Charities call for reform of benefits rules causing misery to severely disabled children and their families
Some of the UK's most severely disabled and sick children and their families are being denied financial help when they need it most.
Current Disability Living Allowance (DLA) regulations stop a child's DLA payments if they have spent more than 84 days in hospital and subsequently their parents' Carer's Allowance is suspended. This is despite the extra costs to a family when their child is in hospital such as loss of earnings, travel, parking and food. For a family whose child may frequently be in and out of hospital as a result of their complex disabilities, these regulations can leave them in severe financial difficulties.
Contact a Family and The Children's Trust, Tadworth are calling for the rules to be scrapped. The charities have submitted a response as part of their Stop the DLA Takeaway campaign1 to the Department of Work and Pensions' '21st Century Welfare' consultation, which proposes significant reforms to the benefits system.
Andrew Ross, Chief Executive of The Children's Trust, said: "These DLA regulations are adding to the difficulties of families when they are in most need of stability and support. The Government has pledged to make the welfare system work for those who need it most. Here is a clear opportunity to do just that."
Contact a Family and The Children's Trust estimate that there are between 400 and 500 UK families affected each year.2 But with many families pushed to the brink, some may be taking the risk of not informing the authorities when their child is admitted to hospital.3
Taking all this into account, the charities estimate that the cost to the Government to amend the regulations would be no more than £3.1million per year.4 But such a small outlay in Government budget terms would make a huge difference to some of the UK's most vulnerable families at a time when they most need support.
Srabani Sen, Chief Executive of Contact a Family, said: "The DLA regulations are penalising vulnerable families at very distressing times of their lives. Not only are they dealing with a very sick child and in some cases faced with the prospect of losing their child, they are being pushed to their financial limits.
"Families whose children have complex health needs are already less able to work and more likely to be reliant on benefits."
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Notes to Editors
- The Children's Trust, Tadworth is a national charity providing care, education, therapy and rehabilitation to children with multiple disabilities, complex health needs and acquired brain injury.
- Contact a Family is a national charity providing advice, information and support to families with disabled children regardless of the disability or health condition.
- 1The full Stop the DLA Takeaway campaign briefing can be downloaded here. The campaign is calling on the Department of Work and Pensions to scrap the rules whereby:
- a child under the age of 16 who is eligible for DLA stops receiving payments once they have spent 84 days (which may be linked rather than consecutive)1 in hospital or another medical setting. This would require changes to regulations 8, 10(2), 12A and 12B(1)(b) of the Social Security (Disability Living Allowance) Regulations 1991.
- a child under the age of 16 who first becomes eligible for DLA whilst in hospital or another medical setting is not able to start receiving payments until they have been discharged home. This would require changes to regulations 10(3) and 12B(2) of the 1991 Regulations.
- 2 Using information provided by the Department of Work and Pensions we compared the number of children aged 0-15 who were entitled to DLA with the number actually receiving payments over a period of three years. The difference between the two figures is the number of children who have been hospitalised and so lost payment of both the care and mobility components of DLA. The DWP data gives a quarterly snapshot rather than overall figures for the year. An average of 285 children were affected at any time. We have estimated that there will be a proportion of new cases and a proportion of recurring cases within a year, so estimate the number of families affected to be between 400 and 500.
- 3 Contact a Family and The Children's Trust have heard of cases where families feel forced to break the law by not telling the authorities when their child is in hospital, because they can't afford to be without their benefits payments. Contact a Family and The Children's Trust always advise families to tell the authorities immediately when their circumstances change. If parents are found out, at best it will be seen as an overpayment and the family will have to pay back a lump sum or an amount will be deducted from their benefits payments until it is all paid back. And at worst the family could be prosecuted for benefit fraud.
- 4 To calculate the cost to the Government to amend the regulations we used the highest possible DLA payment figure high rate care and high rate mobility = £121.25 per week. It is unlikely that all children will be on the highest rate, or that they will all be in hospital for as long as a year but this gives us a maximum cost to Government of £2.5million to £3.1million (i.e. £121.25 x 52 wks x 400 or 500).