The ‘cooking test’ of the Disability Living Allowance

The Disability Living Allowance is a social security benefit intended for adults and children with a long-term illness or a disability. The rules for the allowance are in relation to difficulties with mobility and care. There is no requirement for either payment to be made in respect of actual expenses nor for anyone to actually be providing help. Some components of the allowance must be claimed before the age of 65 (but can continue if claimed before this age).

There are three care components. These generally increase from the lower to the higher in line with increasing amounts of care needs. A claimant will need to show that it would reasonable for him or her to have help from someone due to illness or disability. For example, this involves considering whether a claimant could prepare and cook a meal for one person given the raw ingredients. It does not matter whether you cook or not; it is whether you could that matters. No set meal is listed in the rules but generally you should consider whether you could peel and chop two kinds of vegetables, put these into small pans, put something under a grill and safely get the meal together onto a plate.

You would be expected to make some concessions to make things easy for yourself, for example, using a “slotted spoon” to lift things out of a pan and sit at a chair or stool to prepare or cook the food. If you can only cope with heating up convenience foods or making snacks due to your disability or illness this should not count as cooking.

To fail the cooking test, as a consequence of his or her disability, a young person cannot prepare a cooked main meal for himself without help.

This help could be, for example:

• reading instructions and labels, guidance to follow a recipe
• identifying, weighing and measuring ingredients
• putting basic food safety and hygiene into practise
• using sharp knives, hot pans, cookers and other equipment safely
• recognising when food is properly cooked or safe to eat
• timing it all so that everything’s ready together.

Case law on the cooking test increasingly shows two opposing strands of opinion amongst the Social Security Commissioners. Some take the view that it is a purely hypothetical test of a person’s ability to perform certain standard activities. Others consider that the test is a more subjective one of a person’s ability to prepare a meal taking into account alternative methods of cooking as well as kitchen aids and adaptations.

 The DLA cooking test is, in fact, set out in s. 71(1)(a)(ii) Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act [1992]. A person is entitled to lower rate DLA care component if, because of their disability, they ‘cannot prepare a cooked main meal for [themselves] if [they have] the ingredients’.

There is little dispute that the test is objective in as much as it is irrelevant that a person might never wish to cook a traditional main meal or might not be able to afford to cook with fresh ingredients. It is also clear that a person is assumed to be willing to learn to cook and cannot pass the test simply because their partner has always cooked for them (R v Secretary of State ex parte Armstrong, 4.4.96). The subjective approach is illustrated in CDLA/5686/1999 where Commissioner Rowland decided that devices and unconventional methods could be taken into account. The same Commissioner, in CDLA/17329/1996, said that ‘one must look at the individual claimant in his or her actual circumstances’, holding that if a claimant has an adapted kitchen that enables them to cook, they should not pass the test.

Although there are some areas of conflict in the case law, there are still many aspects of the cooking test that are straightforward and undisputed. For example, some disputes concentrate on physical issues rather than cooking difficulties caused by mental disability. Ability to plan a meal, motivation to carry it through, ability to read ingredients, to prepare things in the right order, to time the cooking and know when food is ready, should all be taken into account.

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  2. Making an Employment Support Allowance appeal – video shared by Sue Marsh (@suey2y)
  3. Yesterday’s presentation on the employment and support allowance
  4. LegalAware four-part series on psychometric tests: Factsheet 4 – Online tests for individuals with reading disability or visual impairments
  5. LegalAware Review of the Year 2011 – Part 3 (Oct – Dec), disability and inclusivity
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