Claiming DLA higher rate mobility

22 mins read

Most children who get the higher rate of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) mobility component qualify on the basis that physical problems severely restrict their ability to walk.

However, there are also specific rules that allow some children with severe learning difficulties or Autistic Spectrum Disorder to qualify for higher rate mobility.

In this article

What is DLA higher rate mobility?

DLA is made up of two components. The care component is to help with the extra costs of having care needs. The mobility component is to help with the extra costs of getting around.

The mobility component is paid at one of two rates, depending on the nature of a child’s mobility problems.

The lower rate is for children who need extra guidance or supervision out of doors. A child can get the lower rate of the mobility component from the age of five.

The higher rate is for those with severe walking difficulties or who are deaf blind or severely visually impaired. As we’ll explain on this page, some children with severe behaviour problems can also claim it. A child can get it from the age of three. When we say “DLA higher rate mobility” or just “higher rate mobility”, this is what we refer to.

The weekly mobility component rates from April 2023 are:

  • Lower rate mobility – £26.90 per week, paid from the age of five.
  • Higher rate mobility – £71 per week, paid from the age of three.

In Scotland, Child Disability Payment has replaced DLA for children. The Child Disability Payment rules are very similar to the DLA rules set out on this webpage. This means that children in Scotland with Autism Spectrum Disorder or learning difficulties may be able to qualify for the higher rate mobility component of Child Disability Payment under the rules set out here.

How can a child qualify for higher rate mobility?

Some children who get the higher rate of the DLA mobility component qualify on the basis that physical problems severely restrict their ability to walk. You can find out more about the rules for children with physical problems in walking or severe visual impairments in our parent guide to claiming DLA for children.

This webpage looks at the specific rules that allow some children with severe learning difficulties or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to qualify for higher rate mobility. Even if your child has no physical problems with walking, they might still qualify if their behaviour is very difficult to deal with.

There are two ways that a child with a learning disability or ASD may qualify for higher rate mobility. This is if they are classed as either:

Don’t let the terminology of these descriptions put you off. Some of the words in the rules, such as “severe mental impairment”, have a specific meaning. We explain these throughout this webpage.

Watch our DLA higher rate mobility webinar

In-depth advice on how to qualify under the “severe mental impairment” or “virtually unable to walk” rules.

Our benefits experts Derek and Marian provide detailed advice on claiming DLA higher rate mobility for children with learning disabilities or autism.

Severe mental impairment: eligibility rules

Some children qualify for DLA higher rate mobility because they can be classed as having a “severe mental impairment” and exhibit behavioural problems.

To qualify under this rule, it is important to show that your child needs a lot of watching over. This includes whether they are indoors, in the car, walking outdoors or playing in the garden. Their ability to walk is not important under these rules – it is all about their behaviour.

Your child must meet all of the five tests listed below. It is a good idea to mention all five of the tests in turn when applying. Explain why you think your child meets each test, and give examples where possible.

Test 2

Your child must suffer from either:

  • An incomplete physical development of the brain“. This where a person’s brain has not grown or developed properly, and this can be seen or assessed.
  • A state of “arrested development which results in severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning“.

Let’s unpack some of these terms.

Arrested development” can mean any sort of emotional or functional delay or lack of development, whether or not the brain is fully developed, as long as there is a physical cause. For example, a genetic or chromosome disorder can be a physical cause. (The Child Disability Payment rules in Scotland use a more restrictive definition of arrested development. Here, arrested development doesn’t mean any sort of functional delay. Instead, it is limited to “a state of arrested development due to a failure of the brain to develop in the way normally expected.”)

DLA case law (specifically decision CDLA/1678/1997) has accepted that because autism is a disorder of brain development, children with a diagnosis of autism or ASD will satisfy the condition of “arrested development” or “incomplete physical development of the brain”.

Global development delay might also satisfy the “arrested development” or “incomplete physical development of the brain” conditions, so long as it’s clear that it has a physical cause.

Severe impairment of intelligence” is generally an IQ of 55 or less. But this is not the only measure of impaired intelligence. If a child’s IQ is above 55, or they have not had an IQ test, the decision-maker at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) must consider other evidence.

For example, children who have autism spectrum disorders may do well in intelligence tests, but find it very difficult to use their intelligence in everyday situations, such as using the road safely. So even if a child has an IQ of more than 55, it may still be possible to show that they have a severe impairment of intelligence if you can establish that they have difficulty applying their intelligence in the real world or have no sense of danger.

Severe impairment of social functioning” means when a child has difficulty in social situations. A child’s ability and interest in playing with other children can show “impairment of social functioning”. How they might behave in other social situations can too. Many children who have autism will demonstrate this.

