Ireland's disabled disability welfare printable version
18 Feb 2015 filed by editor - General
By Keith Harris
The name of the person in this article has been changed to protect the person’s identity
Rose was just 13 and living in her native EU country when she was a passenger in a car accident that left her in a coma for two months in 1994.
When she recovered from the coma, she was left with an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) that severely affected her muscular control and speech. Over many long and painful months, she had to re-learn how to walk and talk. Since the accident, she has suffered constant pain throughout her limbs and requires prescribed medication.
She needs to use a crutch and still has much difficulty walking and doing simple jobs such as opening a letter or jam jar, or fastening a zip. She has very little true control over her left arm and hand.
In 2010 she left her home country and moved to Limerick, Ireland, where she had a friend with whom she moved in with. She did not claim any benefits in Ireland until 2013 as she was supported by her partner but did apply for and receive a companion free travel pass in 2011. Sometime later the relationship broke down and they separated. Rose found herself a small apartment on her own in Limerick City. Before they separated she applied for and was awarded a disability companion travel pass.
I learned that she had never applied for any rent allowance payments, despite being fully entitled to them. Instead she would pay her monthly rent from her weekly disability allowance which was paid at the standard rate. She was also in receipt of a weekly pension payment of €57 from her home country, granted due to her accident.
I met Rose in 2013, when she came to my home in the company of a friend of mine. I could not but be moved by her condition and her fierce determination to cope with everything and be independent. She was now living in a basement apartment in the city center. It was cold, damp and musty and very difficult to keep warm. Clothing kept in her wardrobes began to smell musty due to the dampness.
She liked to keep in touch with friends and family through the Internet but had no Internet at her own home and was constantly using the city library and Internet cafés. As I had an Internet connection I told her that she could come to my home and use the Internet if she wanted to. Over the months she visited my home many times and spent many hours with me and using the Internet.
She had also been enrolled with and was attending a Headway course in Limerick City. Headway, through FAS, had taken over her weekly disability payments, an arrangement that would continue until she completed the course, after which the payments would again be resumed by the social welfare’s disability allowance section. While at Headway, her travel pass was withdrawn and she was told it would be returned when she completed the course.
Due to the unsatisfactory condition of her apartment, I resolved to help her find more suitable and affordable accommodation and help with her welfare claims. I was and remain disturbed by the developments following her disability and rent allowance applications.
As I use the Internet a great deal, I also helped her to purchase a low cost computer system and desk, which I set up for her in my home.
We found one apartment that she liked and plans were put in place for her to move. This was canceled however as the apartment was not really suitable to her condition.
During this period she completed her Headway course and her disability allowance payments were then due to be paid by the social welfare disability section.
However, when applying for the re-instatement of her disability allowance after finishing the Headway course, she was incorrectly and to all intent arbitrarily assessed as being a co-owner of a property in her home country, despite informing both the disability allowance department and those responsible for approving rent allowance that she did not in fact have any part in the ownership of the property. It was in fact solely owned by her former partner.
As she was incorrectly assessed as co-owning a property, deductions were incorrectly taken from both her weekly disability allowance and her weekly rent allowance. When her disability allowance was reinstated following the end of the Headway course, deductions totaling €80 each week were taken from her disability and rent allowances—€30 more than what she currently receives from her home country pension.
I helped her to apply for rent allowance and this was eventually paid by her local social welfare office. I made numerous telephone calls on her behalf as it is difficult for Rose to talk in a clear manner on the telephone. When someone calls her number, due to her condition she will often miss answering the call in time and have to ring the caller back.
I fully explained on every phone call I made on her behalf that I was helping a disabled woman, who was sitting besides me. The person would then confirm with Rose that she was happy and willing for me to speak for her.
Then things began to get yet more difficult and stressfully confusing for Rose. Letters were sent by the social welfare to an incorrect address, a welfare officer called without notice one day while Rose was out and as a result further hardship was unnecessarily put on someone who was already struggling just to live. And this is someone who simply cannot live what anyone would call a ‘normal’ life.
