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I am a sole earner and my wife is at home looking after our two children. Our eldest child, who is four, has autism. We have just been granted mid-rate disability living allowance and have found out that my wife can claim carer’s allowance. 

We are spending thousands in private healthcare appointments, therapies and advanced treatments for my son. I am not eligible for any credits on my tax bill.

My wife was diagnosed with cancer last year and this is adding more financial pressure. Our private healthcare bills are about £20,000-£30,000, effectively cancelling any saving opportunity despite me being on a £115,000 salary. Oh, and there is a mortgage to pay. It is frustrating and a great money pit — necessary, of course, but I wonder if there is anything we can do? Everything seems to be means tested.

As you are on a high salary, the only social security benefits you can claim are, as you observe, those that are not means tested, says Robin Williamson, technical director at the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group.

You have already secured mid-rate disability living allowance (DLA) for your son and your wife will now receive carer’s allowance in respect of her caring responsibilities for your son.

In the very sad circumstances that your wife has been diagnosed with cancer, it is possible she may qualify for personal independence payment (Pip). This benefit replaced DLA for working-age claimants from April 2013. Pip is intended to help with the extra costs ensuing from long-term ill-health or disability.

There are two components, the daily living component (standard and enhanced rate) and the mobility component (again, standard and enhanced rate). Pip is non-taxable. The amount payable varies from £22 a week (for the standard rate of mobility component only) to £141.10 a week (the combined enhanced rates of daily living and mobility components), depending on how severely your wife’s condition affects her, including her prognosis. She may also be entitled to free prescriptions, a blue badge parking permit and possibly VAT relief on certain forms of equipment.

It is possible that groups such as Macmillan, or other cancer or health charities, may be able to guide you as to financial service options; or they could help you check whether you have any private healthcare cover that you have overlooked; or if you are using private healthcare because a particular treatment is not available through the National Health Service, they could help see if there is any contribution the NHS could make towards the costs.

Alternatively, work-related or professional charitable fund groups may be able to provide some funding. The Civil Service Benevolent Fund is an example. Macmillan has a booklet on help with the costs of cancer.

Finally, it is a long shot, but if you are incurring childcare costs for your young children, you might qualify for the new scheme, Tax Free Childcare (TFC). This involves paying money you intend to spend on childcare into a TFC account; for each £8 paid in, the government will add a £2 top-up.

You can get up to £500 top-up every three months (£2,000 a year) for each child, with an increased maximum of £1,000 (£4,000 a year) for disabled children. The only snag in your case is that to qualify, you must have “adjusted net income” of less than £100,000. Your earnings are £115,000, but you can deduct pension contributions, gift aid donations, trading losses and so on to get to your adjusted net income.

Usually, both partners in a couple must be in “qualifying paid work” to be eligible for TFC, but as your wife is in receipt of carer’s allowance she will be treated as being in qualifying paid work for this purpose.

The FT put your question to the National Autistic Society, which agreed that, unfortunately, most hardship and welfare grants are means tested so it would be unlikely that the family would qualify for the majority of these.

However, the charity said it is worth talking to Contact a Family, which can give advice on benefits, and Turn2 Us, a charity which helps people in financial difficulty find charitable grants. Disability-grants.org has a very useful directory too.

The NAC also encouraged you to inquire through your local social services for children’s social care and said that “the family has a right to have an assessment of their child’s needs and when those needs are identified their local council has a legal duty to meet them”.

This could be in the form of an education, health and care plan (EHCP). Help available through the EHCP could include support that might reduce the amount that the family spends on other support, for example support at home, access to short breaks, and speech and language therapy. More information on EHCPs is available on The National Autistic Society website, autism.org.uk, and the charity’s education rights service offers families advice and support through the process of applying for an EHCP.

The opinions in this column are intended for general information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional advice. The Financial Times Ltd and the authors are not responsible for any direct or indirect result arising from any reliance placed on replies, including any loss, and exclude liability to the full extent.

Do you have a financial dilemma that you’d like FT Money’s team of professional experts to look into? Email your problem in confidence to money@ft.com

Our next question

I am a 35-year-old UK national who now teaches abroad and is classed as a non-resident for tax purposes. I built up nearly five years of Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension while working for a UK university. The pot is approximately £33,000 and at 65 I would get approximately £7,000 as a lump sum and just over £1,000 per year as a defined final salary pension.

If I transfer this to a self-invested personal pension (Sipp) and bought a tracker, I believe the £33,000 could be accessible at 55 and with a modest 3 per cent growth would be a better investment. Do you think I would be better off switching? I am unlikely to teach in the UK for the foreseeable future and even if I am, with the problems with USS, I am unlikely to be able to contribute further.

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