Social Security pays benefits for people with disabilities under two separate programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Applying for either can be complicated and cumbersome, requiring extensive documentation of a claimant's medical condition (and, in the case of SSI, the individual's finances and living arrangements).
If physical, mental or cognitive issues make it difficult for someone to apply, a relative or friend can assist. This task can also be done by an employer, attorney or member of an advocacy organization. Another, more formal option is for the applicant to appoint an authorized representative to handle business with the Social Security Administration (SSA).
An applicant can choose a friend or family member to help with the following:
- Completing online or paper forms
- Calling the local Social Security office
- Interpreting material
- Gathering information and providing it to Social Security
- Attending medical examinations
- Receiving mail from the SSA (for example, at the helper's address)
If you are helping someone fill out the application, Social Security may ask for information about you, your relationship to the applicant and, if applicable, the organization you work for. Except in select circumstances, the applicant must sign the form (see below).
You do not need to be appointed as a representative to simply help with an application. But if claimants want or need someone to act for them in a more official capacity, they can appoint an authorized representative. This person or entity can provide the types of assistance noted above and also:
- Retrieve information from the applicant's Social Security file.
- Help get medical records or other evidence to support a claim.
- Attend interviews, conferences or hearings with Social Security.
- Request a reconsideration or appeal hearing of a benefit decision and help the applicant and any witnesses prepare for such proceedings.
To appoint an authorized representative, fill out and submit Form SSA-1696. Portions of the form must be completed by the representative. Your local Social Security office can provide a list of organizations, such as legal aid and social service groups, that can help you find a representative, if you don't have one in mind.
The person you're assisting must electronically sign an online benefit application if able to do so. If the individual cannot, Social Security can mail it to the applicant for verification and signature. You can sign the application on the person's behalf if he or she is judged legally incompetent or physically unable to sign or make a mark (for example, if the applicant is comatose, paralyzed, temporarily unable to see due to eye surgery, or the person's arms or hands are immobilized by traction or burns).
Keep in mind
- Authorized representatives can charge for their services, but in most cases the fee must be approved by Social Security in advance.
- An authorized representative is not the same as a representative payee — that is a person or organization appointed by Social Security to handle a beneficiary's payments if the beneficiary is unable to do so.
Published March 25, 2021