Belfast Telegraph

More than 20,000 to lose out in DLA overhaul

By Lisa Smyth

Proposals to overhaul benefit payments for people with disabilities could mean a staggering 20,700 people of working age in Northern Ireland losing Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

Westminster has launched a Green Paper looking at ways to reform the current DLA system which is expected to affect thousands of people living across the province.

Over 182,000 are in receipt of DLA in Northern Ireland — 103,500 of whom are aged between 18 and 65 — and this is the group which will be targeted first under the plans.

The proposed changes include renaming the benefit, introducing an assessment process which will be reviewed periodically and an extension to the qualifying criteria so it will only be available to those with a long-term health condition expected to last a minimum of 12 months, instead of the current six months.

An assessment process will be introduced to gauge a person’s entitlement to the new benefit.

This will use existing evidence from the claimant and in many cases include a face-to-face meeting with a healthcare professional to enable an in-depth look at an individual’s circumstances.

Those who no longer qualify for DLA following an assessment could be offered alternative welfare assistance, such as Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or Jobseekers Allowance.

The proposed move could |mean in excess of 120,000 people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) in Northern Ireland by 2014.

Social Development Minister Alex Attwood has said he will continue to make the argument at Westminster that Northern Ireland must be treated differently from the rest of the UK in terms of any welfare reform.

He said: “I am concerned about the scale, pace and intention of these proposed changes, given the high number of people who are in receipt of DLA here.

“The coalition government has to acknowledge the different circumstances in Northern Ireland. I will work to have our conditions fully recognised.

“We have the highest levels of DLA claimants in Britain by far. We don’t have to look too far into Northern Ireland’s past to discover why this is.

“I met with the Westminster Welfare Minister, Lord Freud, last week for the third time.

“I outlined to him a number of measures in terms of welfare law, benefits practice and hardship needs which I believe will provide a path through Northern Ireland’s difficult conditions in a way that would help those in need.”

Disability Action has expressed concern over the proposals, particularly increasing the minimum length of time a person must suffer from a condition to qualify, from six months to 12 months.

The charity said this will mean that people with conditions that fluctuate over time, for example arthritis and mental health conditions, could be excluded from receiving financial assistance which helps them pay the extra costs associated with their condition.

It also warned that people with intellectual disabilities and those who can walk but require support may no longer be entitled to the benefit.

Monica Wilson from Disability Action said: “We have great concerns about how the proposals will impact on the lives of people with disabilities who depend |on DLA.

“The government should reconsider these proposals for reforming DLA for people of working age.

“Westminster must recognise the significance of this benefit for people with disabilities.

“We would strongly encourage people with disabilities and representative organisations to respond to this public consultation on Disability Living Allowance reform.”

How changes to benefits scheme will affect you

Q What is Disability Living |Allowance (DLA)?

A DLA is a tax-free, non means-tested benefit for adults or children with disabilities. It is intended to provide money towards the extra costs associated with disability and can be awarded to those in, or out, of work.

DLA is divided into two parts, the Care Component — for help with personal care needs (which is paid at three different levels); and the Mobility Component — for help with walking difficulties, (which is paid at two different levels). These factors lead to a possible 11 different payable rates of DLA.

To receive DLA, a person must meet the eligibility criteria for a period of three months and be expected to meet the entitlement conditions for at least a further six months. Applicants complete a form and can provide medical reports. There is no review of claims.

Q How many people currently receive DLA in Northern Ireland?

A In Northern Ireland, 182,423 people currently receive DLA, ranging in age from children to people aged 80 and over — 103,500 of these people are of working age. 48% of recipients are male and 52% are female.

Northern Ireland has seen a growth of 2.6% in DLA recipients since 2009.

Northern Ireland has the highest prevalence of DLA claimants per head of population in the UK. For example, for every 1,000 people in Northern Ireland, 102 claim DLA — this is equivalent to one in 10 people.

A number of ‘disabling conditions’ are taken into account in the current system, including arthritis, back ailments, blindness, deafness and alcohol abuse, among others.

Mental health causes is listed as the most frequently occurring disabling condition, with 41,944 people receiving DLA for this reason.

Q What are the changes being proposed to DLA on which the Department for Work and Pensions are |consulting?

A DLA will be renamed and this new benefit will be introduced in 2013-14. The new benefit will not be means tested. It will not be incorporated into |the wider Universal Credit, |announced last month. Special rules for people who are terminally ill will remain.

The consultation paper focuses on working-age people in |receipt of DLA. The paper also seeks views on whether the proposed changes should apply to children and pensioners.

The new benefit will only be available to those with a long-term health condition, expected to last a minimum of 12 months.

Once it is introduced, DLA will be closed to new claimants. Individuals currently receiving DLA will remain on it until they are reassessed.

Q How many people will this affect in Northern Ireland?

A It is estimated that the proposed changes will result in a 20% reduction in working-age claimants once the proposals have been fully rolled out. There are currently almost 103,500 working-age claimants in Northern Ireland.

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