Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Victims of the Troubles may avoid re-assessment for disability benefit

Kathryn Stone said she and members of the Victims Forum were working to avoid victims of the Troubles having to be reassessed
Kathryn Stone said she and members of the Victims Forum were working to avoid victims of the Troubles having to be reassessed

People seriously injured in the Troubles may be spared parts of a re-assessment for disability benefits required under welfare reforms, Northern Ireland's Victims Commissioner has told MLAs.

Kathryn Stone said she and members of the Victims Forum representative body were working with the Department of Social Development (DSD) in an effort to ensure victims were not subject to any "humiliating" physical re-examination to justify the retention of state financial support.

More than half of working-age recipients of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) are set to either lose out completely or experience a cut when it is replaced with the Personal Independence Payment (Pip) as part of the UK Government's controversial welfare changes.

While DSD officials have insisted that those with serious injuries will not see their benefit reduced, and may actually have it increased, DLA recipients will have to go through a reassessment procedure to establish what level of Pip they are entitled to when the new payment is fully introduced in 2015.

Ms Stone, giving evidence to the committee of the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, said she had received positive feedback from DSD on the issue.

"What's been really heartening is that colleagues from the Department of Social Development have been to see us and they are absolutely committed to getting it right for victims and survivors, especially those who have been seriously injured," she said.

"They don't want them to experience a humiliating and difficult physical re-examination when it's absolutely clear what's happened to them - you know there are medical records going back decades in most of the cases, so there would be no need to subject those people."

Adrian McNamee, an official with the Commission for Victims and Survivors, told committee members a potential exemption was being considered.

He said: "We are working closely with DSD and maybe trying to get a consideration built in or a degree of empathy or understanding for victims and survivors who are now going through the re-assessment processes and maybe, if possible, we could work on an exemption that they should not be subject to a full re-examination, those who have been seriously injured, and also to minimise any potential for any re-traumatisation, so it's that type of thing we have been working with DSD."

Ms Stone said it had been suggested that members of the 26-strong Victims Forum who had themselves been injured would work alongside the Pip assessors to help explain the particular needs of those affected by the Troubles.

"The positive thing that they have proposed is that members of our forum who would fall into the category of being severely injured work alongside the people who have been brought in to do the assessments for Personal Independence Payments so that those assessors have a more sensitive and compassionate understanding of the needs of people here and people who have been victims who have been seriously injured in the troubles, so I think that's a very positive step and we will be working alongside them to ensure that that happens."

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