Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

18 mins read

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is the main benefit for children under 16 with a condition or disability. Families we speak to describe getting this benefit as ‘life-changing’.

In this article

What is DLA?

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is the main benefit for children under 16 with a condition or disability. DLA helps to meet the extra costs that you might have as a result of your child’s disability.

Families we speak to describe getting this benefit as ‘life-changing’.

During 2021 new claims for DLA in Scotland are being replaced with a new benefit called the Disabled Child Payment. See our webpage on Welfare benefits in Scotland for more information.

Once your child turns 16 they will normally be asked to claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP) instead of DLA. Different rules apply in Scotland where young people can continue receiving DLA until they turn 18.  

Can my child get DLA?

Any child who has a disability or illness might qualify for Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and you don’t need to wait for a formal diagnosis to make a claim. It is sufficient that they have some form of disability.

However, you will need to show that your child needs substantially more care or supervision than other children of the same age who don’t have a disability or health condition. Any decision to award DLA will be based on how your child’s condition impacts on their day to day life.

DLA can be claimed from the age of three months, or from birth if your child has a terminal illness.

It can be paid regardless of whether you are working or not. It isn’t means-tested, so it does not matter what income or savings you have.

Your child will also have to meet certain rules linked to their immigration status and the length of time they have lived in the UK. If your child is aged three years or above and hasn’t been in the UK for at least 26 weeks out of the last year, call our free helpline for more advice.

Read more about claiming DLA for babies

Three months is usually the earliest you can get the DLA care component (unless your child has a terminal condition).

All very young children need a lot of care and attention, so the younger your child, the harder it can be to show they need more help than other babies of the same age. But you can still get DLA if you show that your baby needs a different type of care than other babies, or if that care has to be provided more frequently, or over a longer period.

For example, all babies need help feeding but if your baby takes longer to feed, has feeding problems or needs feeding by a tube or drip then they are likely to qualify for the care component.

Other common situations where a baby is likely to qualify include:

  • Babies with severe visual or hearing impairments.
  • Those who have seizures.
  • Those with renal failure.
  • Babies with severe multiple disabilities.
  • Babies who are born very prematurely.

Babies who need suctioning, oxygen treatment, or who have had a surgical procedure, such as a tracheotomy or colostomy, are also likely to qualify.

This list is not exhaustive, and other babies may qualify. Because of the difficulties getting DLA for babies, get specialist help to fill in the form.

How much DLA will I receive?

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is made up of two components. Depending on their circumstances your child may qualify for one, or for both. The care component can be paid from age three months (or from birth if terminally ill). The mobility component can be paid from the age of three years.

Care component

If your child needs a lot of extra watching over or help with personal care, they should qualify for the care component of DLA. This is paid at one of three different rates depending on how much extra care your child needs.

The care component is paid at one of the following weekly rates (from April 2021):

  • Lowest rate care – £23.70.
  • Middle rate care – £60.00.
  • Highest rate care – £89.60.

Whether you get the care component and the rate you get will depend on the amount of extra care or supervision that your child needs and whether this happens during the day or at night.

Read more about the DLA care component

The lowest rate care component

This is paid if your child needs help with personal care for a ‘significant portion of the day’. This is usually taken to mean for at least an hour on most days – for example, help with washing and getting dressed in the morning. This help may be given all at once or be spread out through the day.

Sometimes less than an hour’s care will be sufficient to meet this test – for example if the help is spread over a number of short periods or is particularly intensive in nature.

The middle rate care component

This is paid if your child has either ‘day-time needs’ or ‘night-time needs’. Day-time needs means they need either:

  • ‘Frequent’ help with personal care, in connection with their bodily functions. This means several times throughout the day, or
  • Continual supervision throughout the day to avoid substantial danger to themselves or others. Continual supervision means frequent or regular supervision, rather than non-stop supervision.

Night-time needs means that during the night your child requires either:

  • ‘Prolonged’ help with their personal care. This means for at least 20 minutes, or
  • ‘Repeated’ help with personal care during the night. This means at least twice, or
  • To avoid danger to themselves, or others, another person needs to be awake and watching over them for either a ‘prolonged’ period or at ‘frequent intervals’ (this means more than twice).

The highest rate care component

Paid if your child has day-time and night-time care needs, or if they qualify under the ‘special rules’ (see page 13).

To qualify for the DLA care component, your child’s care needs must ultimately stem from a disability. And they must need substantially more help than a child of the same age without a disability.

Mobility component

The mobility component is paid to children who need help in getting around. It is paid at one of two rates depending on the nature of the mobility problems.

The lower mobility component can be paid from the age of five. It is for children who need extra guidance or supervision out of doors. The higher rate of the mobility component can be paid from the age of three. It is for those with severe walking difficulties or those who are deaf blind or severely visually impaired.

There are also specific rules that allow some children with severe learning difficulties or autistic spectrum disorders to qualify for the higher rate of the mobility component. You can find out more in our free parent guide Disability Living Allowance – claiming the higher rate mobility component for children with learning disabilities and Autistic Spectrum Disorders [PDF].

