Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health

The Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health 2018-20  – coming soon !!

We will be posting  further details of the Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health 2018-20  which will be available from September 2018 – with free updates downloadable from this website throught its extended shelf life to April 2020

The idea for a bit of a change was brought upon us by delays which meant our plans for the usual annual update and a 2018/19 edition have gone beyond all decency and viabiity 😦

For that we are truly sorry – for letting down our readers,  ourselves and our founding Jude.

One option would have been just to admit defeat, take a gap year and come bouncing back to be sooo… on time in April 2019 🙂 There would more contingency and  back ups than you could shake a stick at  🙂 .

However,  as UC hits the fan, now is not the time to do that.

In as far as we can make some small contribution to making a difference we feel we should. Both the huge fear generated by failings in UC and the still too frequent problems in practise, means that there is a contribution for the Big Book to make, whether or not its financially sensible to publish.

So just going away and licking our wounds did not seem an option and picking ourselves up off the floor,  we are quite positive about the new 2018-20 edition, as there some real  advantages in doing things a little differently differently:

  • we will be able to be bang up to date with some important summer changes in response to Court judgements around disability discrimination in both  UC and PIP, how DWP are responding and news of how the future “managed migration” over to UC might work
  • it will reduce the cost of keeping up to date via the Big Book as this  new edition will good – with its updates – until April 2020
  • It will give us a longer break to the next one – which will be sooo.. on time 🙂 –  to take a really good look at the current format  to see if we can keep all that’ s useful, but improve the format and make it lighter to read and carry .
  • We also need to make room for more new Scottish benefits  – not just for the sake of  readers north of that border, but also for all of us who might be interested to seing how the devolved benefits could be done differently.  The intentions – signed up to by all paries certainly seem kinder:  “a rights based social security” system which aims to treat claimants with “fairness, respect and dignity”  seems refreshingly novel :-).


Key changes in the new edition will include:

  • Big changes in the UC chapter – not so much because UC has changed much but becaise there is more lived experience of UC amongst people who are unwell and those who support them, some actual changes and a wider range of problem areas and cunning tips and solutions. UC is not as horrendous it once was, so we are keen not to add to real anxiety that the DWP’s lamentable failure to think this benefit through beforehand has created. But there are some real and ongoing problem areas, and some tips to help you survive an encounter with UC and feel more confident in knowing when UC are just making it up as they go along.
  • PIP – hasn’t changed much overall – apart from the delays in the switch from DLA to PIP – and growing numbers facing a review of their initial award . It still appears though as the DWP seem rather complacent at a failure rate for them that has now climbed to 75% . The biggest point of PIP change is the reversal of explicit mental health discrimination in PIP Mobility: the law has been clarified, DWP Guidance rewritten and next steps in athe DWP’s plan to check all claims to identify those who have lost out – no new assessment involved nor any reductions in your PIP though.  There may be more to be done to fully clear PIP Mobility  from any remaining hint of mental health discrimination though .
  • We see the first of the Scottish benefit changes in a top up and then a new Carer’s Assistance
  • UC makes a bigger presence in the Sickness Route chapter chapter, with a new section on UC health and disability issues within the UC chapter
  • Our summary of welfare reform changes is brought right up to date with the latest changes across the UK .
  • All chapters are revised for new rates, smaller changes and double checked for the fixed menu of differences and new dates as N.Ireland joins the welfare reform party and the wider development of new and different benefits in Scotland.

We are then sorry that it is later than the new edition is later than intended, but would welcome your thoughts on the different approach – of a longer shelf life with online updates.  Should we carry on like that in future or return to annual editions? Either way we will be so on time for April 2020 🙂

We will publish full coverage of the delights in the  new edition and sample pages etc as we did last time – see below . But for now we leave that information up there as it gives those new to the Big Book – a good flavour of the friendly, practical toolkit Big Book of Benefits approach.

We may be doing it a bit differently for tis new edition but the book itself will feel familiar to old friends and regular purchasers and welcoming to new friends too. 🙂


The previous edition:

Big Book Book of Benefits and Mental Health 2017/18 


405 pages                  £25.00 plus p&p

ISBN: 978-0-9954595-1-9

Now in its 17th edition, The Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health started life whilst Judy was a welfare rights adviser with Neath Mind, where she worked for 13 years.

It’s aimed both at people who are trying to find their own way through the maze that is the benefits system and at people who are helping  out along the way – a tactical handbook that has proven  a helpful resource.

Scroll down to find: More about the book and links to sample pages to see what’s inside, What’s new this year ; How to get your copy ; How to see the Book Live ; Dedication and acknowledgements and Readers feedback


More About the book: 

The Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health  began from practical handouts for a 2 day training course for a CMHT in South Wales. And we are delighted to have relaunch an updated version of the very same two day Benefits and Mental Health course, by request of a mental health support group. You can find out more about this course and other courses – with or without a mental health bias – under our Training page

Inside this year’s edition of the Big Book, you’ll find 405  pages of information, hints and tips, example forms, supporting letters etc. all aimed at enabling people to secure their full entitlement .

