The Social Security (Terminal Illness) Bill, introduced by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, which extends access to fast-tracked financial support for the terminally ill, reaches its final stage in the Assembly today.
Minister Hargey said
“This reform is a critical step forward which will mean more people who find themselves facing the devastating news of a terminal diagnosis will benefit from fast-tracked access to financial support through social security benefits without having to follow the normal application and assessment route.
“They will not have to go through assessments and will get automatic access to benefits earlier.”
Minister Hargey continued,
“This Bill has been a priority for my Department and I want to thank Assembly members and stakeholders for supporting it and its accelerated passage through the Assembly.
“It is a remarkable achievement to have progressed this Bill so quickly and demonstrates the level of support for the existing system to be overhauled so it works better for terminally ill people.
“I will keep provision under review and consider further options for reform in the future.”
This reform, once introduced, will result in fast-tracked financial support where a terminal illness diagnosis has been received and death is reasonably expected within 12 months.
Current special rules for terminal illness provide an automatic entitlement to certain social security benefits, and crucially, fast-tracked financial support where a person has received a diagnosis of a terminal illness and death is reasonably expected within six months.
Once the Bill has received Royal Assent, the Department plans to bring the changes into operation in early April this year.
Craig Harrison, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Marie Curie Northern Ireland, said,
“This is a hard-won victory for terminally ill people across Northern Ireland. The passage of this Bill will deliver fast-track access to welfare benefits for thousands of dying people in the years ahead, helping to provide the financial security and peace of mind we would all want as we approach the end of our lives.
“Until now, far too many terminally ill people in Northern Ireland have been spending their final weeks and months fighting against the bureaucracy of the benefits system. The Assembly has acted decisively to change that, ripping up a cruel rule from Westminster and showing just what a difference Stormont can make to the lives of local people.
“We will continue to monitor the impact of the new system to ensure it as working as well as it can for as many dying people as possible.”
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