Belfast Telegraph

Call for change in law to prevent delays in terminally-ill patients in Northern Ireland receiving sickness benefits

By Michael Sheils McNamee

Calls have been made for Northern Ireland to follow Scotland and change part of a law which could delay terminally-ill people from receiving a sickness benefits.

On Monday SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said she had written to the Department for Communities asking it to follow a change made by the Scottish Government in how terminally-ill people are assessed for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

As it stands in Northern Ireland, to be eligible for a fast-tracked special rules assessment when applying for the PIP benefit a person must have a diagnosis of less than six months to live.

Under special rules a person can expect to have their claims cleared within two weeks, while claims under normal circumstances take more than three months.

Campaigners have said this definition most severely affects patients suffering from non-cancer terminal conditions, such as dementia, for which it can be difficult to predict an accurate life-expectancy.

On Friday the Scottish Government announced it would be be making changes to the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, removing any time qualification for the terminally-ill to be fast-tracked.

In calling for the same change to be made here, North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon said terminally-ill people who currently fall outside of the six-month criteria "are left to endure intrusive face-to-face assessments and wait several months for their claim".

"No one with a terminal illness should be spending the little time they have left going through this stress. Not only is this unfair but it also denies people the best quality of time they have left," she said.

"This move towards a definition of terminal illness based on clinical need, rather than any time restricted understanding of life expectancy is the right one and I have urgently written to the head of the Department for Communities calling for the same fairness and dignity to be afforded to terminally ill people here."

“Terminally-ill people need these changes made now. They do not have the luxury of waiting until a government is eventually formed here."

Responding to the Belfast Telegraph last month, the Department for Communities said current social security law in Northern Ireland is kept in parity with rules across Great Britain, unless a minister or the Assembly directs otherwise.

"This current definition of terminal illness was first introduced into Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in the 1990s," a spokesperson said.

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