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“Punished’ parents see amount of financial aid to look after severely disabled people drastically cut

News / Thu 2nd May 2019 pm31 04:52pm

PARENTS who have seen the amount of financial aid to look after severely disabled people drastically cut say they feel “punished” by Essex County Council’s changes.

They add that the council (ECC) has seemingly picked on the most vulnerable group that requires state aid – arguing they are an easy and compliant target.

ECC implemented the changed to disability-related expenditure (DRE) in April 2017.

DRE is an allowance to pay for additional expenses a person may have due to a disability or medical condition.

Frustrations came to a head in January this year during a meeting involving Mencap, ECC, Essex Carers Network and up to 90 parents of disabled children whose extra payments to those with disabled children were reduced by up to £100 a week.

Of the approximate 7,000 disabled people who have some disability-related expenses allowed against income, more than 4,000 will pay more towards their care, ECC envisaged when it planned for the changes in 2016.

Among them is a man in his late 30s who has a combination of severe disabilities and who says he is about £100 a week worse off due to the reduction in DRE.

And one parent, who says her son has seen a significant reduction, said: “And this is purely something at the door of ECC – they cannot blame anyone else.

“We know people who are having breakdowns because of these changes. We just feel like we are being punished for having a disabled child.”

The cuts – impacting those on a Direct Payment scheme – have followed ECC’s financial assessment to see how they pay towards care.

ECC should take into account any Disability Related Expenses (DRE) parents may have, which they should disregard as available income, reducing the amount parents or the person with disabilities has to pay.

Cuts to DRE are part of a wider package of changes dictating the amount disabled people can claim, including a reduction in the maximum capital threshold from £27,000 to £23,250.

The changes are expected to lead to savings for ECC of about £5million a year in 2018/2019.

The council has already been criticised by the ombudsman for how it handled one disabled person’s DRE as “confusing and contradictory”.

The disabled person, who previously did not have to contribute, was told that due to changes the council was no longer allowing certain items as DRE including continence products – the council said these should be paid for by the NHS.

But the ombudsman ruled the council contradicted itself – the continence issue was a direct result of her disability when considering continence products, but not when assessing the cost of extra laundry.

A parent – whose daughter is in her late twenties with a severe learning disability, said she is facing a £100 increase when her DRE virtually disappears.

She said the changes “wiped all the DRE without an assessment or a visit from financial benefit advisers”.

“They just wiped them and suddenly people have had to pay towards the support,” she added.

“I know that she’ll be down about £100 a week.

“I know friends of mine who have been hit really hard – my friend whose daughter lives independently is down £80 a week and they are already subsiding her because she doesn’t have enough to see her through the month.”

DRE charges include costs for telephone, hairdressing, and costs for additional washing.

She added: “We’ll have to help out otherwise she’ll be sitting at home only able to afford the things in her personal budget.

“Reviews are horrendous because you are always scared they are going to find a reason to reduce or remove something.”

ECC does not have a formal policy about what it treats as a disability related expenditure, but practice has developed so that there are a number of items of expenditure which the council will normally accept as disability related expenditure without undertaking any assessment.

A spokesperson for Essex County Council said: “The council charges for adult social care and the rules we follow are set out in the statutory care and support guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care.

“This includes the rules relating to disability related expenditure.
“This has been standard practice for many years and we have made no changes to our charging system since April 2017.
“We will always look again at an assessed charge if someone tells us they can’t afford to pay it, or they believe that it is incorrect.”

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