Back to Compassion: A Victory for Law Centre NI

Wednesday, July 15th 2020

Gavel

A legal win at the High Court of Northern Ireland set to benefit not just a terminally ill Law Centre client but others in her position.

Lorraine Cox, a single mother of three who was diagnosed with degenerative Motor Neurone Disease, was refused fast-track access to benefits and instead required to search for work for months after needing to retire due to her condition. This was due to benefits rules that require claimants who apply for Universal Credit (UC) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) on the grounds of terminal illness to prove that they would ‘reasonably be expected’ to die within six months.

As the progression of Motor Neurone Disease is certain but unpredictable, Cox was unable to show that her death was reasonably expected within six months. Therefore, she was refused under the terminal diagnosis rule and faced additional assessments and conditionality in her remaining days.

However, with the help of Law Centre NI and support from the PILS Project, Cox challenged this requirement by bringing forward a Judicial Review. The Law Centre argued that:

“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.”

In his decision, Mr Justice McAlinden stated that, after reviewing the evidence, he could find no justifiable reason for the differential treatment of terminally ill claimants who are not expected to die within six months and those who are reasonably expected to die within six months, but survive beyond that period. He concluded that “This difference in treatment is manifestly without reasonable justification” meaning that it was discriminatory and breached Lorraine’s human rights.

In response, Cox said:

“I feel my decision has been justified and I hope not a single person has to go through the same experience again. I hope the six-month rule can now be scrapped as quickly as possible to ensure that is the case.”

Owen McCloskey, Law Centre NI legal officer, added:

“The pressure to scrap the six-month rule has been growing for a long time now, with campaigners highlighting the additional pain and stress many claimants are forced to endure because of it…This judgement makes clear that the current different treatment of different groups of terminally ill claimants is discriminatory and in breach of our client's human rights."

This important decision would not only help Cox, but would require the benefits rules to be reconsidered, meaning that others in similar positions would not be denied timely support.