Test 3

Your child must “exhibit disruptive behaviour” which “is extreme“.

Types of behaviour that may count include:

  • Running into the road.
  • Making loud noises.
  • Hitting out at people.
  • Throwing or breaking things.
  • Becoming very upset.
  • Refusing to move.

The word “extreme” in the DLA rules means “out of the ordinary”. Types of potentially-dangerous behaviour may count too, such as:

  • Touching hot or sharp objects.
  • Putting harmful objects in the mouth.
  • Scratching or biting themselves repeatedly.
  • Banging their head or harming themselves in other ways.

Test 4

Your child must regularly require another person “to intervene and physically restrain the child to prevent them causing physical injury to themselves or another, or damage to property.”

Physical restraint” means physically stopping your child from doing something that would cause injury to themselves or others or damage to property.

Physical restraint does not necessarily have to involve the use of force. Ultimately, the level of restraint required to meet this test can vary depending on the individual child. For example: taking firm grip of a young child’s arm may be sufficient restraint to avoid any risk of danger. A child who is older and stronger might require a greater degree of restraint.

The need for restraint must be “regularly required“. The decision-maker must look at the need for restraint indoors as well as outdoors.

Test 5

Your child’s behaviour must be “so unpredictable that your child requires another person to be present and watching over them whenever they are awake.

To demonstrate this, you must show that someone needs to watch over your child whenever they are awake to prevent them from causing harm to themselves or to other people or any damage to objects (such as furniture, clothing, and household appliances). You have to show that your child’s actions are unpredictable.

It’ll likely be difficult to pass this test if your child only displays this behaviour in certain situations, like a crowded shop. If you can leave them alone in a room with the door shut, you may have difficulty passing this test. That is unless you can also show that you check on them frequently, or that you are anxious about what might be happening when you are unable to watch them. For example, you might use ‘sensor pads’ or other monitoring devices.

Virtually unable to walk: eligibility rules

Some children may instead qualify for higher rate mobility on the basis that they are “virtually unable to walk”.

This test looks at the child’s ability to walk outside. It considers the speed and manner of walking and the distance covered. It also looks at any “interruptions” in their ability to make progress on foot. The “interruptions” in walking must be both:

  • Frequent enough, and your child’s walking so limited as a result, that they can be considered “virtually unable to walk”.
  • Part of a physical disability or have a physical cause, rather than being under your child’s conscious control.

This doesn’t mean that the DLA Unit will look only at physical problems, like pain or breathlessness. An inability to make progress on foot that stems from behaviour issues can also count, but only if it results from a condition that has a physical origin. 

DLA case law has accepted that autism is a physical disorder of brain development. This means that some children with autistic spectrum disorders will meet this test. Some children with learning disabilities may also have “interrupted” walking because of a physical cause. This could be brain damage or a chromosome or genetic disorder, such as Down syndrome.

Although there is no set distance in law, a child may be considered “virtually unable to walk” if they cannot walk more than 50 metres.

Refusal episodes

Children with autism spectrum disorders often have “refusal episodes”. This is when a child refuses to leave the house, go where parents want them to or go any further while they are out. These refusals are not down to naughtiness or wilfulness. They occur because of the extreme rigidity of thinking associated with autism and the inability to deal with unexpected events.

These refusal episodes can be seen as a “temporary paralysis of will”. This might allow you to argue that they are “virtually unable to walk”. If you can show that these episodes are frequent, sustained and not easily overcome by coaxing, then the DLA Unit may consider your child eligible for an award of the higher rate mobility component.

Tips when applying

Below are some tips on describing your child’s walking difficulties and providing evidence as part of your claim.

How to describe your child’s walking difficulties

To help you describe your child’s walking difficulties, you could carry out a short outdoor walking test. Do this in a safe place with help from another person. For each test, you should:

  • Describe the place where you carried out the test.
  • Mark a starting point and note the time.
  • Let your child go. Don’t actively intervene to help them walk, apart from a hand on the shoulder or words to help them start in the right direction.
  • Write down a description of exactly what happens. Did they move at all? If so, how do they walk or run? What size steps? How do they lift their legs? What is the speed of walking? Do they change speed or direction? How is their balance? Do they react to distractions?
  • Note each stop or interruption to their walking. Note the time, mark the place, and measure the distance from the start point to the last stopping point.
  • Describe exactly what happens. Why do you think they have stopped? Note the time they start to move again. What made them move on? Or why do you think they moved?
  • At the end of the test, mark the place they have reached. How far in a straight line is it from where they started?

If severe discomfort limits your child’s walking ability, finish the test at that point having marked the time and distance. Describe the severe discomfort. This could be pain, breathing problems, distress and panic. Make a note of any outward and visible signs of their discomfort.