Initial chapters address the scandal of unclaimed benefits and the barriers people with mental health issues face when negotiating the system, while  suggesting  a “three step” approach to navigating your way through the benefits maze.

After that chapters focus in on the key benefits in detail  grouped on those “three steps” . Other chapters bring the different bits of the system that help with paying for housing or support or require steps into work into one place.

The aim is not just to demistyfy and explain in friendly, informal ways how benefits work but to also offer a practical toolkit to help with those benefit forms,  to write/get effective supporting letters and to challenge a decision if you are not happy with it. And that’s the key to our training too – you don’t just get a useful training day but your own copy of the book to take with you as friend and companion as you turn training into practise and go out and make a real difference 🙂

While the Big Book’s focus is on mental health, its friendly, practical approach has wider appeal too. For a start many benefits issues – such as means tested sums – apply to all, and that alone makes our friendly and occasionally whimsical explanations popular to all sorts of readers.

But even when it comes to the more health related tips, suggestions and practical tools – which are naturally more mental health related – readers have told us they have found these pages useful for a wide variety of conditions. The causes and practical day to day difficulties related to cancer, ME or learning difficulties may be very different, but they often share that common feature of being hard to pin down in the “Yes/No” that the DWP seem to like.

Seeing an explanation of how the test is wider than the DWP would like it to be -and how tests of reasonableness and common sense have pushed back their often too narrow, medicalised view of disability – has helped readers with a wide range of health issues, as well as those living with mental distress.

To view the full contents and some sample pages  from this year’s book, please click excerpts from the Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health 2017/18

To order  your copy at £25.00  – price held from last year – plus p&p – by telephone, e-mail, post or online – please see the details below.

New in the 2017-18 Edition:

For those familiar with the Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health in past years, this year’s edition is fully updated and revised throughout. It’s been a year of big changes, as new cuts are loaded into the pipeline, with many long ago announced ones only now beginning to land with a thump into people’s lives.

Every chapter then has been updated and revised. Some highlights include:

  • a fully updated cuts, changes and “welfare reform” overview, renamed to reflect that only a proportion of the changes amount to any sort of reform. Full update on the post 2015 new round of cuts to “balance the books on the backs of the working poor and disabled” , devolved differences playing their part and summary changes of all the changes since 2011.
  •  The Sickness route to benefits  updated to reflect the increasing relevance of Universal Credit for sickness, ‘new style ESA, UC work conditionality while awaiting your WCA and the reneging on the ESA new deal with the end of the Work Related Activity Component / UC Limited Capability for Work Element for new claims and new caselaw. All joining the practical tools to help you fill in ESA50 / UC 50 forms, write effective supporting letters and challenge adverse decisions.
  • Means tested Benefits and Tax Credits – revised and updated with Pension Credit integrated into means tested benefits to save space – PC will be covered in  much greater detail than before in the new Big Book for older people. All the magical case studies are updated and and the unjustifiable “Two Child” policy.
  • expanded coverage of Universal Credit (UC) – the latest – and final? – rollout and “transition” to Full Service UC is updated along with more detail around the changes that can lead to an early switch to UC. Our  top survival  tips from experience in the pilot areas is extended with news from the first UC Full Service areas. These join the updated coverage of how UC should work and the sums, with examples and analysis of UC’s “disability” and “pensioner gaps. A practical guide to UC’s coalition of chaos and incompetence 🙂 Stron and stable a benefit, it certainly isn’t…
  • Paying for housing and Work conditionalty and moving into work chapters have been updated for changes for under 21 year olds, new bedroom tax caselaw
  • updated and expanded coverage of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – updated for the March 2017  changes to the points system, with a new handy summary of the old and new systems with handy definitions on the back. Some updated guidance around the activities affected, especially the now overt discrimination against mental health within PIP Mobility. A revised example form to fit the new look PIP How Your disability Affects You form . These join the practical tools: page by page guidance on filling in forms, example supporting letters, appeals submissions, updated caselaw and a guide to common DLA and PIP related difficulties linked to mental health diagnoses. We include details of mitigations in N.Ireland and will keep an eye on what Scotland chooses to do with its newly acquired control with PIP.
  • We have had to lose coverage of the  “old” disability benefits of DLA and AA, lthough to make way for expanding UC and PIP. .

However you can get full resources for AA and DLA by either:

  • using the free download to get the  “directors cut” – the full chapter and example DLA forms from the 2012/3 edition available from our Downloads page here
  • By keeping an eye out for our forthcoming Big Book of Benefits and Money for Older People 2017/19, which will have a fully updated treatment of these benefit,  that remain crucial within an increasingly separate benefits system after “pension age”.

