RNID finds barriers to benefit claims for deaf people

Many deaf people are being refused benefits to which they are entitled because the system is not geared to their needs, an RNID survey of 1315 people has found.

In a report, Who Benefits?, the charity said over half of respondents who claimed disability living allowance had had a claim turned down previously, yet 91% of appeals made by British Sign Language users were successful.

Nearly three quarters of those surveyed found the 54-page form for Disability Living Allowance difficult to complete and over half of British Sign Language users could not understand some of the questions.

Lack of deaf awareness

Two-thirds of respondents said most of the questions on the form were not relevant to deafness,  while a similar proportion said Department for Work and Pensions staff, who handle benefit claims, were not deaf aware.

The results reflect those found in similar research conducted by the RNID in 2001. 

The RNID’s head of policy and research, Mike Baker, confirmed that guidance for DWP staff was in place but said: “It simply appears as though it’s being ignored. The number of appeals we get through [where the original claims] are either being dealt with very quickly or on paper suggests this.”

In response to the report a DWP spokesperson said, “We want to make sure that all our customers are able to access the benefits and support that they are entitled to and we go to great lengths to make the claiming process for DLA/AA as straightforward as possible. We have a range of measures in place to help people throughout the claiming process, including a dedicated visiting service for our vulnerable customers and Text phone and RNID Text Relay services.”

Social workers key role in deaf benefits

While the report was critical of the DWP it did highlighted the importance of social workers in the benefits process.

Social workers were found to be the biggest source of information on DLA and attendance allowance outside of deaf peoples’ families.

Of those that claimed AA, 30% found out about it from their social worker. They also proved to be the biggest source of professional assistance with filling out benefits forms helping one in four claimants who sought assistance from either professionals or friends and family. 

Social workers were also shown to be instrumental in the appeals process helping 28% of people prepare and 30% of people with representation at appeal. Welfare rights advisers were the only professional group who were more heavily involved.

Flawed decisions

Baker said the RNID was keen to work with the DWP to improve processes to stop the situation arising again.

He said, “People don’t understand why deaf people should receive disability living allowance.”

Although the sums of money deaf people receive from disability living allowance and attendance allowance are not huge Baker said they made a real difference to people’s lives by allowing them to get assistance with everyday tasks.


The report made a number of recommendations for the DWP, including to:-
• Increase awareness of DLA and AA among deaf people in tandem with the RNID
• Introduce clearer claim forms and more accessible methods to claim benefits
• Conduct deaf awareness training for staff including a greater awareness of the care needs of deaf people
• Increase scrutiny of the claims process to improve decision making and reduce the number of appeals
• Introduce clearer and more accessible communication for deaf claimants and use of alternatives to telephone communication
• Ensure that all stages comply with the Disability Discrimination Act

Similar to 2001 proposals

These recommendations are very similar to those made in the 2001 RNID report, Can’t Hear, Can’t Benefit.

This report only looked at DLA and also recommended working to increase take-up amongst deaf people, simplifying the claims process and improving deaf awareness among staff.

The RNID’s chief executive, Jackie Ballard, said: “Whilst the DWP has tried to remedy some of the problems identified in 2001, it is disappointing that many of the issues remain the same.”

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