Ask An Attorney: Could A Trial Work Period Affect Your Disability Benefits?

Posted on: 4 November 2015

Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) payments don't always last forever. While some people suffer with disabilities that mean they can never work, other claimants find that they sometimes recover and can return to work. As such, the American government introduced the Trial Work Period (TWP) to help get people back to work. Nonetheless, some claimants are suspicious about the possible implications of a TWP. Learn how a TWP could work for you, and find out if this system could affect your benefits.

Are SSDI benefits for life?

If the SSA approves your application for SSSDI payments, you could potentially continue to claim the money until you retire (when the benefits will change to a Social Security retirement income.) The SSA may change its decision as part of a continuing disability review (CDR), but you won't normally lose your benefits if your condition remains unchanged.

If possible, many people want to return to work. In these cases, the SSA will cut or withdraw disability payments if you start to earn too much money. That's fine when you're working full-time, but it often takes time to get back into the swing of things. This is where the Trial Work Period becomes useful.

How does the TWP work?

The Trial Work Period is a relatively flexible scheme that allows people claiming SSDI benefits to experiment with different jobs, shift patterns and working conditions. The aim is that disabled people can use the TWP to test if they can work full-time for a long enough period that means they may then give up their SSDI benefits.

A TWP can last up to nine months. These nine months don't need to fall consecutively. For example, you could work for a month, rest for two, then work for another month. The SSA recognizes any TWP over a sixty-month period.

It doesn't matter how much money you earn during your TWP. The SSA will continue to pay your SSDI benefits. In fact, the SSA only counts a month in your TWP if you earn more than $780 or if you work 80 hours or more when you are self-employed.

What are your obligations during a TWP?

If you intend to use a TWP to explore opportunities to return to work, you must keep detailed records. The SSA will need to see details of your earnings every month while you continue to claim SSDI benefits. You can deduct the cost of any related work expenses from the $780 threshold, but the SSA will want to see invoices or receipts for any of these costs, too.

If you don't give the SSA details of your earnings during a TWP, the office may suspend your benefits. Without the right information about your earnings, the SSA could decide that you are fraudulently claiming your disability benefits. You could then face a lengthy battle to get the SSA to reinstate your claim.

What's more, you can only have one TWP during a five-year period. You should keep detailed records about any work you carry out, or you could accidentally exceed this limit.

Can a TWP result in an Unsuccessful Work Attempt?

Many people mistakenly believe that an Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA) is a possible outcome from a TWP. This is not the case, and the two events are not connected. An Unsuccessful Work Attempt is a carefully defined situation that a claimant may use to prove the date he or she became eligible for disability benefits. The TWP only applies to a successful SSDI claimant.

Can a TWP influence a continuing disability review?

While the SSA states that all claimants will receive a regular CDR, most reviews take place randomly. What's more, a TWP should not influence the outcome of a CDR, because the SSA will normally only look at your medical records.

If you are nervous about the impact a TWP could have on your SSDI benefits, you should contact a professional social security lawyer, such as J W Chalkley III PA, for more advice. He or she can make sure the SSA does not treat you unfairly and that your attempt to return to work doesn't cost you money.