Benefit’s quiet demise hurts clients

Gary Vaux looks at the impact of the low-key abolition of severe
disablement allowance on claimants, some of whom will have found
that an important source of support has now been taken away from

“A woman, 55, can’t work because of physical disability.
She gets disability living allowance (care and mobility). When
working, she paid the married woman’s national insurance
stamp. Her husband works full-time. With severe disablement
allowance (SDA) stopping in April, what else can she claim? Also,
how can disabled children over 16 in education claim income support
now that SDA has stopped?”

There has been almost no publicity about the ending of SDA. It
was abolished for new claimants on 6 April 2001. Existing claimants
are fully protected – they keep their right to SDA for as long as
they are incapable of work. There are also some complicated rules
that apply if a person getting SDA loses the benefit after April
2001 (for example, because they find a job) and then needs to

Existing SDA claimants who were under 20 on 6 April will get
transferred to long-term incapacity benefit from 6 April next

New claimants under 20 who are incapacitated (under 25 in some
cases) will also be able to get incapacity benefit without
satisfying the usual national insurance conditions. This will be
called non-contributory incapacity benefit – which is what SDA used
to be called anyway. Non-contributory incapacity benefit will be
paid if the claimant is:

– 16 or over; and

– Under 20, (or under 25 in certain circumstances, for example,
just finished studying); and

– Incapable of work for 196 days before the claim; and

– Not in full-time education (21 hours or more per week of
supervised study). If the claimant is under 19, any part of the
course that is only appropriate for a disabled person of a similar
age is not counted in the 21-hour total. This makes many courses
“part-time”, and therefore the student can get SDA.

It is vital to realise that people who satisfied the conditions
for getting SDA on the 5 April can apply for it up until the 5
July, because SDA can be backdated for up to three months.
Therefore it is not too late for the 55 year old to claim SDA, so
long as she can show that she had been incapable of work for 196
days before 5 April. For example, a claim made in May 2001,
backdated to March 2001, will be treated under the pre-April rules.
This will mean of course that she continues to get SDA.

The 16 year old mentioned in the letter should also be able to
take advantage of the rules for students. He may already be getting
SDA of course, or be able to backdate his claim to before 5 April.
If so, his SDA will continue and then be converted into incapacity
benefit next year. Or he may qualify for non-contributory
incapacity benefit as a disabled student, as described above.
Whatever he gets, income support is almost always available to top
up SDA or equivalent. The income support rate for a disabled 16 or
17-year-old is usually higher than SDA. The test for income support
while in education is simply that the person would be unlikely to
get a job within 12 months if he or she left school or college.

Not all claimants will be so lucky as to be able to keep SDA of
course, or have the option of backdating. The biggest losers will
be people like the woman in the letter who become disabled after
April 2001 – no relevant national insurance record, no chance of
getting income support because of a working partner and now no
state benefit to meet basic living expenses.

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