Disability Rights UK Factsheet

Disability living allowance (DLA)

1. What is disability living allowance?

You can claim disability living allowance (DLA) if you are disabled, are aged under 65 and need help to look after yourself or have difficulty walking or getting around. DLA is tax free and not means tested.

There are two components to disability living allowance, the care component, which has three rates of payment and the mobility component, which has two rates of payment. You can be paid one or both components depending on your needs.

You can can still get DLA if you are not actually receiving any help to look after yourself or to get around. The amount of savings you have does not affect your DLA.

2. What are the rules for disability living allowance?

To receive disability living allowance you usually must:

  • be under 65
  • pass at least one of the disability tests
  • pass the ‘backwards and forwards’ qualifying period tests
  • pass the residence and presence tests, and not be subject to immigration control

3. Under age 65

Your needs relating to care or mobility must have begun before you reach the age of 65. If you have care needs and you are age 65 or over see our Factsheet F22 – attendance allowance.

Children can receive the care component as soon as they pass the ‘backwards and forwards’ qualifying period tests. The age rules for the mobility component in the case of children are in the ‘Disability test – mobility component’ section below.

4. Disability test – care component

For the disability test for the lowest rate DLA care component you must satisfy one of the following conditions:

For the disability test for the middle rate DLA care component you must satisfy one of the following conditions:

For the disability test for the highest rate DLA care component you must satisfy either of the following:

  • have one of the day needs and one of the night needs shown in the middle rate conditions.
  • you are terminally ill.

Children must satisfy one of the above tests but, in addition, their care, supervision or watching-over needs must also be greater than those of a child of the same age who is in normal physical and mental health.

4.1 What the care component disability test rules mean

needs – This is help that is reasonably needed, not what is given, nor what is medically essential. This is help to lead as normal a life as possible. This includes help you need outside your home. For example you can be given help to do your own shopping or to take part in “reasonable” social activities.

attention – This is help of an active nature required to be given in your physical presence. This can include help given to you to wash, dress or to go to the toilet. It can also be more indirect help such as signing, reading aloud or prompting and encouragement.

bodily functions – These include hearing, eating, seeing, washing, reading, communicating, walking, drinking, sitting, sleeping, dressing or undressing, using the toilet, shaving, shampooing, help with medication and thinking.

significant – This is around an hour in total.

cooking test – This is a test of whether or not you can cook a main meal for yourself if you have the ingredients (and regardless of whether you are a good cook or not). 

frequent – Means more than twice.

throughout – This means spread over the day.

continual – Means regular checking but not non stop supervision; does not have to be constant.

supervision – This is watching over, ready to intervene.

substantial danger- The danger must be real, not just remotely possible.

prolonged – Means some little time (at least 20 minutes).

repeated – Means two or more times.

night – This is when the household has closed down for the night. It is generally the time when an adult is in bed but must be more or less within night-time hours – generally between the hours of 11pm and 7 am.

terminally ill – You are terminally ill if you are suffering from a progressive disease where death can be expected within 6 months.  Since 25 September 2006 an award made because you are terminally ill will be for a fixed period of three years. After that period it will be reviewed.

5. Disability test – mobility component

For the disability test for the lower rate DLA mobility component you must:

Children cannot receive lower rate mobility component until they reach the age of five. Also you can only get lower rate mobility component for a child if he or she needs a greater amount of guidance or supervision than a child of the same age who is in normal physical and mental health.

For the disability test for the higher rate DLA mobility component you must satisfy one of the following conditions:

Children cannot receive higher rate mobility component until they reach the age of three.

Any artificial aid used, such as limbs or walking frames are taken into account when considering your mobility except for cases where you are claiming on the grounds that you have both legs amputated or missing.

What the mobility component disability test rules mean

guidance or supervision on unfamiliar routes – You can get this if you can walk but need someone on hand to guide or supervise you. If you are blind, have learning disabilities or are mentally ill you are likely to qualify for this rate. The test is based on your ability to cope with unfamiliar routes (for example you may be able to find your way to your local shop but become confused, lost or anxious if walking in a strange place).

virtually unable to walk – This test looks at your ability to walk out of doors on a normal flat surfaced pavement or road. The following factors are taken into account :

  • distance walked
  • speed of walking
  • length of time taken
  • manner of walking

When stating how far you can walk remember that any walking done whilst you are experiencing severe discomfort does not count.

For example; you may be able to walk 100 metres but can only do the last 80 in severe discomfort. It would be reasonable in this case to say you can only walk 20 metres. Pain and breathlessness are also considered when assessing whether or not you experience severe discomfort.

severe mental impairment and disruptive behaviour – Severe mental impairment refers to someone who “has arrested or incomplete physical development of the brain resulting in severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning”. Conditions that start later in life, such as recent brain damage or the onset of Alzheimer’s disease which affect people whose brains are fully developed, do not count.

The disruptive behaviour must be extreme, require physical restraint to prevent physical injury or damage to property and also require someone to watch over you whenever you are awake.

