PIP: Rules to be eased for terminally ill benefit claimants
Terminally ill people with less than a year to live will get fast-tracked for benefits after ministers said they will expand the timeframe for those eligible for special consideration.
Previously patients had to prove they had less than six months to live and charities say many died without their cases being resolved.
It is two years since a government review was launched into the issue.
Campaigners say it is a “significant step forward”.
They have been seeking a change to how terminally ill people access benefit support, known as Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
Under the current rules, patients in England and Wales must provide medical proof that they have six months or less to live to access benefits quickly and at a higher rate.
And if they live longer than three years after benefits are awarded, they have to be reassessed.
Charities and some MPs say people have endured distress trying to wade through red tape, filling in forms and attending interviews with benefits advisers.
And some patients have died waiting for the welfare benefits they need.
“There is more to be done, but this is important progress and we look forward to working with the UK Government to bring in this change as quickly as possible.”
Do I only have six months to live?
Helen Nicell, who has stage 4 cancer, told the BBC her payment was reduced initially when she was moved from disability allowance to PIP because a doctor could not say she was likely to die within six months.
She said: “To have to ask your consultant – do you think I may only have six months to live – when really they can’t answer that, it’s a very, very difficult question and very difficult to live with.
“The consultant said it was actually impossible to put a prognosis on how long it would take.
“The cancer is in my spine and at any point it could spread in to one of my organs” she said.
She added: “When you have retired from work and you have a budget and you have no other income” the uncertainty of waiting for an assessment to come through is very hard.
In a written statement to MPs, Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, said the changes will “increase much needed support for people who are nearing the end of their lives”.
He said the new 12-month approach “will ensure people get the financial help they need as quickly as possible in the most challenging of times.”
“Under the updated rules, clinicians still have discretion and will be supported by a realistic and straightforward definition” he added.
In an interview with BBC News, Mr Tomlinson said under the special rules, payments can be made within four to five days rather than 16 weeks.
He said the changes will bring the benefits system in line with the NHS definition of terminal illness, which is having less than twelve months to live.
“What clinicians were telling us was about removing duplication”, he said.
“The GP and the patient would have this devastating awful conversation at 12 months as part of the NHS role and then they would have to come and have it a second time with us to get the GPs the [benefits] form at six months”.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of Marie Curie welcomed the announcement as a “significant step forward”, and a “tribute to all those who bravely shared their experiences of the benefits system”.
“This will help ensure that more dying people can concentrate on making the most of the limited time they have left, rather than worrying about their finances.
“There is more to be done, but this is important progress and we look forward to working with the UK Government to bring in this change as quickly as possible”, he said.
Sally Light, CEO of the Motor Neurone Disease Association said the recommendations “must be implemented quickly”.
“No more people already facing the most difficult time of their life [should] have to wait to claim the support they not only desperately need but are entitled to”.
The changes will not happen immediately – ministers say the law will be changed within 12 months “when parliamentary time allows”.
The reforms in England and Wales follow similar pledges in the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Last week the Stormont Assembly signalled it intended to scrap the six month rule for those with terminal illnesses.
And in 2019, Holyrood said it intended to do the same, with guidelines for clinicians due to be published this summer.