The mobility component weekly rates from April 2021 are:

  • Lower rate mobility – £23.70.
  • Higher rate mobility – £62.55.

Words used in the DLA rules

To assess what rate of DLA should be paid, some of the words in the rules have a specific meaning:

Bodily functions

Includes anything to do with how the body works, like breathing, eating, drinking, hearing, seeing, walking, sitting, dressing, undressing, washing, bathing, toileting and sleeping. If the help can be done in another room, away from the child, it is unlikely to count unless it is closely connected to something personal, for example changing bedding after a child has wet the bed.


Someone present to prevent any accidents or harm to your child or others.

Substantial danger

There must be a realistic possibility that without supervision your child could seriously risk harming themselves or others. This situation may arise infrequently or be a one-off.


Starts from when the whole household goes to bed and ends when everyone gets up. Normally it is assumed to start around 11pm and end around 7am.

How do I claim DLA?

There is a specific form that is used for claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for a child, called DLA1A Child.

It’s preferable to phone the DLA helpline and ask for this form, rather than downloading it yourself. This is because the form they send you will be date-stamped with the date you made your call and this will help ensure the benefit is paid from the earliest possible point. Order a claim form from the DLA Unit by calling 0800 121 4600, or for Northern Ireland call 0800 587 0912.

If a child has a terminal illness a claim can be made under ‘special rules’. Call our helpline for more details.

DLA can’t be backdated. The earliest it can be paid is the date the form was requested or issued from the DLA Unit, after which you are given six weeks (90 days during the coronavirus pandemic) to complete and return the form. If your child qualifies, DLA will be paid from the date it was stamped.

If you don’t call, the earliest DLA can be paid is from the date the benefits office receives your form. As it may take time to complete the form and get any medical evidence you may need, it’s always better to call and ask for a form to be sent to you.

Completing the DLA form

We have put together some tips and advice on completing the DLA1A Child form.

We recommend that you keep a diary for a week before tackling the form. This will be useful for providing evidence of your child’s extra needs It will also help you think about all the extra things you have to do for your child and how long this takes.

If possible get specialist advice from a welfare benefits adviser or someone else who is familiar with completing the form. Our national freephone helpline can put you in touch with local help to complete the form. You can search for local benefits advisers by using the Turn2Us find an adviser tool.

A decision on your child’s claim will be made by someone who has never seen your child and who may have little or no knowledge about your child’s condition. It is important that you make clear all the extra care and support that your child needs – don’t assume that the decision maker will already have this understanding.

Decision makers aren’t medically qualified and will rely on medical information you supply with the claim, plus their own guidance on disability in children. If more evidence is needed, they may write to your GP or hospital consultant. However, there is no guarantee they will do this so it can be a good idea to try and gather some supportive evidence yourself and send it to them.

Getting a DLA decision

Once you’ve sent your completed form to the office dealing with your Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claim, you should get an acknowledgement within two weeks. You should normally get a decision within three months.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), or Social Security Agency (SSA) in Northern Ireland, will send you a decision letter telling you their decision.

How long will my child be awarded DLA for?

DLA awards are sometimes made for an indefinite period, but a child’s award is usually made for a fixed period, for example three years.

Towards the end of that time the DWP/SSA will normally write inviting you to reapply for DLA and sending you a new claim form to complete. If you haven’t automatically been sent a renewal pack and you have less than 20 weeks left before your existing award runs out, contact them to request a renewal pack be sent out. 

A renewal claim is treated as a new claim, so it’s important to provide as much information as you did when you first claimed. If you disagree with your child’s renewal award, you can challenge the decision in the same way as challenging an original decision.

It’s very important that you return the renewal forms before the current award finishes, or you could lose out on benefit payments in between.

If your child’s current DLA award is coming to en end within the next 20 weeks and the DWP have not written to you about this, call the DLA Helpline urgently for clarification of when they will be asked to make a renewal claim. 

What if I’m not happy with a DLA decision?

If your child is refused DLA or awarded it at a lower rate than you expected, you may wish to challenge that decision.

Firstly you can ask for a decision to be looked at again. This is known as a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ request, and you can do it by phone or in writing. You must normally ask for this within one month of the date of the decision you are challenging, although late requests will sometimes be accepted.

If you are still not happy with the outcome of the mandatory reconsideration, you can request an appeal. You must do this in writing using an appeal form (a different form is used in Northern Ireland). You must normally do this within one month of the date on your mandatory reconsideration decision, although late appeals will sometimes be accepted.

Find out more about mandatory reconsiderations and appeals.

DLA and other benefits and financial help

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is not taxable and it’s not treated as income for other benefits.

Instead, getting DLA can lead to an increase in other benefits you receive or help you qualify for entitlements for the first time. Even if you get DLA for your child already, you may find that getting an increased rate will lead to something else.

And getting DLA can mean you’re eligible for other forms of financial support, for example help with heating and transport costs.

Read more about DLA and other benefits

Carer’s Allowance

If your child gets the middle or the highest rate of the DLA care component, you might start to be treated as a carer under the benefits system. This means you may be able to claim Carer’s Allowance as your child’s carer. Or, if you are getting Universal Credit, you can become exempt from having to take any steps to look for any work as condition of your claim.

Carer’s Allowance can be backdated in line with the DLA award, as long as you apply within three months of getting the DLA decision. If you apply later, Carer’s Allowance can only be backdated for three months.

Extra tax credits or Universal Credit payments

If you’re a family on Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit, you’ll start to get extra payments for a child who’s awarded DLA (or whose existing DLA award is increased to the higher rate care component). Your payments will increase by anything from £29 to £90 a week, depending on the rate of DLA your child gets.

Make sure you tell the Tax Credits Office or Universal Credit office within one month of getting the DLA decision. You should get extra tax credits payments backdated in line with the DLA award.

Income Support

For families still getting payments for their children in their Income Support, getting DLA will lead to extra money being added to your Income Support, known as a disabled child premium (and an enhanced disability premium if your child is awarded the highest rate of the care component). You will need to let the office dealing with the Income Support claim know about the DLA award.

If your child gets Income Support in their own right, then an award of DLA can lead to an increase in their benefit. This is because they will qualify for the disability premium (and the enhanced disability premium if they’re awarded the highest rate of the care component).

Help with rent and council tax

If you get Housing Benefit or support with council tax, then getting DLA for your child may lead to extra benefit if you are not already getting your rent and council tax met in full.

If your disabled child cannot share a bedroom and because of this your Housing Benefit is reduced under the bedroom tax or local housing allowance rules, getting DLA care component at the middle or highest rate for them may help you get more Housing Benefit. Call our freephone helpline for further advice.

Both Housing Benefit and support with council tax are means-tested, and any award will depend on your income and circumstances.

There are other ways of getting help with council tax that don’t depend on income or savings but do depend on there being a disabled occupant within your household.

Exemption from the ‘benefit cap’

If you have a dependent child (that is, a child aged under 16, or aged 16-19 if they are still treated as part of your family for benefit claims) who is in receipt of DLA, you will be exempt from the ‘benefit cap’, which restricts the total amount of benefit payments that an out of work family can receive.

The Blue Badge parking scheme

If your child’s awarded the higher rate of the DLA mobility component, they’ll automatically be eligible for the Blue Badge disabled parking scheme. You can also get road tax exemption for a car that is substantially used to meet your disabled child’s needs.
Help with road tax

If your child is awarded the highest rate of DLA mobility component, you may be exempt from paying Vehicle Excise Duty. Claimants are usually told about this when they are notified about the award of higher rate DLA mobility component. If you haven’t received any information and you think you qualify, contact the Disability Living Allowance helpline on 0800 121 4600.

Help with getting a car

If you’re interested in getting a car and your child is awarded the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA, then you can lease a car through the Motability Scheme.

To access this scheme your child’s award of the higher rate mobility component must have at least 12 months left to run.

If you’re unable to drive and need help with paying for lessons or require help in getting a deposit for a car through the scheme then you may qualify for a grant.

Help with bus travel

All local authorities operate schemes for disabled people of any age to apply for a bus pass or voucher for free bus travel. In some areas, an essential, named carer accompanying the disabled person is also entitled to free travel. The scheme operates differently from one local authority to another, so get in touch with your local council to check out what’s available in your area.

Free early education for two-year-olds in England

If you live in England and have a two-year-old who is awarded DLA, this should mean that they qualify for 15 hours a week free early years education and childcare. See www.gov.uk/help-with-childcare-costs/free-childcare-2-year-olds-benefits for more details.

Help with heating bills

Low income families who have a child on DLA can apply for a Warm Home Discount. This is a rebate of £140 on your winter fuel bill.

Getting an existing award changed

If your child already gets Disability Living Allowance (DLA) but their circumstances have changed and they now need more help, it may be possible to get their award increased.

You can contact the DLA office to ask them to look at your child’s award again. This is known as a ‘supersession request’. Any decision (including a tribunal decision) can be superseded by a decision maker.

You can ask for a supersession at any time.

If you are not happy with the outcome of a supersession you have the right to ask for a reconsideration and an appeal against that new decision in the usual way.

If your child is aged 16 or above, reporting a change of circumstances that may affect their DLA award will lead to them coming off DLA and being assessed under the Personal Independence Payment rules instead.

Warning! If you have an existing award of DLA and you ask for it to be looked at again, there is a risk your award could go down rather than up. Because of this, it is always best to get help from a Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), or local welfare rights service. Our helpline can put you in touch with your local service: 0808 808 3555.

DLA and stays away from home

Payment of the care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is affected by stays in residential accommodation. Payments are usually suspended if your child spends 28 ‘linked’ days in a residential care home, residential school or residential college. The mobility component continues to be paid. You can find out more information about these rules in our factsheet on Benefits if your child is in residential accommodation.

DLA also used to be affected by stays in hospital, but the DLA hospital rules have now been scrapped for children aged under 18. So long as your child was under 18 when they entered hospital, they can claim and be paid DLA as normal despite the fact that they are an in-patient.

Read more information about DLA and children in hospital

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