Severe impairment of intelligence is determined in many ways. It can be through an IQ test or by assessing someone’s “useful intelligence” – the ability to function in a real life context. 

severe visual impairment – You must be certified by a consultant ophthalmologist as severely sight impaired or blind and are severely visually impaired. You are severely visually impaired if:

  • you  have visual acuity, with appropriate corrective lenses if necessary, of less than 3/60; or
  • you have visual acuity of 3/60 or more, but less than 6/60, with appropriate corrective lenses if necessary; and a complete loss of peripheral visual field; anda central visual field of no more than 10 degrees in total.

You must be certified as severely sight impaired or blind by a consultant ophthalmologist. If you have a CVI or BD8 (BP1 in Scotland) certificate of visual impairment, this may provide enough information but if not, or if you tell the DWP your eyesight has worsened, you may be referred for a sight test.

blind and deaf – To satisfy this you must have 100% disablement from loss of sight and 80% disablement from loss of hearing.

6. The ‘backwards and forwards’ qualifying period tests

You will need to have satisfied the disability tests for three months before you will be paid and must also be likely to continue to satisfy these tests for at least 6 months after the date of your first payment. This rule does not apply if you are terminally ill.

7. The residence and presence test

You must not be subject to any limitation on your right to stay in this country, such as a limitation on working or claiming benefits. There are exceptions to this rule, for example if you have refugee status or exceptional leave to remain or are a European Economic Area (EEA) national.

If you claim disability living allowance you also have to satisfy the residence and presence test. For this you must:

  • be ordinarily resident in the UK
  • be present in the UK for 26 weeks in the last 12 months (if you are claiming for a child who is under 6 months old he or she only need be present for 13 weeks).

Ordinarily resident is not defined. It is taken to mean the place where you normally live for the time being if there is a degree of continuity about your stay and it can be described as being settled.

Present means physically present in the UK.

If you are terminally ill you do not have to satisfy the presence test though you must still be ordinarily resident in the UK.

If you go abroad but intend to return you can continue to be paid disability living allowance for the first 26 weeks of your temporary absence. This time limit can be extended if you are being treated for an illness or disability that began before you left Great Britain and the Secretary of State agrees that it is consistent with the proper administration of the benefits system to pay you for a longer period.

Normally If you intend to live abroad permanently your disability living allowance will stop from the date you leave this country. However you can continue to get disability living allowance care component if you go abroad to live in an EEA country and your benefit is considered to be exportable.

If you go to live in an EEA country you can be paid DLA indefinitely if your entitlement to the benefit began before 1.6.92 and you (or a family member) were last employed or self-employed in the UK.

You can also be paid DLA care component (but not mobility component) in another EEA country for as long as the UK continues to be the state responsible for paying your benefits. For more information you can write to the

Exportability Co-ordinator
Room C216
Pension, Disability and Carers Service
Warbreck House
Warbreck Hill Road

Email: exportability.team@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

8. How much is DLA?

The weekly rates for the care component are:

lowest rate – £20.55
middle rate – £51.85
highest rate – £77.45

The weekly rates for the mobility component are:

lower rate – £20.55
higher rate – £54.05

You can only receive one rate from each component.

Note: The government intends to change the current DLA residence and presence tests to bring them into line with personal independence payment (PIP) when is introduced in April 2013. The new test will probably combine the existing test for DLA with the habitual residence test used in means tested benefits such as income support and housing benefit.

9. How do I claim?

There are two disability living allowance claim forms, DLA1 for adults and DLA1 Child when claiming for someone under 16.

You may also be asked to complete a DLA 960. This short form is intended to quickly tell you if your claim has any chance of success and help you to decide whether to make a claim or not.

You can call the Benefit Enquiry line and ask for a form. The number is 0800 88 22 00 (textphone: 0800 24 33 55). If you return the completed form within six weeks it will be backdated to the day you requested it. In the future it is proposed to reduce this backdating time from six to two weeks.

To claim Disability Living Allowance online or to download a form, please go to www.dwp.gov.uk/eservice/.

The Benefit Enquiry line in Northern Ireland is 0800 220 674 (textphone: 0800 243 787). You can also download a claim form or claim online by going to www.nidirect.gov.uk.

10. Reform and replacement of DLA

DLA for those of working age (16-64 year olds) will be replaced by a new personal independence payment from 2013. The government is also considering whether to reassess children and people aged over 65. For information on this see www.disabilityrightsuk.org/dlareform.htm and our Factsheet F60 – personal independence payment.

11. Where can I get more help or information?

This factsheet is a basic overview of disability living allowance. You can find out more detailed information in our Disability Rights Handbook. You can also find out more information on claiming in our DLA/AA – a guide to making a claim. Both of these guides are available at www.radar-shop.org.uk/.

If you have a mental health condition see our Factsheet F2 – disability living allowance for people with mental health problems.

Disability Rights UK does not produce a guide to claiming DLA for children but you can download a guide from Contact a Family at www.cafamily.org.uk/pdfs/DLA_factsheet.pdf. Alternatively you can call their helpline on 0808 808 3555 (textphone 0808 808 3556).

You can get help and information at your local advice centre, such as a Citizens Advice Bureau. You can get more information about where to get personal advice from our Factsheet F15 – Getting advice.

All our publications are available from our shop at www.radar-shop.org.uk/. You can also place an order by contacting Disability Rights UK on 020 7247 8776 (this is not an advice line) or by fax on 020 7247 8765. All our factsheets are available at www.disabilityrightsuk.org/factsheets.htm.


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