Angry campaigners are calling on the government to reverse its decision to bar visually-impaired people over 65 from claiming a new higher rate of a disability benefit.
>From April, about 22,000 people with severe visual impairments will for the first time be able to claim the higher rate of the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA).
But visually-impaired DLA claimants who are already over 65 years old will not be able to receive the higher rate – depriving them of more than £30 extra a week.
Two disability organisations – the National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFB UK) and Living Without Sight (LWS) – are calling on the government to extend the new rules to include those over 65.
Jill Allen-King, public relations officer for NFB UK and a trustee of LWS, first campaigned for blind people to be eligible for the higher rate mobility component in 1992 when DLA was introduced and she was a member of the government’s DLA advisory board.
She said: “I am very, very cross that people over 65 will not get the higher rate.”
She said it was not right that blind people like her, who receive lower rate mobility component and campaigned for the right for blind people to claim the higher rate – but were now over 65 – would not benefit from the change in April.
She said: “They have campaigned for it, so why aren’t they receiving it?”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “For those who become disabled after age 65 there is extra help to cover the costs of an illness or disability through attendance allowance (AA).
“Those people who are already receiving DLA when they become 65 can continue to receive it as long as they satisfy the conditions of entitlement.
“However, the lower mobility rate of DLA cannot be increased to the higher rate after this age as there is no equivalent rate in AA. We must remain consistent in the way we apply our benefits which is why this rule will apply to the new measure for the blind in the same way as it applies to all other cases.”
A spokeswoman for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) said it had taken legal advice over the issue but was told the DWP would not be able to make the change because the rules apply across all benefits for disabled people.
She said: “We have looked at whether there is any hope of change if we pursue that and there isn’t.”
She said it was “really disappointing and frustrating for anyone who campaigned on the issue”, but RNIB was now focusing on “other ways to make sure people get a fair deal from the benefits system”, including the government’s planned changes to DLA and its other welfare reforms.
5 January 2011