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Child Refugees Being Denied DLA

April 27, 2016

The Omars arrived in Britain as refugees from Syria last year so that the family could receive urgent medical care for their young daughter Zaynab, who has severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy. The three-year-old is now receiving NHS medical attention for her seizures in Coventry, where the family has been resettled. But since their arrival in July, the Omars have been denied crucial disability benefits because of an eligibility rule that requires claimants to have lived in the UK for two of the last three years. The restriction has raised questions about the UK’s aim to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria in the next five years, many of whom will suffer from war-inflicted injuries and other disabilities.

Without the two-year restriction, refugees who come to Britain could immediately access disability living allowance (DLA), which ranges from £21.80 to £139.75 per week for a disabled child. Qualifying for DLA also opens the door to an array of other benefits and support services from subsidised transport to tax credits.

In a two-storey townhouse in the West Midlands, Zaynab rolls around on the living room carpet, chewing on the zip of her fuzzy jumpsuit, and humming loudly between wide grins and high-pitched screams. She suffers from anywhere between one and 20 seizures a day, sleeps only three hours each night, and her doctors don’t know if she will ever walk on her own.

Zaynab’s condition would qualify her for the highest level of DLA. Because she was barred from receiving it, her parents have not been able to access respite programmes, extra help from children’s services, or carer’s allowance. These services would help children like Zaynab develop motor skills, as well as supporting parents in their round-the-clock care. And the extra funding would cover emergency costs such as having to take a taxi to the hospital. Without this help, the Omars are essentially housebound, which complicates their efforts to build a new support network or look for work.

“Anything is better than Iraq, where there was absolutely no support,” says Zaynab’s father, Adnan Omar, who fled Syria for Iraq in 2013. He is relieved to find medical care for his daughter in England, but adds: “We came through the UN because of my daughter’s disabilities, so I thought we would get support for our daughter, and now we’re finding these strange rules.”

Since 2013, Mike Spencer, a solicitor for the Child Poverty Action Group, has been working to overturn the two-year wait for DLA for refugees. In March a hearing at the upper tribunal found it to be unlawfully discriminatory against refugees. The judgment ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) two-year restriction on refugees contravened the European convention on human rights and EU law.

Spencer says: “We rightly prioritise disabled children for resettlement in the UK, and, assuming the tribunal’s decision is not challenged [by the government], this small but especially vulnerable group of children fleeing persecution will get the support they badly need.”

Spencer had appealed over two cases in which DLA was denied to refugee families. One was a young refugee from east Africa, denied DLA at the age of 14, even though his hydrocephalus and spinal scoliosis entailed constant care from his mother, who is raising three children on her own. She has fallen into significant debt due to the extra costs of looking after her disabled son. Little things rack up bills. His dietary needs change week by week, and the shuffling between doctors’ appointments never really ends.

“As a refugee, you’re not here by choice, and imagine you have a younger family member who depends on you,” she says. “It leaves you in a very bad place when you don’t have the support you need from the very people trying to protect you.”

In the year ending June 2015, the British government granted protection to 11,600 asylum seekers and resettled 809 vulnerable refugees from conflict-ridden countries. Yet it does not publish the number of people with disabilities who are seeking asylum.

Julie Faulkner, a local Citizens Advice manager who coordinates resettlement in Coventry, says the tribunal ruling, if accepted, would come as a great relief to the nine Syrian families who qualify for DLA in the city – more than a quarter of all Syrian families there. “From the minute the first Syrian refugees arrived in Coventry through the government programme, we’ve been battling on this,” says Faulkner.

Campaigners are now waiting to see if the government appeals against the judgment. If it accepts the ruling on DLA, it could open the door for all disabled refugees – not just children – to access other financial support including attendance allowance and carer’s allowance.

Asked if the government was likely to appeal, a spokesman responded: “We are considering the upper tribunal’s judgment and will respond in due course.” He added: “The UK is a world leader in supporting vulnerable people fleeing conflicts around the world and we have an established and effective system to accommodate and shelter resettled people.”

Spencer advises disabled refugees and their carers to seize this opportunity to apply for DLA and other disability benefits now, while the ruling stands as law.

Adnan Omar, for one, is putting in an application. “Zaynab is the world to me,” he says, rubbing his daughter’s back. “The only thing I ask for is the right healthcare and support.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2016 7:11 am

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  2. Christine permalink
    April 27, 2016 7:16 am

    Never an easy solution is it? Zaynab is profoundly disabled through no fault of her own and the UK have helped her and her family resettled. The problem is where do we stop with the benefits that should be given to our people and are not and we have to fight for every penny that we put in for and then fight again with tribunals. It is terribly sad and hard for Zaynabs family to have a child like her, there are hundreds of children in this country who are also disabled line Zaynab but do they get benefits? Ask yourself.

  3. Spoonydoc permalink
    April 27, 2016 10:58 am

    I fell foul of the same rule when my family moved back here from France. Apparently one should refrain from being disabled for the first two years of entering (or returning to) the UK…
    On the other hand my family didn’t move here with nothing like refugees are doing.

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