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NI Woman Challenges Six Month Terminal Illness Rule

17th June, 2020

A woman in Northern Ireland is challenging the legal definition of terminal illness after being refused access to special rules designed to fast track the award of benefits without the need for assessment.

Lorraine Cox, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, was required to search for work for months after medically retiring because of her condition and had to undergo medical assessment for both universal credit (UC) and personal independence payment (PIP). This is due to the legal definition of a terminal illness which requires people to prove they would ‘reasonably be expected’ to die within six months.

Lorraine said: “The process of seeking to obtain benefits has continually exacerbated my stress levels and anxiety. I have had to constantly fight to get the same entitlement to benefits as other people who are terminally ill. Despite being diagnosed with a terminal illness I was refused fast track access to additional support and had to show that I was searching for work in order to receive universal credit.

“I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone. I believe the system has failed me and the approach to dealing with people who have a terminal illness needs urgently addressed. I have accepted my path in life now but please don’t put anyone else through it.”

Law Centre NI legal officer, Owen McCloskey, who is assisting Lorraine in her application for judicial review, said: “The inclusion of the six month criterion in the legal definition of a terminal illness has been described as cruel. It is restricting access to support for people at a very difficult time.

“The six month rule was introduced over 30 years ago and was intended to assist people in accessing special terminal illness rules, not restrict them. It is now hurting terminally ill people who have an illness that’s more difficult to accurately predict.

“The Westminster all-party parliamentary group for terminal illness described the six month criterion as ‘unfit for purpose’ and called on the UK government to amend the legal definition of a terminal illness. Walter Rader, in his independent review of PIP in Northern Ireland, recommended that the clinical judgement of a medical practitioner should be sufficient to allow special rules to apply. We are now testing whether the application of the six month criterion is in fact lawful.”

Further information

  • Lorraine’s application for judicial review will be heard in the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland on Thursday 18 June 2020.
  • Lorraine is challenging the compatibility of Article 87(4) of the Welfare Reform (NI) Order 2013 and Regulation 2 of the Universal Credit Regulations (NI) 2016 with Article 1 Protocol 1 and Article 8 ECHR read alone or in conjunction with Article 14 ECHR.
  • Article 87(4) of The Welfare Reform (NI) Order 2015 states:

For the purposes of this Article a person is “terminally ill” at any time if at that time the person suffers from a progressive disease and the person's death in consequence of that disease can reasonably be expected within 6 months.

  • Regulation 2 of the Universal Credit Regulations (NI) Order includes the following definition:

“terminally ill” means suffering from a progressive disease where death in consequence of that disease can reasonably be expected within 6 months.

  • Law Centre NI would like to acknowledge the generous support of the PILS project in this case.
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