘I have my pension and I can still care for myself. Why should the government pay me more?’
Lesson number three: some people feel guilty about claiming Government or council funding. In my mother’s case, I think this was a combination of factors: pride, snobbery the size of a small slice of lemon in a G&T and a sense the Government shouldn’t need to do this.
I tried to explain how society has a social contract with the old and infirm and that she was just claiming her fair share under that contract. This abstract conversation didn’t get us anywhere fast. A discussion about the practical challenges of her life: bathing, cooking, cleaning and remembering to take her pills was more fruitful. Stretched over several slow chats, convinced her that she should apply for attendance allowance. She’d paid for it, after all, over her years of working.
Applying for Attendance Allowance
Having got to the point Mother was happy to apply and I had the right paperwork to complete an application, I cleared my diary and sat down in front of the set. Taking a deep breath, I opened the online application form and started filling in the questions. I felt a like a Lancelot or a knight of the roundtable setting off on a quest. I was doing the right thing and I would return with the Holy Grail – an attendance allowance.
I learnt two things from this. One, there’s nothing romantic about this process. I wasn’t Lancelot on a quest. I needed to think like a bookkeeper not a knight. Two, applications are an examination: do a mock. Print the form off and do your answers off-line. Get someone to check it, not just your mother. Read the answers out loud. Then go back online to do the form.James Thellusson
Questions it’s not easy to discuss…
Unfortunately, by the fifth or sixth page, I was stuck. Some of the questions I hadn’t anticipated. Question 14 proved the first hurdle. It’s about illness and disabilities. But I simply hadn’t collected enough detail the medicines she was taking and when she started taking them. There were also questions which are not easy to discuss with your mother, for example, ones about personal hygiene. Rather than plough on, I saved the form, printed it out and resolved to go talk to my Mother about her needs in the toilet and bathroom.
My Mother’s attendance allowance form was sent off two weeks ago. I imagine that in the current situation, we can’t expect a prompt answer, so I hope I have filled the form in accurately. Doing it again is not something I would look forward to.
But I would say this to anyone thinking of applying for this allowance or any other. The system looks complex and bewildering. But you can manage it if you are willing to take the time to do the preparation work and if you are open to talking to the numerous charities that are there to help. I have to say I also found all the council staff I spoke to very kind and helpful. Get Going!
- Know what options exist. Spend time researching the options that are out there online and by phone.
- Get organised. Paperwork is the path to perfection. Keep records. Record calls; file emails. Be a book-keeper, not a romantic.
- You deserve it. Tell your relative to put aside pride. Help is there because you deserve it.
- God is in the detail. Be precise, honest and accurate in your answers.
- Rehearse the application. Don’t just storm in. Treat this as an examination and do a “mock” first!
Find out more about the eligibility rules for claiming Attendance Allowance here.
You may also want to listen to our podcast with Jason Butler on Benefits Made Simple.