Author and journalist Rosie Staal explains how to crack the closely guarded secret of the Attendance Allowance – a financial benefit available to all who qualify for it regardless of finances.
More red tape?
When I was told my mother might qualify for a benefit called Attendance Allowance my immediate reaction was to be sceptical. “Are you sure?” I asked, suspecting it would be something tightly bound in red tape and subject to a means test. I was wrong. Attendance Allowance, considered a closely guarded secret by many who, like me, stumble across it by chance, is a benefit available to all who qualify, whatever their financial status.
With Mum’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 88 had come an entry into a world of the unknown, in which the main concern was how on earth we were going to cope – now and in the future. Eighteen months down the line, during which my sister and I had patched together a kind of system between us to meet Mum’s care needs, this possibility of Attendance Allowance was mentioned in passing at a memory clinic.
I decided to find out more. I spoke to a wonderful woman I’d got to know at our local Age UK office and, sure enough, Mum’s needs certainly seemed to tick all the boxes. Coincidentally, at around the same time, I was chatting with a friend whose father, partially paralysed by a stroke, was in receipt of the Attendance Allowance. She told me that, as his carer, she was very glad of the addition to his bank account.
“Dad isn’t cheap to run,” she said. “His shoes wear out so quickly where he drags his feet, and I have to buy him particular food that he can tolerate. The allowance has definitely eased the financial aspect a little.”
What is Attendance Allowance?
Attendance Allowance is paid at two rates and is intended to help with personal care of anyone aged 65 or over who is physically or mentally disabled.
The lower weekly rate of £55.65 is for someone who needs frequent help or constant supervision during the day, or supervision at night; the higher rate of £83.10 is for someone who needs help or supervision both day and night or who is terminally ill.
How to apply for Attendance Allowance?
I downloaded the application form – the AA1A from the Government website www.gov.uk/attendance-allowance – and devoted what seemed like the next week of my life to filling it in, pausing frequently for rounds of applause down the telephone from my sister, who had delegated the task to me.
It was a feat of endurance: there are more questions on more pages than you could possibly imagine, and each one is directed at the person requiring the care. This makes it slightly confusing so it’s necessary to remain completely focused and ensure your answers are given as though they are from the person for whom you are applying.
For example: ‘Do you have difficulty with, and/or do you need help with washing, bathing, showering or looking after your appearance?’
Left to her own devices on that question, Mum would answer with an emphatic ‘Certainly not!’ We know differently, and can be confident that without help Mum would habitually sport bedhead hair and an array of ill-matched clothing – if any clothing at all.
The form-filler, who must provide proof of bona fides, has to explain how much and how often help is needed for those and other tasks. There is also a need for a large amount of information about medical history, what medication is being taken and in what amounts, when a GP, consultant or other healthcare professional was last seen, and their contact details.
To save too much frustration and stop-start on the form-filling, it is a good plan to have all the necessary information to hand. Even so, it is not a task that can be sped through.
Should all else fail, and the form is threatening to get the better of you, there is a very helpful downloadable set of guidelines from the gov.uk website, a hotline to help from the Disability and Carers Service on 0300 123 3356, and an Attendance Allowance helpline on 0345 605 6055 that is open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.
A bit of breathing space thanks to Attendance Allowance
When we received confirmation a few weeks after submitting the form that Mum qualified for Attendance Allowance it was quite a moment. This must be used to make a difference, my sister and I decided. Indeed it did. It provided the catalyst for seeking paid help, giving Mum the extra attention her condition demanded and giving my sister and me a breathing space.
We could never have imagined how that chance remark in the memory clinic would bring about such a change for the better, but since then we have both been spreading the word about Attendance Allowance.
It’s there to be applied for – and to make a difference.
We have more information about Attendance Allowance on our site here. You might also be interested in more information about funding care options here. You might also like to join our forum and ask a question about funding here.