DWP’s “welfare reform” agenda hits disabled children too

With all the focus on DWP's dreadful assessment process for Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment, its easy to overlook the problems some families with very vulnerable children face getting Disability Living Allowance. Z2K caseworker, Andy McCarthy, explains here how he helped one young client.

Challenging DWP’s terrible decision-making on disability benefits is a big part of Zacchaeus 2000 Trust’s work at the moment.  And in recent months, I’ve had a chance to help with the appeals for several children who have been refused Disability Living Allowance (DLA) .

In some ways, DLA cases are less straight-forward than those for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which has a list of activities that our clients either can or cannot complete which are used to determine whether they receive the Daily Living and Mobility components.  DLA meanwhile, focuses on what aspects of their daily routine the child needs care with along with whether they have difficulty walking.  Overall, this has proved to be a much more sensible approach, as trying to establish the care needs for children is a lot more nuanced than for adults depending on their age and the specific ways their conditions and illnesses present themselves.

That said, we have seen a trend in children with learning difficulties being refused the higher mobility component, which points towards a worrying disparity in the way those with cognitive and physical problems are treated.  One of these cases was for “Ismail” – a lively four year-old with autism.  Ismail’s mum came to us after his claim for DLA was turned down.  While DWP accepted he had care needs both in the day and at night, it decided he was not entitled to the Mobility component.

DLA regulations have provisions so that children can meet the test for the higher mobility component if they have a “severe mental impairment”.  In essence, their intelligence and social functioning skills must be severely limited, and they must show severe behavioural traits resulting in the need for constant supervision.  The process caused Ismail’s mum to have to jump through hoop after hoop in order to try to get DLA for him on these grounds.  (The DWP guidance provides a graph in an attempt to simplify the rules).

Strangely, these rules are not even limited to when the child is walking.  For instance, if the child were to have unpredictable and dangerous behaviour when walking, but could manage relatively well in a special needs classroom with extra support, the Mobility component would not be awarded (as confirmed in case law 2012 UKUT 429 AAC).

The decision on Ismail’s case was so clear-cut that the appeal Tribunal had no further questions for his mum at the hearing – all the available evidence showed that he clearly met the legal test for the mobility component.  The judge even specified on the decision notice that test of severe mental impairment was “more than amply satisfied” in this case, and awarded the DLA for 5 years.

That’s a great result for Ismail and his family.  But this does raise questions about the parity of cognitive difficulties and physical conditions in relation to DLA.  With the High Court earlier this year ruling that PIP regulations discriminated against adults with mental health problems needing help with their mobility, one has to question whether the DLA regulations are stacked against parents of children who, like Ismail, need help with their mobility due to cognitive problems.

Z2K will be taking this issue up with MPs in the New Year.  And in the meantime, we will do what we can to help other children with their appeal against DWP’s flawed decision-making.

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