Let’s get personal

For many disabled service users, attendance allowance (AA) and disability living allowance (DLA) are important benefits. Not only are they valuable in themselves, but they often unlock access to other benefits and services, such as increases in income support, independent living fund eligibility and so on.

But the claiming process still remains a mystery to many claimants – and some social workers. Several recent decisions by social security commissioners set some useful precedents that might be handy when helping someone with a claim form.

In decision CSDLA 629/02, a commissioner considered if emptying a commode is “attention with a bodily function”.

The commissioner said: “In ordinary living, each person disposes of his or her own bodily excretions. Emptying out another’s personal waste and then disinfecting the receptacle has, in my view, the necessary degree of physical intimacy required. However, as I said in CSDLA/44/02, what is put forward as an act in connection with bodily functions must have an essential quality of ‘immediacy’ with that bodily function. Therefore, the only emptying and/or cleaning of a commode which can count is what must reasonably be done immediately for the purposes of hygiene. It then has a sufficient connection with the claimant’s action of urinating or defecating following which she would normally get rid of her own waste.”

In other words, if a service user has someone present who has to empty a commode for them, this can be seen as meeting the criteria for “attention with a bodily function”, so long as that help is given soon after the “event”.

In case CDLA 2717/02, the claimant had an obsessive compulsive disorder that required his mother to check that his private parts were dry and his bottom clean. According to the commissioner, this also constituted attention with a bodily function, even though there was no physical requirement for the inspection.

“The checking of the bottom and private parts, in the case of an adult aged nearly 23 at the date of the decision under appeal, was clearly of a close and intimate nature, so as to satisfy the test. So was the checking of the claimant’s hands after washing, which would require close inspection and probably physical contact, to allow him to complete the activity of washing.”

In CDLA 4214/02, a commissioner considered whether lower rate DLA care was appropriate if someone was prevented from being able to cook a main meal unaided because of the heat and steam produced when cooking. The claimant had respiratory problems and the commissioner ruled that a tribunal should look at the severity of his problems and how is he likely to be affected if he attempts to prepare a cooked main meal for himself. The new tribunal should proceed on the basis that such a meal, if cooked for one person, will usually produce less heat and steam than if cooked for more than one. However, the amounts produced will not be negligible.

These decisions are relevant to social services clients. The boundaries of what constitutes personal care are always being tested and shifted, so it pays to think when advising on DLA or AA claims.

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a question to be answered please write to him c/o Community Care.

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