02 Oct 2022

Derry woman who cares for her severely disabled grandson slams Universal Credit process as ‘horrific’

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A Derry woman who is a full-time carer for her severely disabled grandson has described the process of applying for his benefits under the new Universal Credit system as ‘horrific’. The woman, who does not wish to be named, said she has been placed in financial difficulties after waiting six weeks without any money for his first payment to come through. And she said the application process does not cater for people with additional needs and has caused unnecessary stress for her grandson who has severe autism, severe learning disabilities, epilepsy, OCD and challenging behaviours. Until July the woman was receiving Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit for the young man who is now 20. However, this came to an end after he left full-time education at Ardnashee College in the summer and he was transferred over to Universal Credit. After a six week wait with no benefits the young man received a payment of £125 in August. “They expect you to just live on fresh air,” she told the Derry News. “They will offer you a loan but then they take it off you for the rest of the year, so it is just moving the problem. “It has put the whole family under so much stress. Some nights I can’t sleep thinking about it and it has been horrific, the whole process has been totally and utterly shocking. “But my grandson doesn’t have a voice, so I have to be his voice.” The young man has now started attending a Day Centre, but the adjustment has proved very difficult for him, adding to the family’s problems. “He has been violent, because he doesn’t understand why he is there,” the grandmother added. “He’s 20 but he has the understanding of an 18-month-old child. “He needs constant supervision, he eats things he shouldn’t eat and he is incontinent, he can’t talk and he needs help with even the most basic things.” The woman’s grandson did not have photographic identification and she therepfr had to bring him to Crown Buildings in order to start his application for Universal Credit in person. She said that this was a very distressing experience for him due to the disruption in his routine and unfamiliar environment. “The woman asked him what the last four digits of his bank account are, but he doesn’t even have a bank account I have to look after all that for him,” explained his grandmother. “He didn’t understand why he was there. “On that day he was in good form, but he can get aggressive when he is upset. He nips and bites himself and he attacks me.” The woman said she was told she could apply on behalf of her grandson online, however, she said the application process does not take people’s individual circumstances into account. “You have commit to actively look for work and agree to do this and there is a no or yes option. “If you don’t press yes then he would not be entitled to Universal Credit but he can’t even talk so how can he actively look for work?” Respect The young man is currently waiting to be told if he must undergo a face to face meeting for the Work Capability Assessment for Universal Credit. “From the age of three to 20 he was recognised as being severely disabled and now there’s a question mark over whether he is or not,” she continued. “We have the proof from his social workers and his medical history, why does he have to go through all this? “He’s on 18 tablets a day to protect his mental health - we have all the proof. “We shouldn’t have to fight for this. We are being made to go begging for something that he is entitled to. “It’s as if they think everyone is a benefit fraud. “There are disabled people all over the world, they should be treated with more respect.” Arrears The Derry News contacted the Department for Communities about the family’s experience. A spokesperson for the Department said it cannot comment on individual cases. In relation to the financial hardship experienced by the family the Department said: “In Northern Ireland Universal Credit claimants receive twice monthly payments to help with budgeting and their housing costs are paid directly to the landlord to prevent potential issues with rent arrears. “Universal Credit is assessed monthly and paid in arrears, all claimants are offered an Advance Payment if they need financial support during the wait for their first payment. “The Department has also put in place a Universal Credit Contingency Fund to assist Universal Credit claimants who may experience hardship. “The Department also offers a Discretionary Support Scheme to assist claimants who require short-term assistance in a crisis or emergency situation. “Anyone who may be experiencing hardship should contact the Department for advice and to ensure that they are receiving all of the benefits that they may be entitled to.” Assistance Commenting on the difficulties the family experienced during the application process the Department said help was available to apply for Universal Credit online “Universal Credit is a digital service and there is no paper based claim. As a result, claimants will be required to make and maintain their claim online,” said the spokesperson. “The Department recognises that some customers may need assistance in accessing the digital service and have put in place the necessary arrangements to enable and support claimants. “Our team are available to provide assistance to any claimant who requires help to make or maintain their Universal Credit claim. “In exceptional circumstances a home visit or a telephone claim may be considered. “Where a claimant cannot manage their own affairs, an appointee may be put in place.” In relation to the woman’s concerns that her grandson would be made to go through a Work Capability Assessment for Universal Credit the department said: “To establish a person’s capability for work, in the first instance a healthcare professional will review the information contained within a questionnaire completed by the claimant, alongside other paper information which could include information obtained from the claimant’s GP. “Only if it is not possible to determine the person’s capability to work by reviewing this paper evidence will the person be asked to undergo a face to face medical assessment. “A home visit may be requested by providing medical evidence from their GP stating the reason they are unable to travel to a medical assessment. “The Department has also provided significant funding to the advice sector to offer advice and support on welfare changes. “Claimants can contact the Independent Welfare Changes Helpline on 0808 802 0020.”  

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