Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 07:15 GMT 08:15 UK
By Lorna Reith
Chief executive, Disability Alliance
Some disabled people remain uninformed about benefits they could be receiving. Lorna Reith believes the government could do more to raise awareness.
What could be worth an extra £97 to a household's weekly income?
No, it's not tax credits, valuable though they are.
The answer is Disability Living Allowance (DLA) - paid to disabled adults or to parents of disabled children.
DLA is the government's best kept secret. It's tax-free and payable regardless of income. No means test and no questions about how it's spent.
DLA can be paid at 11 different rates, varying from £15.15 per week to £97.15 per week depending on the severity of the disability.
Receipt of DLA leads to increases in other benefits and can also trigger benefit eligibility for carers. For some families it could mean a staggering additional £157 per week.
Yet government estimates show that only 40-60% of those eligible actually claim.
James, 42 used to be a teacher, but the effects of multiple sclerosis - deteriorating sight, mobility problems and incontinence - forced him to give up work.
James knew he could claim incapacity benefit but no-one told him about any other benefits. James could be getting an extra £78 per week and exemption from road tax on the family car.
Emma, 36, is a lone parent with two children, Katie and Mark. Mark is severely autistic. Emma has been on income support since she and her husband split up.
She has never been told about claiming disability benefits for Mark or a carer's allowance for herself. Emma is missing out on at least £100 a week.
Here at Disability Alliance we come across many people who, despite contact with a wide range of professionals - GPs, hospital consultants, health visitors, HR staff, social workers, special education teachers and social security officials - remain ignorant about benefit entitlements.
Thousands of disabled people and carers miss out because they assume that if they were entitled to something, one of the numerous professionals they deal with would have told them.
In fact, when no-one says anything they take it as proof that they aren't entitled.
For those who have language or literacy difficulties, are socially isolated or have hearing or visual impairments, the problems of getting hold of information are magnified.
Yet here we have a government which has been willing to put resources into publicising benefit entitlement.
We've seen adverts aimed at persuading pensioners to claim MIG (minimum income guarantee) and a huge campaign to encourage take-up of tax credits. The success of the latter is almost bringing the Inland Revenue to its knees!
Why is there no equivalent campaign for disability benefits?
Is fear of fraud the reason for the lack of enthusiasm by Government?
Unlikely, since the government itself has repeatedly stated that there is no evidence of fraud within DLA (which is not to say that there won't ever be the odd case).
A verification system - the Periodic Enquiry - ensures that all cases are checked on a regular basis.
By the end of 2002 some 80,000 cases had been checked. Nearly 19% of these were found to be under-claiming, with people getting less benefit than they should have been.
What's especially shocking is that these were all existing customers, people in touch with the system - yet they were missing out on almost £9m worth of benefit.
Is it cost?
Possibly, though that hasn't prevented take-up campaigns for other benefits.
And there is now clear evidence to show that giving disabled people extra money has positive effects on their health, independence and overall quality of life.
Recent research on older disabled people by the National Audit Office demonstrated this very compellingly.
It is highly likely that investment in publicity about disability benefits could prove cost-effective in the long-run.
Is anything being done?
Congratulations are due to the Local Government Association whose 'Quids for kids' campaign was launched last month.
This aims to provide local councils with a range of publicity materials they can use to inform families, especially those with disabled children, about benefits.
Charities, like ourselves, provide telephone helplines and customer-friendly guides on disability benefits.
But this is chicken feed compared to the resources that Central Government have at their disposal.
The big question is why doesn't Government want disabled people to know
about disability benefits?
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