Ask CPAG Online - When can you get a short-term benefit advance?

This section looks at when you can get an STBA. It covers the basic rules set out in the law, and the detailed requirements set out in the official guidance.

The main requirements are:

  • you are in ‘financial need’; and
  • you are waiting to be paid benefit which the DWP think you will be entitled to. This can include, for example, where you have been awarded benefit but must serve out ‘waiting days’ before your entitlement can begin.; and
  • you apply for the STBA; and
  • the DWP are satisfied that you can afford to repay the STBA. The DWP call this the ‘affordability’ requirement.

What are the basic rules?

Regulations 4-6 of the Social Security (Payments on Account of Benefit) Regulations 2013 set out some basic rules. These rules say that you can get an STBA if you are in ‘financial need’, and you are in one of the following two situations:

The first situation is:

  • you have claimed a benefit for which an STBA can be paid (or you can be entitled without having to make a claim) ; and
  • your claim has not yet been decided but the DWP think it likely that you will be entitled to the benefit.

The second situation is where you have already been awarded a benefit for which an STBA can be paid; and

  • you are waiting for your first payment, or your first payment was for a short period and you are waiting for your next payment; or
  • you have had a change or circumstances which will increase your entitlement but this has not yet been done; or
  • it is ‘impracticable’ to pay you on the date on which you payment is due.

However, the law does not say that you must be paid an STBA, even if you satisfy all the basic rules. Because of this, the DWP exercise a lot of discretion (i.e. their own judgement) about whether you should be paid an STBA. In particular, official guidance contains detailed requirements about exactly when you are regarded as being in ‘financial need’, and on the ‘affordability’ requirement.

Are you in financial need?

Regulations 7 of the Social Security (Payments on Account of Benefit) Regulations 2013 says that ‘financial need’ is where because you are waiting for benefit there is a ‘serious risk of damage’ to your health or safety, or the health or safety of your partner or any children for whom you are responsible.

The official guidance (paragraphs 22-23) says that this is ‘not easily defined’ but gives some likely examples as including where you are:

  • Fleeing domestic violence
  • Without money for the gas/electricity meter
  • Without money or food.

This is not a complete list.

The guidance (paragraph 19) instructs decision makers to ‘consider whether a STBA is the only way the financial need can be met’. So, for example, if you have access to income such as final wages, tax credits, other benefits, savings or help from friends and family, you will not be awarded an STBA.

Decision-makers are also told to use discretion, and to discuss any need for more information with you. However the guidance (paragraphs 26-27) also says that it is your responsibility to provide ‘all the evidence necessary to decide a STBA request’, and that if there is insufficient or contradictory evidence about whether you are in financial need, an STBA cannot be paid.

According to the guidance (Appendix 1), the decision-maker will consider, for example, if your friends or family are working and if they can support you, whether you are due any wages, whether you can get an overdraft or if you have other benefit or tax credit income you could rely on.

So when you ask for your STBA try to be as clear as you can about why you are in financial need and why you cannot support yourself using other help.

Are the repayments affordable?

Under the official guidance (paragraph 16), you will only be awarded an STBA if it is considered that you can afford to repay it. You must normally be able to repay within a maximum of 12 weeks. The only exception to this mentioned in the guidance is where you are fleeing domestic violence, in which case you can defer repaying for a while, but must still repay within maximum of 24 weeks.

The guidance (paragraph 29 and Appendix 1) says that the rate at which you are required to repay should be no more than 25 per cent of your weekly benefit. If you are already paying back a social fund loan, a previous STBA or a universal credit advance, then you will not be awarded an STBA if repaying it would mean that the total of all your repayments exceed 25 per cent of your weekly benefit.

Have you been refused?

You can ask the DWP to reconsider a refusal to award you an STBA. Try to do this during the conversation in which the decision maker tells you about your STBA decision. You do not have the right of appeal. For more, see How do you challenge a decision about a short-term benefit advance?