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Last Updated: Monday, 14 November 2005, 00:41 GMT
Cancer parents 'face benefit woe'
Parents face a long wait for benefits the charity claims
Parents of children diagnosed with cancer face an "unnecessary" wait for benefit payments, a charity has said.

Parents routinely face a six-month wait for disability allowance following their child's diagnosis, says the child cancer charity CLIC Sargent.

The charity wants benefits to start as soon as the child begins treatment to avoid "financial hardship" to families.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the allowance was focused on the extra costs of "long-term" disability.

"The system as it stands is unacceptable. Parents have to wait 12 weeks from diagnosis before they can submit a claim," Sarah Talbot-Williams, communications manager at CLIC, told BBC News.

"It can then take between three and six months for the benefit to be paid."

Fast-track claims

Ms Talbot-Williams added the claims forms were overly complex and questioning by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was often intrusive and distressing for parents.

"One of the typical questions parents are asked is whether they think their child will die," she said.

The charity also says that during their child's treatment, some parents give up work to look after them or reduce their hours.

A DWP spokesperson said the government's Disability Living Allowance (DLA) focused "help on the extra costs of long-term, not short-term, disability and this is why someone has to have satisfied the qualifying conditions for three months before the benefit can be paid".

"We want to ensure that people get the support they are entitled to and when the qualifying period has been satisfied by the time they claim, we can make a payment immediately.

"We have built in special arrangements to fast track claims and make immediate payments when someone is not expected to live for more than six months," the spokesperson said.

Regime change

Last year, a survey carried out by the charity highlighted the scale of financial hardship endured by families with children suffering from cancer.

Two-thirds of parents interviewed at three oncology units at Sheffield, Manchester and London reported they had reduced the hours they worked in order to look after their children.

A similar percentage said financial worries had added to the stress.

The charity would like to see the current regime replaced with one where benefit payments were triggered by the child starting radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment.

Under the plan, the child's consultant would tell the DWP the child was undergoing treatment and the benefits would automatically start to be paid.

After that, the eligibility checking process would start.


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