Is it too much to expect help when a child has a long hospital stay?
(pictured: Gary Vaux, welfare rights columnist and benefits adviser)
We all know this government is committed to welfare reform, but I will be interested to see how it responds to a campaign being launched by Contact a Family and The Children’s Trust, Tadworth, writes Gary Vaux.
The two organisations want to scrap the rule that says a child under the age of 16 who receives disability living allowance (DLA) stops receiving payments once they have spent 84 days in hospital. They also want to abolish the regulation that says a child who first becomes eligible for DLA while in hospital, or another medical setting, cannot receive payments until they have been discharged home.
This will help some 500 families a year at a cost of no more than £3m – effectively loose change within the overall cost of the benefit system.
A child’s DLA is suspended after 84 days in hospital, but the days don’t have to be consecutive. Any days that are less than 28 days apart are added together. For a child who has complex health needs and is frequently in and out of hospital, this soon adds up. If a child’s DLA is suspended for the days they are in hospital, the parents’ carer’s allowance will also be jeopardised, even if that parent continues to provide a substantial amount of care to their child while in hospital. This in turn can affect other benefits they receive.
Similarly, a child who is in hospital when they become eligible for DLA cannot receive payments until they are discharged home, which in turn prevents parents from receiving carers allowance.
The reality is that many parents actually have additional costs when their child is in hospital for prolonged periods – they may have to give up work or take unpaid leave, plus the additional cost of travel, parking, alternative childcare for siblings and meals away from home. The level of care provided by parents often remains the same or increases when their child is hospitalised, with many families at their child’s bedside round the clock. Losing DLA at such a critical time – or not being able to claim it – can have a devastating effect on a family’s ability to cope financially, at a time when they will already be under substantial pressure.
Gary Vaux is head of money advice at Hertfordshire Council. Please email any any questions for him to Mithran Samuel
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