Rose received a letter from the local welfare office informing her that her disability allowance had been suspended. Despite being on the social welfare’s records, she was asked to again provide proof of identity and address, bank statements, proof of her disability and proof that she did not own any property anywhere.
She registered with her local council housing waiting list, providing all required documentation etc.
Then she received another letter from her local social welfare office telling her that her rent allowance was reduced to €9 a week on the basis that she had an income from Estonia and on the incorrect assumption that she was the co-owner of a property.
An appeal was lodged against the incorrect assessments by both the disability allowance office and the local rent supplement welfare officer which had resulted in the slashing of her entitled allowances.
The appeal was rejected, again on the incorrect assumption that she co-owned a property.
Then Rose found a more suitable apartment and she moved out of her basement flat. As a result of the move, her rent allowance was cut off, despite her rent being well within the local upper limits set by government for rent supplement.
Together we made numerous visits to her local welfare officer in an attempt to obtain her rent allowance and correct disability allowance. Each visit required a walk of 45 minutes to the welfare office and a 45 minutes’ walk home regardless of weather conditions.
On one visit to her local welfare officer, she was told that no rent allowance could be paid as she was 'not on the council waiting list'. The welfare officer in this case also refused to accept that she in fact did not own or co-own any property anywhere—a decision arbitrarily made on each assessment.
A call to her local council resulted in the message that, due to the changes made by central government on rent supplements, a backlog of several months exited and due to that she had not been assessed for council housing, despite her severe lifelong disability and the impact it has on her daily life.
For over four months Rose received no weekly benefits other than the weekly €9 rent supplement allowance. This situation continued despite strenuous efforts made to correct the problems. She was forced to pay her rent from the money she had been able to save (less than €11,000) as a result of payments received in relation to her accident and disability.
Eventually, after many telephone calls, letters, exchanges of documentation which had to be obtained etc., her disability allowance was re-instated at the correct weekly amount, less a deduction equal to the pension from her home country. She also received a renewed travel companion travel pass.
Rose was visited by a council housing officer and eventually confirmed as being on the housing waiting list. As a result her rent allowance was re-instated by the local social welfare office.
Then she received a further letter from her local social welfare office informing her that her rent allowance had been approved but would again be suspended after 22 February if she did not provide proof that her accommodation was registered with the PRTB.
The letter failed to explain requirements in any further detail other than the italicised wording above.
On visiting the PRTB website (www.prtb.ie) I was able to confirm that her address was in fact listed with them. I took the details and attempted to telephone the welfare officer concerned to relay the information. Nobody answered the telephone throughout the whole day. As there was a fax number on the letter Rose had received, I sent the information by fax.
The following day I again called and this time connected with the person concerned with Rose’s rent allowance claim, Ann Slattery, who said she had not received any fax. After I tried to explain that the property was in fact listed with the PRTB, I was told that it was insufficient for the property to be listed and Rose’s tenancy had to be registered.
The officer then curtly ended the conversation by saying: “If Rose wishes to talk to me about it she can. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
When I attempted to speak further she just curtly repeated “thank you” and hung up.
For someone such as Rose with a severe lifelong disability, such a broken and confusing system is degrading, repressive, unhelpful, unnecessarily stressful and unfair. It has no place in any society claiming to care.
To anyone with any degree of compassion, such a difficult and unfair system requires a complete and careful overhaul so that it is more compatible with dealing fairly with disabled persons, some of whom may be struggling to deal with their situation on their own.
Update 1: As of mid April, Rose has now been accepted onto the local HAP (Housing Assistance Payment scheme), which replaces rent supplement and tenants pay the equivalent of council housing rent.
Update 2: Since publishing this article in an effort to draw attention to the unnecessary difficulties encountered by Rose, the author has been falsely accused by Ann Slattery of being “abusive” towards her during the phone call regarding the PRTB registration. This matter has been reported to her supervisor with no result other than the reply that 'all required documentation must be provided' on request and citing legislation in respect. However, no reference to the requirement of tenant registration with the PRTB is listed on any on-line government information sources and this issue is in need of clarification.
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