How to provide evidence of being “virtually unable to walk”

It will help to provide evidence from a medical practitioner or other sources to show that:

  • Your child’s learning disabilities have a physical cause.
  • All of their behavioural problems that interrupt outdoor walking stem from a physical cause.
  • Your child is not able to deliberately and self-consciously choose whether to walk.
  • Your child’s walking distance outdoors is very limited. It will help if a professional is able to state the distance your child can usually walk without difficulty and how often their walking is interrupted.

Tips to help you claim

If you think your child may qualify for the DLA higher rate mobility component, get expert advice from your local Citizen’s Advice, disability advice centre or welfare rights unit. They may be able to help you complete the claim form or challenge a DWP refusal decision.

We also have a range of resources to help you claim DLA higher rate mobility:

Challenging a DLA decision

The DWP may not always consider the issues we’ve discussed here when making a DLA decision. As a result, it may wrongly award some children with autism spectrum disorders or learning disabilities the lower rate instead.

If your child gets the lower rate of the mobility component, but you think they meet the tests outlined on this page, you can challenge the decision on their claim. Visit our webpage below to find out more.

Warning! When asking for an existing DLA award to be looked at again, there is always a risk that the award is reduced or lost rather than increased. Because of this risk, we recommend contacting a local advice service to discuss your child’s case in detail first. A local advice service, such as your local Citizen’s Advice, can help weigh up any risk to your existing award. They should be able to provide an opinion on how strong your argument for the higher rates of DLA is.

Revisions, appeals & complaints

If you are unhappy with the outcome of a benefit decision, you usually have the right to challenge it.

If you’re unhappy with the way a decision was handled, rather than the outcome of the decision, you might instead want to make a complaint.

Revisions, appeals & complaints

Common questions from parent carers

Our helpline team have collated the most common questions we receive from parent carers about claiming DLA higher rate mobility.

Read our answers to each question by clicking on the category menus below:

Questions about “severe mental impairment” eligibility rules

I only need to restrain my son at home because he masks quite well at school. Could he still qualify on the grounds of “severe mental impairment”?

One of the tests to qualify for higher rate mobility on the grounds of severe mental impairment is that the need for physical restraint must be “regular”.

In one case, a judge found that in order to be “regular”, a child must need restraint not only when out of doors but also at least some of the time indoors. If your child needs restraint at home as well as outside – even if not normally at school – there may still be a case to argue.

There have been disagreements in case law about the relevance of a highly-structured school environment in applying these tests. The rules are extremely complex. We would recommend contacting our helpline to discuss this in more detail with a member of our Family Finance Team.

Does the “severe mental impairment” test refer to my child’s IQ? Is there an assessment, such as an IQ test, to prove my child is severely mentally impaired?

Traditionally, a “severe impairment of intelligence” was generally an IQ of 55 or less. But as we explain above (see Test 2), while IQ is a starting point, it is not the only measure of impaired intelligence. If a child’s IQ is above 55, or if they have not had an IQ test, the decision-maker at the DWP must consider other evidence.

For instance, the DWP decision-maker must consider: does the child have the ability to make sound judgements? Do they have insight, i.e. the ability to discern the true nature of a situation? Do they have sagacity, i.e. the ability to reason and deliberate, to evaluate information before making a decision?

In one Upper Tribunal case, it was accepted that a child with no sense of danger “lacks such a fundamental aspect of basic intelligence” that his intelligence must be severely impaired. So alongside gathering evidence from your child’s school or nursery about any cognitive difficulties they have in comparison to their peers, information about issues such as lack of insight and awareness of common dangers will also be very useful.

Questions about “virtually unable to walk” eligibility rules

How can I explain that my child’s refusal episodes are outside of their control?

The DLA Unit will often try to refuse an award of higher rate mobility on the basis that a child is able to walk, but is making a conscious decision not to walk. This argument is often open to challenge.

It’s possible to argue that any refusal episodes results from your child’s behaviour problems and are intricately bound up with the symptoms of their condition. If your child is not in control of their behaviours or their response to the environment, you should be able to argue that it is not accurate to say that your child is merely choosing not to walk. These episodes may be a response to symptoms over which they have no control. This could be sensory issues, clumsiness and lack of coordination, high levels of anxiety and fearfulness, poor balance, muscle weakness, tiredness, lack of endurance, breathlessness, or embarrassment.

If you can show that your child has symptoms of this type and, as a result, has frequent episodes where their ability to walk is interrupted – and that these episodes are sustained and not easily overcome by coaxing or the promise of treats – you should have a good case to argue that these episodes are not due to your child being wilful or naughty. Rather, they are symptoms of his condition over which they have no control. You will need to explain to the DLA Unit the types of refusal episodes that you face, how frequent they are, the difficulties you face in overcoming them in trying to get your child to walk, and the symptoms that you think are causing these behaviours.

My son’s refusal to walk is more of a psychological issue than a physical one. He needs a lot of supervision and support. But he isn’t physically impaired. Could he still be “virtually unable to walk”?

Temporary interruptions in a child’s ability to walk – often referred to as refusal episodes – must be part of a physical disability or have a physical cause. They cannot be under conscious control. However, DLA case law has accepted that ASD are physical disorders of brain development and that some children with learning disabilities may have ‘interrupted’ walking because of a physical cause such as brain damage, or a chromosome or genetic disorder (such as Down syndrome).

For example, they might have frequent episodes where they will refuse to make any progress on foot, perhaps throwing themselves on the ground or going limp. Children with ASD also often have refusal episodes where they refuse to either leave the house or go where parents want them to or will refuse to go any further while they are out.

There are no hard and fast rules about how frequent these episodes must be in order to meet this test. Ultimately, a DWP decision-maker will need to look at the individual case and see if they feel that these episodes happen with enough regularity that they can fairly describe your child can as “virtually unable to walk”.

Questions about wording and evidence

I have just applied for higher rate mobility for my daughter. I asked my local shoe shop to evidence what they saw when we were in. Are ‘witness statements’ like this taken into account?

Supportive evidence doesn’t always have to come from professionals. Ultimately, anyone who knows your child well, and who has a detailed knowledge of the difficulties that you face out-of-doors – can provide written evidence in support.

The more information that you can provide about your child’s mobility needs, the better. Families will often provide supportive evidence from professionals involved with their child. It’s not normally enough for a professional to simply confirm that your child has a particular condition.

In order to be useful, any letters or reports from professionals will also need to describe the difficulties your child has in getting around out of doors. School or nursery reports can be common, alongside letters of support from health professionals such as doctors, nurses, health visitors or therapists. Some families may also have a social worker or social care staff helping them support their child.

How should my child’s school word their supporting letter for our DLA application? I have heard of applications assessors rejecting applications because they focused on particular words, such as “chooses not to walk”.

Unfortunately, there is no standard form of wording that is likely to lead to a more successful outcome. Ultimately, any information that is provided in support of a higher rate mobility award would need to be specific to that child’s individual behaviours and needs – and these can vary hugely from child to child.

In cases where a parent carer is arguing for higher rate mobility on the grounds of refusal episodes, it’s not uncommon for the DLA Unit to refuse on the basis that they believe that a child is able to walk and is making a conscious decision not to walk – i.e., that they won’t walk rather than can’t walk.

However, it’s often possible to argue that any refusal episodes result from your child’s behaviour problems and are intricately bound up with the symptoms of their condition. Where a child is not in control of their behaviours or their response to these, it’s possible to argue that it’s not accurate to descibe the child as merely choosing not to walk.

Children may often have a range of symptoms that are relevant to their ability to walk but which may make them not wish to walk. This could include sensory issues, clumsiness and lack of coordination, high levels of anxiety and fearfulness, poor balance, muscle weakness, tiredness, lack of endurance, breathlessness, and embarrassment.

If you can show that your child has symptoms of this type and as a result has frequent episodes where their ability to walk is interrupted – and that these episodes are sustained and not easily overcome by coaxing or the promise of treats – you should have a good case to argue that these episodes are not due to your child being wilful or naughty. Rather, they are symptoms of his condition over which they have no control. You will need to explain to the DLA Unit the types of refusal episodes that you face, how frequent they are, the difficulties you face in overcoming them in trying to get your child to walk, and the symptoms that you think are causing these behaviours.

You can also watch our DLA higher rate mobility webinar on YouTube for more detailed advice about how to word your child’s application.

What evidence do I need to apply for higher rate mobility?

Submitting supportive evidence is certainly helpful and may increase your chances of an award, but it is not a requirement. It is possible for a decision-makers to assess a claim without any evidence from professionals. The evidence that you give can be enough. After all, the form is designed to be a self-assessment of your child’s needs.

In order to get the higher rate of the care and mobility components, it is best to include some evidence from education or health professionals. If your child’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan is detailed enough and you agree with the content, for example, then you can send a copy of this. Your GP might also be able to provide some evidence, even a letter saying that your child is unable to engage with professionals. You can also provide evidence from someone who knows your child, such as a relative or friend of the family.

Before submitting any reports, check that you agree that they are an accurate picture of your child’s needs. If you feel that a report minimises the amount of support they require, you may choose not to submit it.

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