Fury over care allowance cutbacks to parents of severely disabled children

PARENTS of hundreds of severely disabled children struggling to meet care costs are to have their Government aid reduced in the latest Department of Health cutbacks.

The Domicillary Care Allowance (DCA), a monthly 179.80 payment to parents of disabled children, will no longer be backdated to the time of diagnosis of the child’s condition. Instead, under revised Department of Health guidelines, it will only be paid from the time a parent applies for the allowance.

Though the cutback comes from his Department, Health Minister Micheál Martin said yesterday he had not been aware of it and would have the matter examined urgently.

The move has enraged disability groups.

Kieran Kennedy, spokesman for the Irish Progressive Association for Autism, said health boards regularly failed to inform parents of their right to the allowance, causing delays in application, but that up to now, they at least had the comfort of backdated payments once the application was approved.

“Now parents will no longer be able to claim back. The Government is again penalising one of the most vulnerable groups in society. They are also doing it at a time when the Government is in recess and we can’t get our public representatives to raise questions in the Dáil.”

Irish Society for Autism executive director Pat Matthews said ending backdated payments was penalising parents for inefficiencies in the system.

“As it stands, parents cannot apply for the allowance until their child has been diagnosed with a severe disability. Realistically, it will be up to three years before that diagnosis is made in the case of autism. If you are going to stop payments to people on waiting lists for diagnosis, then you are penalising them for an inefficient system.”

The National Association for the Mentally Handicapped in Ireland (NAMHI) wants the control of the DCA, which is administered by the health boards, to be transferred from the Department of Health to the Department of Social and Family Affairs (DSFA).

NAMHI general secretary Deirdre Carroll said: “At the moment, there are huge variations across the health boards in interpretation of eligibility for the DCA. A senior area medical officer in one health board may approve it, while a family with a similar case in another health board may be turned down.”

Ms Carroll said the payment should be put on a national agreed statutory basis and the appeals mechanism should be independent rather than dealt with by the health boards.

Fine Gael TD David Stanton said he would be calling for the reversal in the change of guidelines as soon as the Dáil resumed in October.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the decision to make payments from date of application was down to a recommendation from a National Health Working group.

The policy change is contained in a Department of Health circular dated July 26 which states: “Where a child qualifies for DCA, payment of the allowance should be made from date of application.”

This contradicts a circular dated July 1 which said back payments could be made.

Minister Martin said he was unaware of the second circular.

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