DLA is Disability Living Allowance. This is money paid to disabled people to help cover the additional living costs they face due to disability. It has a Mobility component and a Care component. These are paid at fixed rates (high or low rate Mobility, and high, middle, or low rate Care).
AA is Attendance Allowance. This is sort of like DLA for people over 65, but it is not split into care and mobility - there's just a single high or low rate.
Neither benefit is means-tested for the simple reason that being disabled is expensive regardless of what other income you have. If you work your backside off and earn £20k, you deserve to be able to live the life of someone earning £20k - not to be struggling along in the lifestyle of someone on £12k because you have to shell out a small fortune for absolutely essential, non-negotiable disability expenses. You shouldn't be rendered ineligible for help with these essential expenses because you've had the gall to do things like get a mortgage to buy a house, or put a bit of money in an ISA for a rainy day, rather than spending all your money as it comes in.
Neither benefit is counted as income for means-tested benefit assessments, because the money is given because of additional disability-related expenses, the sort of things where the individual can't choose to save a bit of money by going without.
No one is immune from disability or old age. These issues might not affect you today, but chances are they will affect you at some point, particularly if you plan to live past 65.
All up to speed? Then I'll continue.
The reason DLA and AA are given as money and don't require receipts and suchlike to prove how the money was spent, is because of the huge diversity of disabilities and living conditions it covers, and because the expenses don't always work out that neatly.
Let's explore an example: grocery shopping. I have to pay more for my grocery shopping than an able-bodied person.
First of all, I have to pay for home delivery. I rarely have the spoons to manage to get all the way around a busy, bright, noisy, complicated supermarket, even with a mobility scooter - much less to then be able to get myself and my shopping home, and then immediately put it all away as well. To someone with a condition that makes moving about painful, who has difficulty lifting and carrying, who becomes tired very quickly, or who is easily confused, that's a triathlon.
Second, I have to pay to be able to access home delivery. That means an internet connection and a usable computer, repairs and replacements as necessary. Of course I use the internet and the computer for all sorts of things, essential and otherwise. How on earth would we calculate how much of it is a disability-related expense?
Third, I cannot save money on shopping around. Home delivery usually has a minimum spend. Every week, leaflets of special offers from the main supermarkets come through my door, but I don't have an option to get £10 of food from ASDA and £10 from Tesco and £15 from Sainsburys. I have to pick one shop. I cannot pick the cheapest shops, such as Aldi or Lidl, because they do not deliver.
Fourth, shopping online I cannot take advantage of the "benefits buffet", the items that have been reduced in price in-store because they're almost out of date, or because the packaging's been a bit squashed. It used to be a core money-saver - on my walk home from work, I'd wander into the supermarket and pick up something half-price for that night's dinner...
I had typed as far as my ninth point before I realised I'd gone a bit off course and deleted most of it. Hopefully I've demonstrated my point: disability-related expenses crop up in unusual ways and aren't always possible to calculate - which is why getting DLA or AA in the form of extra money to be spent at the claimants' discretion is utterly invaluable.
The Shaping the Future of Care Green Paper published by the DWP and the Department of Health on 14th July sets out government plans to get rid of attendance allowance and, depending on public reaction, also leaves the way clear to end the care component of DLA.
This will Not Be A Good Thing.
Worse, they intend to give the funding and responsibility to Social Services instead. The examples of Social Services that are unable to find their backsides with both hands and a map are myriad, but even if we were to grant them the impossible benefit of the doubt and assume that they ran it fairly and smoothly... this change can only mean less autonomy and more paperwork for elderly and disabled people who are not always in a position to be able to deal with it, as they attempt to document and justify every disability-related expense that the local authority will permit (and struggle with the ones they won't acknowledge).
Please, join the campaign at Benefits and Work.