Human Rights
By Conal McGarrity
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PIP Benefits System and the Unacceptable Treatment of Terminally Ill Claimants

A Report collated by a group of MPs’ from all political parties in Northern Ireland has found the current Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefits system for terminally ill people to be ‘cruel and inhumane’. PIP benefit was introduced to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in Northern Ireland.

The new system includes a ‘fast tracking’ for terminally ill claimants, whereby they will receive full rate PIP and will not be subject to the usual assessment conditions if a medical professional states that their death ‘can reasonably be expected within 6 months.’ The ‘6-month rule’ was introduced in 1990, however, the cross-party Report states that this was not initially intended to be a wider definition of terminal illness. The problems with the ‘6-month rule’ approach are self-evident.

Advancements in medicine and treatment mean that people are now living longer with terminal illness and it can be difficult, and often impossible, to place a definite timescale on any specific patient’s life expectancy. Moreover, medical professionals can often differ in their opinions as to life expectancy. The cross-party Report states that the current ‘6-month rule’ approach to fast tracking benefits puts undue pressure on clinicians, who often fear they ‘will be held accountable if their prediction (for life expectancy) turns out to be wrong.’

The impact of this irrational criteria is, of course, most keenly felt by terminally ill claimants who do not wish to jump through various administrative hoops to prove that they are entitled to the benefit they are claiming. Colm Davis was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2016 and is terminally ill. Under the current PIP system, he does not qualify for a ‘fast track’ as he does not fall within the ‘6-month rule’. Colm had to be unnecessarily reassessed and it was eventually decided that he was entitled to PIP. He states that ‘nobody can tell me how long I’ve got to live and to be reassessed for PIP causes a lot of anxiety.’

This reflects the overriding problem with the existing PIP ‘fast track’ system. As stated in the cross-party Report the 6-month timescale which is currently applied ‘has no clinical meaning in most cases.’ The cross-party Report recommends that the current system be replaced by one based on a clinical Judgement that the claimant has a progressive disease that can reasonably be expected to cause death.’ Further reform suggestions include changing the definition of terminal illness and only allowing a review of terminally ill patients every 10 years, which would go through the claimants GP so that the claimant has minimal involvement in the process. While these are progressive ideas it is also true that they will remain unimplemented due to the absence of the Stormont Executive.

It is, therefore, necessary for claimants who have been affected by this oppressive system to seek an alternative solution. A potential remedy for those affected by the ‘6-month rule’ system is to legally challenge the criteria by way of Judicial Review. Such a challenge could be taken on the grounds that the current system breaches Claimant’s rights under Article 8(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights, namely the right to a private and family life.

This article specifically states that ‘there shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society.’ At P.A.Duffy and Company our expert human rights and Judicial Review solicitors are highly specialised in this area. People who are terminally ill are amongst the most vulnerable in our society and they should not have to endure unnecessary suffering. Challenging and reforming the current PIP ‘6-month rule’ would ensure that people in such a difficult situation are not subjected to this treatment in future.

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