Jargon buster: state benefits

5 min read


With so many types available and all with different rules, benefits can be confusing. Read our jargon buster guide to find out about the most-used benefits, who they’re for and some of the common terms you might come across.

Whether you’re young or old, working, unemployed or retired, a parent or carer, unwell or disabled, a homeowner or tenant, married or widowed, you could be eligible for benefits and tax credits that could help to improve your standard of living, health and financial wellbeing.

However, because there are so many out there – each with their own rules and conditions you need to meet – it can be tricky to work out whether or not you’re entitled to any benefits.

Read our guide to find out more about the different types of benefits available, as well as some of the common terms you might come across.

Common benefits

Find out about some of the UK’s most common benefits and who they’re for. For more information about how to apply and to see if you’re eligible, visit GOV.UK.

If you’re looking for information on benefits in relation to coronavirus, the Government has released specific guidance on the financial support available. You can also find more on managing your money during the coronavirus outbreak on our website.  

The benefit What it’s for Where to find out more and apply
Attendance Allowance A tax-free benefit for people who’ve reached State Pension age, are physically or mentally disabled and need help to be looked after. www.gov.uk/attendance-allowance

Bereavement Support Payment

A tax-free benefit paid to widows, widowers, or surviving civil partners, who are bereaved, and who are under State Pension age at the time of their partner’s death. Bereavement Support Payment has replaced the Bereavement Allowance, and is available for people who lost their spouse after 6 April 2017. www.gov.uk/bereavement-support-payment
Carer’s Allowance A taxable benefit for people that look after someone who needs to be cared for. www.gov.uk/carers-allowance
Child Benefit A partially means-tested benefit for parents. www.gov.uk/child-benefit
Council Tax Reduction Help for people on low incomes or claiming benefits to pay their Council Tax bill. www.gov.uk/apply-council-tax-reduction
Cold Weather Payment A benefit available for people who claim certain other benefits, or Support for Mortgage Interest, if the average temperature in their area is, or is forecast to be, zero degrees Celsius or below for seven consecutive days. www.gov.uk/cold-weather-payment
Disability Living Allowance A benefit for children under 16 who have difficulties walking or require additional care. www.gov.uk/disability-living-allowance-children
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) A benefit for people who have an illness or disability that affects how much they can work. There are different types of ESA, including the ‘new style’ ESA, contribution or income-based ESA. Universal Credit is replacing income-based ESA (see below). www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance
Funeral Expenses Payment Help towards the costs of arranging a funeral for people claiming certain benefits. www.gov.uk/funeral-payments
Housing Benefit Help with rent payments for people who are unemployed, on a low income or claiming benefits. Housing Benefit is being replaced by Universal Credit (see below). www.gov.uk/housing-benefit
Income Support Support for people on low incomes or no income at all. Income Support is being replaced by Universal Credit (see below). www.gov.uk/income-support
Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) The main benefit for people who are out of work or work less than 16 hours a week (on average). There are different types of JSA, including the ‘new style’ JSA, contribution or income-based JSA. Universal Credit has replaced income-based JSA for most people (see below). www.gov.uk/jobseekers-allowance
Pension Credit Provides additional retirement income for people on a low income. www.gov.uk/pension-credit
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Help with extra costs for people with long term ill-health or a disability, who have additional care needs. www.gov.uk/pip
State Pension A weekly payment made to people who’ve reached State Pension age and who’ve paid, or been credited with, adequate National Insurance contributions. www.gov.uk/browse/working/state-pension
Statutory Maternity and Paternity Pay For new mothers that have taken time off work to have a baby, paid for up to 39 weeks after birth, and for fathers, paid for up to two weeks after birth.



Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) A standard rate payable by employers from the fourth day of absence for up to 28 weeks if people are unable to work due to illness. During the coronavirus outbreak, SSP is available from the first day of absence. www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay
Support with Mortgage Interest (SMI) Help, in the form of a loan, for homeowners on certain benefits to pay interest on loans or mortgages. www.gov.uk/support-for-mortgage-interest
Tax Credits (Child and Working) Benefits that provide extra money to people responsible for children, disabled workers and other workers on lower incomes. Child and Working Tax Credits have been replaced by Universal Credit for most people (see below).



Universal Credit A benefit to help with people’s living costs if they’re on a low income, out of work or can’t work. It is replacing six existing benefits: Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-based Employment and Support Allowance and Working Tax Credit. www.gov.uk/universal-credit
Winter Fuel Payment Help for older people to pay their heating bills. www.gov.uk/winter-fuel-payment

Common terms

Council Tax is an annual fee you pay to your local council. The cost is set by your council and the amount you pay depends on what your home is worth and where you live. The fee goes towards funding local services, such as transport, education and waste collection services.

Eligibility criteria are the set of qualifying rules or conditions (for example, amount of income or age) you need to meet to apply for certain benefits or services.

HMRC (HM Revenue & Customs) is the Government department responsible for collecting taxes and administering certain types of state benefits and financial support.

Local authorities are officially responsible for all the public services and facilities in particular areas. Local councils are the most common type of local authority, and you can find yours at GOV.UK.

Means-tested benefits are awarded based on your income and the amount of capital you have (for example, cash savings, stocks and shares or property). These types of benefits are available if you can demonstrate that your income and capital are below a certain level.

National Insurance contributions are a tax on earnings paid by employees and employers. You pay them to qualify for certain benefits and the State Pension.

The National Minimum Wage is the minimum pay per hour almost all workers are entitled to. The hourly rate for the minimum wage depends on your age and whether you’re an apprentice. Workers over 25 should receive the National Living Wage, which is higher than the National Minimum Wage.

Taxable benefits are the ones you pay Income Tax on. They include:

  • Bereavement Allowance (this has been replaced by the Bereavement Support Payment for people who lost their spouse after 6 April 2017 – Bereavement Support Payment is tax-free)
  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance
  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Pensions paid by the Industrial Death Benefit scheme
  • State Pension
  • Widowed Parent’s Allowance

There are also a number of tax-free benefits, where you do not have to pay Income Tax. You can find a list of these on GOV.UK.

A number of benefits are available for people of ‘working age’. Typically, this means you have to be over 16 but under Pension Credit age to claim these benefits.

How to take action

There are several online calculators that can help identify your eligibility for income-related benefits, Tax Credits, Council Tax Reduction, Carer’s Allowance and Universal Credit. These include:

Age UK also has a benefits calculator, and can help with age-related benefits such as Winter Fuel Payment, free TV licenses and bus passes, and the Pension Credit. Their website includes useful information on how to claim each type of benefit, or you can call the Advice Line on 0800 678 1602.

If you prefer talking to someone, Citizens Advice can also help you work out what benefits you might be eligible for, and give you information about how to claim them. Visit their website or call 03444 111 444.

Get more information

Our State Benefits guide includes more information about the organisations that can provide you with advice on the benefits and grants you might be able to claim.

Read our guide about Get more information