Benefit rules for children in hospital face legal challenge

Joe Lepper
Friday, August 8, 2014

The government's decision to suspend disability living allowance (DLA) for ill children who spend more than 84 days in hospital is to be challenged in the Supreme Court.

Under current rules, disability living allowance cannot be claimed for children who spend more than 84 days in hospital. Picture: PhotoDisc
Under current rules, disability living allowance cannot be claimed for children who spend more than 84 days in hospital. Picture: PhotoDisc

The Mathieson family from Warrington has been granted permission to make their legal challenge against the removal of their son Cameron’s DLA payments. Cameron had complex medical needs and died in October 2012 at the age of five having spent around half of his life in hospital.

The family says the removal of the benefits caused them financial hardship as they balanced looking after Cameron with looking after their three children.

Cameron’s father Craig said: "When a child is so ill that they need hospital care, they and their families need support, not penalties. Yet the system only causes more distress and hardship.

“While Cameron was in hospital my wife and I remained his primary caregivers, and one of us stayed by his bedside at every waking moment, caring for him, nursing him, giving him medicines, keeping him happy and bringing his brothers and sister to see him and play with him. We provided far more than the nurses on such a busy ward could have done in their hourly checks."

The legal challenge is being backed by the charities Contact A Family and The Children’s Trust and aims to overhaul the removal of benefits for children who have extended stays in hospital. The charities estimate that 500 families are affected by the rule each year that applies to children under 16.

Amanda Batten, chief executive of Contact a Family, said: "We wish the Mathieson family luck in their appeal, which if successful could help hundreds of disadvantaged families with disabled children who are affected by the DLA takeaway each year."

Joint research by the two charities among more than 100 affected families found that 99 per cent provide the same level of care when their child goes into hospital compared to when their child is at home.

A similar proportion (93 per cent) said their day-to-day costs increase in terms of parking, travel, loss of earnings and childcare costs for siblings.

The Children’s Trust chief executive Dalton Leong, added: “Current DLA regulations mean that some of the UK’s most severely disabled and sick children are being denied financial assistance at a time when they need it most. We have been campaigning to get the 84-day rule abolished and hope the Mathieson family’s brave decision to continue fighting their case will make this happen.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "Disability living allowance (DLA) is intended to provide a contribution towards the extra costs associated with disability. Where someone is getting free in-patient treatment from the NHS, payment of DLA is stopped – to make sure that the taxpayer does not pay twice, a fundamental principle of government. Children can continue to get DLA for 84 days while in hospital, once someone is discharged from hospital their DLA starts again."

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