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Department of Health 'illegally' put age limit on disability allowance

The Ombudsman found that the 66-year age limit on Mobililty Allowance Scheme for people with a severe disability has been illegal – and the department has known this for the past four years.

THE OMBUDSMAN HAS declared that an upper age limit placed on the payment of an allowance to people with a severe disability is “illegal”.

Emily O’Reilly’s report this morning has also noted that the Department of Health – which operated the scheme for the HSE – has known for the past four years that not allowing people aged 66 and over to apply for the Mobility Allowance Scheme is an illegal condition. This cutoff point was introduced 12 years ago on the scheme which itself has been running since 1979. It is worth €208.50 per month to recipients.

This upper age limit on the Mobility Allowance Scheme was previously denounced by the Ombudsman and the Department of Health had agreed in April 2011 to drop the illegal upper age limit, according to the report. However, the Department has yet to do so and this month “rejected a similar recommendation from the Ombudsman”. The Ombudsman had renewed its investigations into the condition after receiving five complaints from people refused the allowance on the basis of their age. The report states that:

The Ombudsman’s recommendation was that the upper age limit should be removed from the scheme generally and that the complainants’ applications should be reconsidered without reference to the upper age limit.

  • The Department’s defence: It can’t afford to drop the upper age limit as it would “create liabilities the State could not afford”.
  • The Ombudsman’s response: “The continued disregard of the law by a key State body is quite unacceptable. The Ombudsman says that she does not accept that a decision by the Department to remove the illegal upper age limit would necessarily expose the State to spending which it cannot now afford.”

The April 2011 report referred to by the Ombudsman found that the cutoff point of 66 years was “in breach of the Equal Status Act 2000″. The Department of Health had agreed at the time to implement the changes to their age policy by October 2011. That has not happened.

Read the full conclusions by Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly here on Too Old to be Equal? – A Follow-up.

The Mobility Allowance is means-tested and is paid to help people with a severe disability to get around, especially when they are unable to walk or use public transport. If you have been receiving the allowance previous to turning 66, it won’t be taken from you; but you can’t apply for it if you are aged 66 or over.

On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said her next step is to state her case in front of the relevant Oireachtas committee. She said that in terms of people seeking compensation for not being allowed to apply for the scheme, she noted that it was an administrative scheme and not a statutory one but that those who were refused access “purely on the grounds of age… may have a case”.

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