MISERLY social welfare officials denied a young disabled man his welfare payments for almost two years because he had to leave the country for specialist care not available in Ireland.
His mother handed back her son’s payment book in accordance with rules that say a welfare recipient must live in the state, but was not told that an exception could be made in his case.
The Department of Social Welfare ignored a senior government minister, a minister of state and a local TD who pleaded the young man’s case when he became aware of his entitlements and sought payment of the back money owed to him.
It took the intervention of the Ombudsman to force the department to cough up the €13,000 in arrears and to give an undertaking to change the law so that the rights of people like him were clarified.
The case arose after the young man moved to the North for 17 months between 2004 and 2006 for care not available to him here. His application for arrears was refused on the grounds the specialist care there did not strictly constitute “medical treatment” as stated in the grounds for exceptional payments.
Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly found the department’s attitude caused significant difficulty for the young man and his mother, who had to provide for his needs and deal with the cost of her weekly round trip of 300km to visit him.
In addition to the arrears, the department paid €1,277 in compensation and undertook to put the exceptions to the residency rule on a firmer legal footing. Ms O’Reilly also asked that the term “medical treatment” be broadened to ensure people like the complainant were not excluded.
The case was one of three investigations by the ombudsman into instances where people suffered serious hardship due to unfair treatment by state bodies.
In another case a Galway man was left in severe financial difficulty from paying his elderly mother’s private nursing home bills after her application for a public bed was kicked around by the HSE for eight years without any decision being made.
The ombudsman said “carelessness” was the cause of the epic delay in dealing with the application, made in 1995, but problems continued after the elderly woman, who is now deceased, received a public bed because the HSE kept changing its mind on whether it would refund her son fees he had been forced to pay in the interim.
She ruled the HSE should pay out a total of €56,500 in fees, refunds and compensation to him.
The HSE was also the subject of a group of complaints by people who successfully appealed to the HSE South appeals officer for higher levels of nursing home subvention only to find the HSE would not pay them the increased rate because it claimed it didn’t have the money.
The ombudsman ruled the HSE had to honour the appeals officer’s decision and said the original 10 complainants, plus five other people, should receive a total of €100,429 in arrears.
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