Calls to cut red tape faced by terminally ill social security benefit claimants

Advice NI supports call to scrap the arbitrary rules governing fast track access to social security payments for people with terminal illnesses in Northern Ireland.
Benefits like PIP, Universal Credit and ESA have Special Rules for claimants who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses, which allows them to get faster access to the payments they are entitled to, without having to fill in as many lengthy forms, go through face-to-face assessments or, in the case of Universal Credit and ESA, attend sessions with job coaches. The Special Rules process means that people can access the support they need quickly, with as little bureaucratic interference as possible – allowing them to enjoy a better quality of life during the time they have left.

The problem is that only people who have a medical prognosis of six months or less to live are eligible to apply for benefits under these Special Rules. This is excluding many legitimate claimants with unpredictable conditions like motor neurone disease, chronic heart failure and others, for which it is incredibly difficult for medical professionals to give an accurate estimation of life expectancy.

These claimants have to apply for support through the normal rules, which involves a lengthy and complicated application process and, for some benefits, may result in them having to meet work requirements in order to continue receiving their payments. This is unfair, undignified and needs to change.

Marie Curie and the MND Association want to remove this arbitrary six month criterion and replace it with a new system based on clinical judgement instead, as has recently been adopted in Scotland. Representatives of the medical community and parties from across the political spectrum have given their support to this campaign, and a recommendation to remove the six month life expectancy criterion for terminally ill PIP applicants was included in Walter Rader’s independent review of the PIP assessment process here last year. However, the lack of a Stormont Assembly has meant that the Department for Communities is unable to change the rules.

The only option at present is therefore to convince the government in Westminster to intervene and reform the Special Rules process. The charities have launched a joint petition, calling on policy-makers in Westminster to change the law so that everyone with a terminal illness can access the welfare support they need quickly and sensitively.

The petition is available online at: