Social Security pays benefits to people with disabilities through two separate programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Applying for either can be complicated and time-consuming, requiring detailed documentation of the applicant’s medical condition (and, in the case of SSI, the individual’s finances and living conditions).
If physical, mental or cognitive issues make it difficult for someone to apply, a relative or friend can help. This task can also be performed by an employer, a lawyer or a member of an advocacy organization. Another, more formal option is for the applicant to designate an authorized representative to conduct business with the Social Security Administration (SSA).
An applicant may choose a friend or family member to assist in the following areas:
- Complete online or paper forms
- Call the local Social Security office
- Interpretation material
- Collect information and transmit it to Social Security
- Participation in medical examinations
- Receive mail from the SSA (for example, to the assistant’s address)
If you are helping someone complete the application, Social Security may ask you for information about you, your relationship to the applicant, and, if applicable, the organization you work for. Except in certain circumstances, the applicant must sign the form (see below).
You don’t need to be named as a representative to simply help with a request. But if applicants 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 mentioned above and also:
- Retrieve information from the applicant’s Social Security file.
- Help obtain medical records or other evidence to support a claim.
- Attend interviews, conferences or hearings with Social Security.
- Request a review or appeal hearing of a benefit decision and help the claimant and any witnesses prepare for such a proceeding.
To appoint an authorized representative, complete and submit Form SSA-1696. Certain parts of the form must be completed by the representative. Your local Social Security office can provide you with 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 are helping must electronically sign an online application for benefits if they are 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 behalf of the person if they are found to be legally or physically incapable of signing or making a mark (for example, if the applicant is in a coma, paralyzed, temporarily unable to see due to surgery eye, or if the person’s arms or hands are immobilized by traction or burns).
You can find more information on the Social Security Information for carers web page and in the brochure Your right to representation.
keep in mind
- Authorized representatives may charge for their services, but in most cases the fee must be pre-approved by Social Security.
- An authorized representative is not the same as a beneficiary representative, which is a person or organization appointed by Social Security to handle a beneficiary’s payments if the beneficiary is not in able to do so.