Belfast Telegraph

Seriously ill Northern Ireland mum denied benefits 'on the verge of taking her own life'

Tracey McAuley
Tracey McAuley
The lesions on Tracey McAuley's hands
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

A Carrickfergus mum has said her home has been put at risk and she has been left on the verge of ending her own life after being refused Universal Credit.

Tracey McAuley was diagnosed two years ago with a serious illness which has left her unable to work or drive, but despite repeated attempts to claim the new benefit, she says she is yet to receive a penny.

The 46-year-old told the Belfast Telegraph: "I wish I was dead because I wouldn't have to live with this anymore."

Tracey has been left unable to meet mortgage commitments and despite saying she has nothing to hide about her illness - a rare disease called Nudular Purigo, also known as Hyde's disease, which leaves her in excruciating pain from skin lesions - she has been refused vital payments.

Doctors have told her the intensely itchy condition is unlikely to be cured.

It now affects most of her body but especially her hands. She has to wear gloves all the time and requires help with personal care. She cannot operate a computer, hold a pen or use a touch pad screen.

"It took two years for me to get the right diagnosis," Tracey said.

"I was struggling at work with pains in my arms and hands and eventually had to be signed off from my job as a catering manager with the Education Authority in March 2018.

"I went on to statutory sick pay as doctors tried to get the condition under control with powerful drugs. That was halved after six months and as the condition has deteriorated I'm now facing medical retirement from my job.

"My sick pay has ended and I have no money coming in. Last month I had to live on £200 and this month there is nothing."

Tracey said she has repeatedly been asked to attend for medical assessment as part of her application for Universal Credit, but can't make any of the appointments because of her condition.

"I can't drive, I don't have the money for public transport. I have offered anyone who needs to assess me the chance of a home visit but they have told me that's not possible," she added.

"They keep sending me forms to fill in, but I have told them my condition means I can't even hold a pen.

"There are days when I have no skin on my hands or legs, I can't walk and it's excruciating to even move.

"At one stage they said I should ask my daughter to come home from university to help me fill the forms in.

"I have nothing to hide, but it's now at the stage where I'm embarrassed to try to leave the house."

Tracey said she still wants to work.

She added: "Even if I was able to send on details through my GP, there's a £70 charge for that and I simply can't afford it if I want to eat or keep a roof over my head.

"I would still work if I could. I loved my job and it was heartbreaking to have to give that up.

"Now I'm caught in a cycle where the stress of the situation is making my condition worse. I don't want to live on benefits but this was my only option.

"Now it seems I don't even have that option and I've been left with nowhere else to turn. I have no idea what I'm supposed to live on and for over a year now I have been told I cannot claim Universal Credit.

"All they need to do is ask my doctor for confirmation," she said. "They already have all the medical details they need.

"I've made mortgage payments on time all my working life. I'm four years away from paying that off, but it looks like I'm going to lose everything.

"I've also been told I can't even get a rates rebate as I'm not on Universal Credit. I'm now over £3,000 in arrears with that.

"Honestly, I'm at my wits end. I've enough to do trying to deal with my health and feeling so ill and in so much pain.

"I'm so tired trying to fight this and it's making me feel a hundred times worse. I just want to give up.

"I have already told them how much this is hurting me. I have provided the names of my consultants who have been trying to treat me."

She continued: "For the past year I have been promised they will look at my case, passed my details around and still I'm told I can get nothing. No one seems willing to try to help me.

"I'm sitting here crying because I don't know what to do. I never thought for one minute I would be fighting the one place that people are supposed to turn to for help."

The Department for Communities said: "The department cannot comment on individual cases. Universal Credit replaces Jobseeker's Allowance (income based), Employment Support Allowance (income-related), Income Support, Housing Benefit (rental), Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits for people aged over 18 and under State Pension age.

"It is initially only available for new claimants although some claimants in receipt of the impacted benefits may move to Universal Credit earlier, where their circumstances have changed. Existing claimants of these benefits who do not have a change in their circumstances will transfer to Universal Credit between 2020 and 2023; the department will contact them when it is time to move to Universal Credit.

"Universal Credit has existing processes in place to facilitate those claimants who have declared a health condition and who are unable to travel to their Work Capability Assessments."

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