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Fermanagh Motor Neurone Disease sufferer Lorraine Cox 'wrongly denied disability benefit', court told

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Karen Quinlivan QC, for Ms Cox, claimed the rule breached the human rights of a woman whose illness is undoubtedly terminal (stock photo)

Karen Quinlivan QC, for Ms Cox, claimed the rule breached the human rights of a woman whose illness is undoubtedly terminal (stock photo)

Karen Quinlivan QC, for Ms Cox, claimed the rule breached the human rights of a woman whose illness is undoubtedly terminal (stock photo)

A woman with Motor Neurone Disease was wrongly denied a fast-tracked disability benefit because of uncertainty over how long she has left to live, the High Court has been told.

Lorraine Cox, 40, suffered discrimination due to a rule that those qualifying for the payments are expected to die within six months, it was claimed.

In a challenge to the legal definition of a terminal illness, counsel for the mother-of-three insisted it was unfair to treat her differently based on the condition's "unpredictable trajectory".

Ms Cox, from Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, is seeking to judicially review the Department for Work and Pensions at Westminster, and Stormont's Department for Communities.

In 2018 she was formally diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a fatal condition affecting the brain and nerves.

Having retired on medical grounds, she applied for Personal Independent Payments (PIP) to help with the impact of the disease.

Under special rules claimants with a terminal illness are entitled to an enhanced rate without having to undergo assessment.

However, Ms Cox was initially awarded the standard rate.

It took more than a year of tribunals, appeals and face-to-face assessments before she qualified for the increased payments.

Her lawyers claim she also had to spend months searching for work as part of attempts to secure Universal Credit (UC).

That was despite providing medical confirmation of her MND with a prognosis of between two and five years, the court was told.

Proceedings centre on an eligibility for higher rates of PIP and UC based on an expectation of dying within six months.

Karen Quinlivan QC, for Ms Cox, claimed the rule breached the human rights of a woman whose illness is undoubtedly terminal.

"Motor Neurone Disease has an unpredictably trajectory," she said.

"It's the six months criterion which we say is discriminatory."

Those suffering from other terminal conditions with greater certainty about when they will die have their benefit claims fast-tracked without having to "go through all the hoops", the barrister contended.

Alleging a difference in treatment, she told Mr Justice McAlinden: "It's not possible to give a definitive prognosis in relation to Motor Neurone Disease.

"Some people could have died within six months, but cannot establish a likelihood of death because of the unpredictable nature."

Ms Quinlivan also suggested financial difficulties may worsen some terminally ill people's condition.

Referring to Ms Cox's fight, counsel added: "She lost time that she should have been spending with her children but was instead dealing with this process."

The hearing continues.

Belfast Telegraph