What is Disability Living Allowance?

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is a benefit paid for children who need additional care or supervision because they have a disability or health condition.


DLA is a non-diagnosis specific benefit. It is awarded based on mobility and care needs, not based on diagnosis. So having a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder will not automatically lead to an award. However, many children on the autism spectrum do qualify for DLA. You can make a claim for DLA before the child has the formal diagnosis.

DLA is split into two parts, or components, called Mobility and Care. Both are applied for on the same form. The care component is paid for children who need extra care or supervision due to their disability. The Mobility component is paid for children who have difficulty or need extra supervision or help when walking.

Effect on other benefits

Claiming DLA does not negatively affect your entitlement to other benefits, and can increase your entitlement to benefits such as Child Tax Credit. If DLA is awarded you should inform the Child Tax Credit office within one month so that the increase can be backdated to the date that the DLA was awarded.

Savings and family income

DLA is not means tested, so your income and savings are not considered when you make a claim.

Period of claim

DLA is usually awarded for a few years at a time. Common lengths of award are two, three or five years. Before an award expires you will be sent the forms to make a renewal claim. Entitlement to DLA ends at age 16.

How is DLA awarded?

DLA comes in two parts - the care component and the mobility component. You can claim either or both components. DLA care is awarded at three rates: a higher rate, a middle rate and a lower rate. DLA mobility is awarded at two rates - higher rate and lower rate.

Find out more about DLA for children, including DLA rates.  

Application process

To apply for DLA you will need to complete a detailed application form. You can order a form by calling the Department for Work and Pensions on 08457 123 456 or 0800 220674 in Northern Ireland. You can also download the application form, selecting the appropriate option.  

Your application will be assessed by the DWP on the basis of the information you give. It is very important to give lots of detail about the support that your child needs. Please see our tips for completing the claim form.

Eligibility for the mobility component of DLA

Low rate mobility can be paid from age of five. It is quite common for children with autism to qualify for low rate mobility. It looks at what additional support the child needs from an adult when walking outdoors. For children on the autism spectrum relevant factors may be lack or road safely, sensory issues, anxiety, getting lost, running off,  lack of understanding of stranger danger, needing someone to monitor the route ahead for potential dangers, encouragement to continue a journey or help returning home if becoming distressed.

High rate mobility can be paid from age three and is much more difficult to qualify for. There are seven possible ways to qualify for high rate mobility, two of which apply to some children due to autism. These are the 'severe mental impairment' criteria and the 'virtually unable to walk' criteria. Only some children with autism who have very disruptive and dangerous behaviour and require a very high level of care qualify.

More information about the mobility criteria.

Eligibility for the care component of DLA

The care component looks at the need for "attention" and "supervision", over the course of a 24 hour day. The lowest level is paid if a child requires attention for over an hour of the day up to the highest level which is paid for children with day and night time needs. "Attention" for the purposes of DLA means help in relation to bodily functions, tasks such as eating, drinking, sleeping, washing, dressing etc. Supervision for the purposes of DLA means supervising someone to avoid danger to themselves or others. For the attention or supervision to count it must be ‘substantially in excess’ of the attention or supervision required by other children of the same age who do not have a disability.

More information about the care component.

Changes at age 16

If you live in England, Wales or Scotland when you turn 16 you will be invited to claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP) instead of moving onto adult DLA.

If you live in Northern Ireland at age 16 you can still transfer onto Adult DLA as PIP has not yet been introduced in Northern Ireland.

For more about the abolition of adult DLA, see www.autism.org.uk/AdultDLA

For more about PIP, see www.autism.org.uk/PIP

Challenging Benefit Decisions

If you are refused DLA or are awarded the care and/or mobility component at a lower rate than you believe the child qualifies for, you can challenge the decision.

Quick link to this page: www.autism.org.uk/DLA