TERMINALLY ill Scots are missing out on vital benefits as they have been told to wait until after the Covid pandemic to be assessed on whether they are unfit for work.

People with life-limiting conditions, or are having to undergo debilitating medical treatments such as chemotherapy, have had appointments with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) postponed due to the crisis.

It has left people struggling to cope on as little as £340 a month while they wait to find out if they are entitled to additional funding.

Charities working with those in need have called for the assessments to be scrapped for those at the end of their lives or who are undergoing such intense medical treatment that they would clearly not be able to work.

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Advocates say some people may not be alive after the pandemic, and cannot afford to wait.

Kirsty McKechnie, a welfare rights officer at the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) Scotland, told MPs at a Westminster committee yesterday that the surge in demand for benefits due to the pandemic has had a knock-on impact for people who need assessed on their ability to work.

She told the Scottish Affairs Committee: “Immediately during Covid, Universal Credit did flex really well to cope with the demand that was coming through.

“Unfortunately that was at the expense of other areas, particularly people who were waiting for assessments.”

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Ms McKechnie explained that there were some cases where people should automatically be granted the extra funds, without having to go for a limited capability for work assessment.

The assessments are conducted by the DWP, before a decision is made on how much money a person should receive on top of the standard Universal Credit amount.

For those deemed unable to work, the amount they receive can be as much as £341.92 extra per month. She said: “There are some cases where they should automatically be granted the limited capability for work-related activity element, and that would be, for example if they were terminally ill or if they were receiving chemotherapy.

“We received a number of cases of people who were in that certain circumstance who were being told those situations just weren’t going to be dealt with until Covid had levelled out. These were people who really couldn’t afford to wait for that additional amount of money, particularly people whowere terminally ill.  There wasn’t a waiting period for them. They needed that money.”

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She added that some people who received employment support allowance had this part of their  benefits stopped as they had not been able to have an assessment in a whole year.

CPAG Scotland told The Herald of a client who had reported that she had advanced cancer and was starting chemotherapy.

They explained: “DWP should make a determination about limited capability for work-related activity on the basis that she is receiving chemotherapy, without having to carry out an assessment, but they have said they will not do anything with this information until Covid-19 is over. “

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Ms McKechnie was joined by Nina Ballantyne, policy manager at Citizens Advice Scotland, and Marion Davis, head of policy and strategy at One Parent Families Scotland during the committee.

All of the experts expressed concerns about the waiting time for assessments, particularly now that face-to-face appointments have been cancelled due to the pandemic. 

MPs heard of people being asked for telephone assessments, to then be told they must have an in-person appointment as not enough information was obtained over the phone. 

After the session, CPAG Scotland confirmed that four clients in November and December who had been given telephone assessments "have been told there was not enough information gathered to make a decision so a face to face assessment will be required."

The charity explained: "There are no face to face assessments being carried out at the moment so they will have to wait indefinitely. They will not receive any additional amount in their UC or ESA until a decision is made."

Along with problems claiming appropriate support, MPs asked about the increase to Universal Credit, which Chancellor Rishi Sunak has yet to confirm an extension of after March. 

Ms Davies said that prior to the pandemic, One Parent Families Scotland had started to see a “sea change” in the circumstances of those coming to them for help.

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She explained: “We are more and more having to deal with parents in crisis because they don’t have enough income to survive, to meet the basics. 

“That has been a sea change for us because there always have been challenges around living on benefit, it’s never been easy but we find ourselves having to, for the last year or two, deal with parents and families to help them survive.” 

The experts said that the £20 increase had been a lifeline for many families, with Ms McKechnie saying that if it was removed by the Chancellor, it could plunge 22,000 children into poverty in Scotland. 

HeraldScotland:

Meanwhile, Ms Ballantyne explained that people who are making claims for benefits often struggle with having to do it online, particularly in Scotland.

The Citizens Advice Scotland employee explained: “Digital options are positive for people with their devices, the connection, the skills, the cash to use them. 

“But [having a system of] digital by default in Scotland has been an issue.  

“We’ve heard from advisers just this month that people who were recently employed, and actually relatively digitally savvy were still having trouble making and maintaining a claim just because the system was so complex and unfamiliar,.

“For the new people claiming Universal Credit we know that a lot of people just don’t have access to devices, and if they do it’s a phone which makes it even harder to complete applications.” 

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Ms Ballantyne explained that the rural landscape in Scotland and problems with 4G networks and stable broadband connectivity can also present a challenge for people trying to claim.

A DWP spokesman said:“Our priority throughout this health emergency continues to be to protect the public and staff, while ensuring people get the benefits they are entitled to quickly and safely.

 “We continue to accept new claims for all benefits and are using alternative methods to ascertain eligibility, including phone or paper-based assessments. We’re also fast-tracking claims for terminally ill people, and urge anyone who needs support not to delay in putting in a claim.”