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Disability discrimination and welfare benefits

If you're disabled, public authorities like the Jobcentre or the Department for Work and Pensions mustn’t discriminate against you when they make decisions about your benefits.

Read this page to find out more about disability discrimination when you apply for benefits.

Have you experienced unlawful discrimination?

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the civil courts.

Who mustn't discriminate against you?

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Jobcentre mustn’t discriminate against you when they administer and make decisions about your benefits.

The DWP sometimes contract with other organisations to provide services on their behalf. For example, Maximus and Capita are private companies which carry out assessments on behalf of the DWP when you apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). These organisations are also covered by the Equality Act. If they treat you unfairly it can also be unlawful discrimination.

Are you protected against discrimination?

If you’re disabled you’re someone who’s protected under the Equality Act. So if you’re treated unfairly because of your disability, it could be unlawful discrimination.

What counts as unlawful disability discrimination?

Public authorities, like the DWP and Jobcentre, have a duty to make reasonable adjustments if you’re disadvantaged by something because of your disability compared to people who aren't disabled. This means they may have to change the way they do things or provide you with extra help and assistance - for example, to use a computer or do a job application. If they know about your disability and they don’t comply with their duty, it’s unlawful discrimination.

It may also be unlawful discrimination if they treat you unfairly because of something connected to your disability - for example, if you can’t read standard print or have difficulties communicating because of your disability. This is called discrimination arising from a disability.

Most of the time, if a public authority fails to make reasonable adjustments, you'll also be able to complain about discrimination because of something connected to your disability.

There are other types of unlawful disability discrimination, these are:

  • direct discrimination
  • indirect discrimination
  • harassment
  • victimisation.

Examples of unlawful discrimination

If you have difficulties communicating

The duty to make reasonable adjustments means public authorities must communicate with you in an appropriate way if you’re disabled - for example, by email, textphone or BSL. It may also include taking extra time explaining something to you. They must provide their information in an accessible format - for example, large print or Braille - if you need it.

For example, if you want to appeal a benefits decision but you’re sent forms in standard print when you need large print, this is disability discrimination and you can complain about it.

Keeping appointments

You may find it difficult to keep an appointment - for example, to sign on at a Jobcentre or for a medical assessment - because of your disability. You can ask the public authority to make reasonable adjustments so you're not disadvantaged if you can't keep your appointment. For example, they may have to change your appointment time or be more flexible about when you sign on. If they refuse it could be disability discrimination.

Example

You take medication for your mental health problems which makes it difficult for you to attend appointments in the morning at your local Jobcentre. Giving you an appointment at a time more suitable for you would be a reasonable adjustment for the Jobcentre to make. Otherwise it could be unlawful disability discrimination.

Assessing your entitlement to benefits

If you're disabled you may find it more difficult to apply for benefits or you may be disadvantaged by how your entitlement to benefits is assessed. Under the Equality Act you can ask for reasonable adjustments to be made to the assessment or application process so you're not disadvantaged.

For example, you may find the following things difficult:

  • travelling to or attending face-to-face assessments - for example, if you suffer from panic attacks or agoraphobia
  • concentrating and understanding the questions you're asked in your interview
  • filling in the application form or explaining about your disability.

If you have mental health problems and you apply for ESA, the courts have said that the duty to make reasonable adjustments may require the person carrying out the assessment to ask for more medical information about your condition before the DWP makes a decision about your claim.

Sanctions

If you receive certain benefits, like Jobseekers Allowance and you don’t comply with certain conditions - for example, attending an interview or applying for a job - you may be sanctioned and have your benefits stopped.

However, if you’re sanctioned and the reason you didn't comply is something connected to your disability, it may be unlawful disability discrimination.

Example

You're dyslexic and your Jobseekers Allowance has been stopped because you didn't apply for a job. Because of your disability you need help to apply for jobs, but this time there was nobody who could help you. The Jobcentre know about your disability.

You could complain about discrimination because of something connected to your disability. In addition, the Jobcentre should make sure you have the necessary help to apply for jobs under their duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Taking action

If you’ve been discriminated against you may be able to do the following things:

  • complain to the public authority that you've been discriminated against contrary to the Equality Act - for example, because they've failed to make reasonable adjustments
  • if necessary, make a discrimination claim under the Equality Act.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at

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