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When you enter the criminal justice system, or after you receive a conviction, your financial situation can rapidly change. This is also true for family members. It’s important therefore that you understand what state benefits you are eligible to claim, and how to apply for these benefits. 

You might wish to make an appointment to speak to Citizens Advice Scotland to help you to understand what benefits you might be able to claim. Or, if you are able to fill out your details online, you might prefer to use a benefits calculator.

Benefits calculators

Before using a calculator, you will need to make sure you have certain information to hand as you will be asked to enter this into the calculator.

What information do I need to have ready before I start using the benefits calculator?

Source: Delivering for Scotland Benefits entitlement Scotland – UK Gov Benefits, credits, income support (deliveringforscotland.gov.uk)

  • savings
  • income, including your partner’s (from payslips, for example)
  • existing benefits and pensions (including anyone living with you)
  • outgoings (such as rent, mortgage, childcare payments)
  • council tax bill

Who can use the calculators?

You can’t use the calculators if you’re under 18, and they won’t give accurate results if you’re:

Using a benefits calculator

A benefits calculator is a free-to-use and anonymous online tool. These tools can help you to find out:

  • what benefits you could get
  • how to claim these benefits
  • how your benefits will be affected if you start work

Please see below for the different calculators. You just need to choose one. 

  • Policy in Practice – for information on income-related benefits, tax credits, contribution-based benefits, Council Tax Reduction, Carer’s Allowance, Universal Credit, how these are calculated and how your benefits will be affected if you start work or change your working hours
  • Turn2us – for information on income-related benefits, tax credits, Council Tax Reduction, Carer’s Allowance, Universal Credit and how your benefits will be affected if you start work or change your working hours
  • entitledto – for information on income-related benefits, tax credits, contribution-based benefits, Council Tax Reduction, Carer’s Allowance, Universal Credit and how your benefits will be affected if you start work
A table with examples of appropriate language use


You have the right to appeal decisions made about your benefits.

If you want to challenge a Social Security Scotland benefit decision, it is called asking for a re-determination

If you want to challenge a decision made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), it is called asking for a mandatory reconsideration.

The steps are different for each organisation so it is important to following the advice on the links above closely. Citizens Advice Scotland should be able to support you through the process.

A table showing the notification periods for the various sentence types. Prison sentence of 30 months or more (including life), Indefinite. Order for lifelong restriction, Indefinite. Admission to a hospital subject to a restriction order, Indefinite. Prison sentence of more than 6 months but less than 30 months, 10 years. Prison sentence of 6 months or less, 7 years. Admission to a hospital without a restriction order, 7 years. Community payback order with an offender supervision requirement, The length of the offender supervision requirement. Any other sentence (e.g. a fine or admonition), 5 years.

The Scottish Welfare Fund

Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) is a discretionary scheme administered by local authorities.

The fund is split into Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants. Any grant awarded is based on an assessment of your circumstances.

It is important to remember that the Scottish Welfare Fund is a budget-limited scheme and grants will only be fulfilled if there is enough money left in the allocated budget.  The decision to award, and how much is awarded, will be determined by the Council and is based on the eligibility & qualifying criteria set by the Scottish Government.

Source: Glasgow City Council

The Scottish Welfare Fund is made up of 2 different grants.

To apply for a grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund you must be:

  • 16 or older
  • on a a low income or getting certain benefits

You can only apply through your local council. You cannot apply through the Scottish Government.

There are different grants you can apply for depending on your circumstances. You do not need to pay these grants back. 

You can apply for a:

  • Crisis Grant – to help with an unexpected emergency like a fire or flood, losing your money or your job
  • Community Care Grant – to help you or someone you care for to start to live, or to carry on living, a settled life in the community

For more information, please visit the Scottish Government Welfare Fund web pages.

Claim for help with prison visits

If you visit a family member, partner or someone who does not get other visitors, you might be able to get help paying for:

  • Travel to the prison
  • Overnight accommodation
  • Meals

You can apply to get help paying for visits that you:

  • Have made in the last 28 days
  • Want to make in the next 28 days

You must be getting certain benefits or have a health certificate to get help.

If you take a child with you or someone to help you (for example, because you’re disabled) you might also be able to get help paying for their visit.

Source: Get help with the cost of prison visits - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Other benefits

Heating and housing

Heating and housing - mygov.scot

Council Tax reduction

The Council Tax Reduction (CTR) scheme is unique to Scotland and helps people on low incomes save an average of £750 a year on their council tax bill. 

Apply for Council Tax Reduction - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Water and waste charge reduction

Those eligible for council tax reduction can also save up to 35% on their water and waste charges.

Source: gov.scot

Paying for water and sewerage in Scotland - Citizens Advice

Disability and illness

Disability and illness - mygov.scot

Help with health costs

Help with health costs: quick guide - July 2022 - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods

Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods are payments that help towards the costs of being pregnant or looking after a child. They’re part of the 5 family payments you may be able to get from Social Security Scotland, along with Scottish Child Payment.

Best Start Grant is made up of 3 one-off payments:

  • Pregnancy and Baby Payment
  • Early Learning Payment
  • School Age Payment

Best Start Foods is a prepaid card that can be used in shops or online to buy healthy foods like milk or fruit.

To claim a Best Start Grant you can apply online or download an application form at mygov.scot or phone Social Security Scotland on 0800 182 2222 (8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday). If you’re a British Sign Language user, you can use the contactSCOTLAND app to contact Social Security Scotland by video relay.

Food Banks

Food banks are community projects, led by charities or volunteers. Food is donated, and you can access food for no cost. In some circumstances there are eligibility criteria that you must meet but many provide food with no eligibility checks. Citizens Advice Scotland are able to advise and to signpost you to your local food bank.

Food banks are run by:

  • Charities
  • Churches - they'll still help you even if you’re not religious or have a different religion
  • Other community groups

To get help from a food bank you may need to be referred with a voucher that you can exchange for food. The food bank will tell you where you can get a voucher in your area. 

Food banks and other crisis help - Citizens Advice Scotland

Food pantries

Pantries are located in local communities and they offer, for a small membership fee, heavily discounted food.

Many of the pantries mentioned on the website below also provide guidance and support on topics related to food insecurity, such as bills, benefits, unemployment, and mental health, among others.

Locations | The Scottish Pantry Network

Help with school clothing costs

Help with school clothing costs - mygov.scot

Free school meals for children

School meals - mygov.scot

Last updated:
February 24, 2024
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