Mother awarded €10,000 in carer’s allowance arrears

Government had stopped paying woman for her son’s care after desk-based case review

A mother looking after her teenage son, who had mental-health issues, has been awarded more than €10,000 in arrears for carer’s allowance. File photograph: Getty Images

A mother looking after her teenage son, who had mental-health issues, has been awarded more than €10,000 in arrears for carer’s allowance. File photograph: Getty Images

 

A mother looking after her teenage son, who had mental health issues, was awarded more than €10,000 in arrears for carer’s allowance after challenging a decision made to stop paying it.

The Department of Social Protection had stopped the allowance to the woman in June 2016 on the basis she did not qualify for it because her son no longer needed full-time care and attention. The decision was made following a desk-based medical assessor’s report, written without visiting the woman’s home to assess her son’s needs.

It was challenged with the help of the Community Law and Mediation centre in Coolock, north Dublin, whose work includes providing free legal advice and representation.

The teenager had complex problems including mental health, learning and behavioural difficulties. He had been diagnosed with depression and was threatening self-harm, which required continual supervision by his mother.

Medical evidence provided by the woman showed her son’s ability to care for himself was extremely low and he would require “ongoing support in life”. His school was also struggling to cope with his difficulties.

Community Law and Mediation assisted the woman in her appeal and an oral hearing was held in the case. Her solicitor argued the report from the Department of Social Protection’s medical assessor was of limited evidential value because it was a desk-based assessment only. It was also flawed because it did not take account of the mental health difficulties of the teenager.

In his decision, recently issued, the appeals officer said he had considered the medical and oral hearing evidence and concluded the boy’s care needs met the requirements set out in legislation.

He allowed the appeal, awarding arrears of €10,000 and reinstating the woman’s carer’s allowance, paid on a half-rate basis.

Physical assessment

Rose Wall, chief executive of Community Law and Mediation, said there should be greater scrutiny of medical evidence by the Department of Social Protection before decisions are made to cut a carer’s allowance.

She said “desk-based” decisions are often made when there should be closer examination of the case.

“If the medical evidence on paper is strong enough, then obviously you don’t need to meet the client,” she said.

“But, particularly when people have been in receipt of a payment for so long, and then to suddenly stop it, you have to physically assess the situation then.”

Ms Wall said the situation is compounded by the fact there is no State legal aid available to challenge decisions made by the Department of Social Protection or by local authorities in relation to housing.

Unless individuals can access Community Law and Mediation services in Dublin or Limerick, or they can get help from similar organisations, there is nowhere for them to turn.

Oral hearing

Ms Wall also said there was a much higher rate of success within the social welfare appeals system if appellants looked for an oral hearing rather than a summary appeal.

Across the country last year, almost 60 per cent of appeals that were taken against social welfare payment decisions were successful.

Community Law and Mediation has successfully appealed other carer allowance decisions as well as decisions about pensions, disability, mobility, rent, jobseekers and other allowances.

Jane O’Sullivan, managing solicitor with the organisation, said only a small percentage of people who may be in dire need know they can come to a law centre for help.

“They often accept decisions of local authorities or social protection and things like that, and they don’t see there is a potential for legal challenge,” she said.