‘In crisis’ benefits rules must be clarified

Parts of the benefits system for disabled and vulnerable people are in “crisis”, a Government TD has warned.

Following the Irish Examiner’s revelation on Monday that the refusal rate for a disability allowance has risen from 54% to 61%, demands for an overhaul of the way vulnerable people are treated have been expressed from across the Dáil.

Fine Gael TD Simon Harris said it was appalling that 16-year-olds on the autistic spectrum could be called before a board to justify a switch from domiciliary care allowance

“This is the last thing a vulnerable teenager needs,” said Mr Harris. “They should be allowed to stay on domiciliary care allowance after the age of 16 until they complete their education.

“There has been a crisis in domiciliary care allowance.”

He also expressed concern about the leap in the refusal rate, insisting that the “cumbersome” nature of the forms was off-putting for people dealing with stress.

“The refusal rate is extremely high, and I think we have to start asking ourselves why,” said Mr Harris.

“From my experience as a TD and from working with autistic families, I know the forms can be cumbersome.

“They are then sent back the forms and told you have been turned down but you have the right to appeal if you send in more documentation.

“They then send in more medical information and doctor’s notes and might get it on appeal, but that level of documentation should be made clear initially.

“People filling out these forms are generally in a very stressful situation. You might be caring for a person who requires a significant amount of care and trying to apply for disability allowance on their behalf — having to deal with all that paper work can be quite off putting.”

Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea warned that, at current rates, 15,000 applicants will be turned down for disability allowance in 2012.

The Social Protection Department insisted the criteria had not changed, but more than 4,800 applications failed in the first four months of this year.

Mr O’Dea said a high proportion of the refusals involve children with very significant disabilities whose families had received the domiciliary care allowance.

Mr O’Dea said that when the children turn 16 and automatically lose that entitlement, the State refuses them the disability allowance.

The disability allowance is a means-tested payment for people who are substantially restricted in working.

The weekly maximum for an individual without dependents is €188.


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