We will of course rethink coverage,  depending on what Scotland decides to do with disability benefits – so that future editions remain relevant across the UK.  Time will tell if we can do that within 1 edition or whether we will need a separate Scots edition.


Getting Your copy

The Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health 2017-18 is available from CPAG’s bookshop  We are delighted that the this very good cause benefits from the main distribution profits.

You can order from CPAG either:

  • by telephone: please ring: 020 7837 7979
  • by e-mail to:
  • online:  pop a copy into your online shopping basket at the CPAG webshop here
  • by post:  download and complete the order form available here

It should also be available, via your local bookshop – who need your support to : -) –  helped  by the book now carrying an ISBN number: ISBN: 978-0-9954595-1-9

Find out more before you buy

You can see sample pages by clicking on: Excerpts from the Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health 2017/18


Or clicking on the thumbnail of the back cover  – left – will give you a quick snapshot of what’s in the current edition.

Or why not book some Big Book benefits training:

Training courses 2016Every course participant will get their own copy of the Big Book – to act as both a course hand out and a practical – and by the end of the day(s), familiar – toolkit to take with you as trusty  as companion and friend! It’s all about practical training and resources to help you make a real difference.

So if you can gather a gang of up to 16 people, we have courses and we can travel 🙂

For more details see our Training page here

You’ve read the Book, now see it live 🙂


Acknowledgements and Dedication:


This 17th edition would not have happened but for:

  • the reading, checking and  input from Yvonne Bennett (who also joins me in delivering Big Book training courses)
  • the support and news from the ground from Terri at Neath and Port Talbot Mind Income Project where it  all began
  • the patience and support of  the team at CPAG, our main distributors for the last 4 years .
  • the help from Linda in rehoming and supporting us into a new printing home and Gareth at Glamorganpress for helping with the birth.
  • the kind permission of Greenwich welfare rights to reproduce their ESA safeguarding form and Newcastle City Welfare Rights and Money Advice to adapt their changes table.
  • the kindness of friends who have borne with me as my eyes goggled
  • the kind comments and feedback from gentle readers, including those helping us revive the course that started it all
  • the warmth, wit and wisdom of the original author Judy Stenger despite setting the bar so high and her gentle much loved and missed presence as type away


This 17th edition of the Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health is of course dedicated to its founder and author of the first 12 editions, the late Judy Stenger, in the hopes that she will look kindly on me messing with her work.

But as Judy wrote in 2012/3:

“You don’t havRambling Rosee to look far to find the casualties of welfare reform; they’re there amongst any group of support service users, they’re there telling their stories on internet fora,. Unluckier ones form part of the 14% rise in homelessness in the last year. And the hardest hit of all find their names recorded for posterity. Rest assured we won’t forget.

For those who remain, I hope the book will continue to help even in this grim time. It’s aimed at both at people who are trying to find their own way through the maze that is the benefits system and at people who are trying to help out along the way. Here’s hoping you enjoy and benefit…”

So this edition is also dedicated to all its readers, those facing change and those supporting them. May fear and anxiety be lessened a little, change eased and benefits old and new maximised. 


Feedback from previous editions:

“There is really everything you need here…As a tactical handbook hat is not frightened to give its opinion on the current direction of social security it is unrivalled”                                                                              Adviser magazine

“An essential piece of kit for all community mental health teams, community psychiatric nurses, approved social workers and voluntary groups as well as general benefit advisers… If you have a mental health problem and are trying to cope with the benefit system or if you’re a professional wanting to give good solid advice there’s no better guide that you can buy…”                                                             Community Care magazine

“Your book has brought positive results to so many of my clients and it has always been a joy to work from. Its humour, readability and understandability makes it the best of ways of finding accurate information and gives hope to people… wading through the treacle of the Benefit system.”                                                                                 support worker

“The book puts into words my own experiences, feelings and thoughts…”        –                                                                                                                    service user

“Your work has been massively important for service users”                           –                                                                                                             support worker

“This substantial but tremendously accessible handbook could well be one of the most useful guides around …”                                  Health and

“The PIP form took half the time and was more detailed than it would have been”                                                                                              social worker

“Made me re-assess how I approached the form  –  I was awarded a higher rate of PIP…”                                                                                           service user

“I have been a benefits adviser for almost 15 years & bought this book with some doubt, concerned that I might be paying for ‘rehashed information’.  I just wanted to say how delighted I am,  I never thought I would take a benefits book to bed… but I could not put it down. 

You explained dry legislation and complex rules in a personal and engaging manner, there were even a few laugh out loud moments!

Your explanations are clear and lucid, your examples very appropriate & your diagrams summarise information in an approachable and accessible way…”                                                                                                 benefits adviser

“I  have recently  acquired  the book which is actually an amazing  document. I  cannot  praise it  enough…”                service user and advocate.

“We often though that Judy’s work made more of an impact on the quality of life of our service users than any pills, potions, therapy or or support we were able to offer”                                                         mental health team leader


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