Terminal illness benefit change set to ease pressure on thousands of people

Thousands more terminally ill people will be able to receive vital financial support earlier under a planned rule change.

The move aims to ensure those approaching the end of their lives can worry less about money and focus on the time they have left with loved ones, a minister told Parliament.

The Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill will expand the eligibility criteria so people thought to have 12 months or less to live, rather than the current six months, can get fast-tracked access to important disability benefits.

The legislation, which has started its passage through the Lords, would affect disability living allowance, personal independence payments and attendance allowance.

A number of charities have been campaigning for the change, which has also received cross-party support, including the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Marie Curie, Hospice UK and Macmillan Cancer Support.

The Government has already changed the terminal illness rules from six months to 12 months for universal credit and the employment and support allowance.

But primary legislation is needed for disability-related benefits.

Speaking at the Bill’s second reading, work and pensions minister Baroness Stedman-Scott said: “As a Government we want to do all we can to alleviate the pressures facing those nearing the end of their lives and their families.

“The main way that the Department for Work and Pensions does this is through special benefit rules… which enable people who are nearing the end of their lives to get fast-track access to disability benefits.

“Those eligible under these rules get their claims fast-tracked which means they do not have to wait as long to start getting payments.

“In most cases those claiming will qualify for a higher rate of benefit without having to do a medical assessment.

“These ensure that at this most difficult time, people can receive the financial support they are entitled to quickly and easily.”

She added: “The changes will mean that those expected to live for 12 months or less will receive vital support, rather than the current six-month rule, and will also mean that thousands more people at the end of their lives will be able to access these three benefits earlier than they currently do.”

Up to 60,000 people could be helped by the change, she said.

Lady Stedman-Scott told peers: “This support is crucial when someone is at the last stage in their life.

“By expanding eligibility we will provide thousands more people with vital financial support so they can worry a little less about their finances and focus more on sharing the valuable time they have left with the people who matter to them most.”

Labour frontbencher Baroness Sherlock said: “These changes are long overdue as we very much welcome them.”

She added: “We can’t stop people dying, but we can treat them well and we can at least ensure that they don’t die in poverty and that should be our shared goal.”

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