Wheelchair users may miss out in benefits shake-up

 Disability living allowance will be scrapped and replaced by a benefit with tighter eligibility criteria, under government plans announced today.

Wheelchair users are among the people likely to be affected.

DLA’s replacement – personal independence payment – will be a non-means-tested and non-taxable benefit. Like its predecessor, it will be available to people in and out of work.

But the reforms will tighten eligibility in several ways:

• Claimants will have to have had an impairment or health condition for six months, not three, as at present.

• A wider range of aids and adaptations will be taken into account in the assessment process, meaning that people who can get about in wheelchairs may be ineligible.

• There will no longer be automatic entitlements for people with specific health conditions.

• All claimants will be assessed by a healthcare professional approved by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The changes are designed to implement proposals in the Budget to reform the assessment system for DLA, in order to reduce expenditure and the number of claimants by 20%.

The existing mobility and care components of the benefits will be replaced by similar measures looking at people’s level of independence and ability to carry out the activities necessary to participate in everyday life.

The reforms will be introduced for new and existing claimants of working age from 2013 and could be extended to children or pensioners.

Minister for disabled people Maria Miller said: “Personal independence payment will maintain the key principles of DLA, providing cash support to help overcome the barriers which prevent disabled people from participating fully in everyday life, but it will be delivered in a fairer, more consistent and sustainable manner. It is only right that support should be targeted at those disabled people who face the greatest challenges to leading independent lives.”

However, Neil Coyle, director of policy at Disability Alliance, said: “The combined effects of the government agenda for DLA risks meaning disabled people are unable to participate, less likely to work and more likely to live in poverty.”

Disability Alliance has begun an investigation into the government’s plans for DLA to inform the consultation on the proposals, which closes on 14 February 2011.

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