Northern Ireland

PIP benefit: Woman with brain injury waiting two years

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Media caption'You worry about everyday things'

A woman from Newry who suffered a brain injury more than two years ago is still waiting for a decision on a disability benefit.

Daphne Faloon, 45, contracted encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, which has left her with memory loss, confusion and extreme fatigue.

She had to give up work but was refused Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

Mrs Faloon said she cannot even remember the PIP assessment and has been trying to appeal the decision.

The Department for Communities could not say how many people were in a similar position but stated that 80% of new cases were given a first appearance before a tribunal within 11 weeks of applying.

PIP replaced the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) benefit in June 2016.

A public services watchdog has said it plans to investigate how a Stormont department has handled PIP benefits following a "significant number of complaints".

Mrs Faloon began her appeal against the decision to refuse PIP in November 2017 and a tribunal hearing was set for March 2018.

However, the hearing was adjourned and no new hearing date has been set.

Her husband, Nigel, who has been helping her appeal the decision for more than a year, is convinced the fact her face-to-face assessment for the benefit happened without anyone there to assist her has influenced the decision to refuse PIP.

"Daphne wouldn't have been able to explain how her injury affects her," he told BBC News NI.

'Hitting a brick wall'

"She has to sleep several times during the day and can become very confused. In the early days, she didn't recognise me or the children which was very hard."

"To be fair I think what happened was that the girl arrived an hour before the appointment and Nigel wasn't with me," Mrs Faloon added.

To make matters worse, Mr Faloon has been diagnosed with high blood pressure and needs to have surgery, which means he will be off work for several months.

"We've worked all our lives but seem to be hitting a brick wall to try to receive a simple benefit for something that Daphne should qualify for," he said.

"It's a brain injury and her life has changed by a vast amount. We have three teenage children who have had to become her carers."

Image caption Head Injury Support manager Anne Murphy said there was "a hidden crisis"

Financially, the next few months look very bleak.

Mr Faloon said they are considering selling possessions to cover their bills if the benefit does not come through.

The couple have been helped by the charity Head Injury Support in Newry.

Manager Anne Murphy said she is shocked at the delay but when she contacted the relevant department they told her it was not unusual.

"I think this is a hidden crisis," she told BBC News NI.

"They told me there are people waiting an awful lot longer. We find most of our people on PIP have had to appeal and then many are starting the tribunal process, which is done through the courts.

"We find for the majority of people with a brain injury, life is never the same. Some people can go back to work but a lot of people can't and, in Daphne's case, the delay is leaving her in severe financial hardship."

A Department for Communities spokesperson said: "The Department for Communities has a service level agreement with the Northern Ireland Court Service to provide an appeals service in a timely manner.

"80% of new cases are given a first listing date before a tribunal within 11 weeks of the appellant completing and returning a hearing type enquiry form.

"The tribunal may either determine the appeal or direct an adjournment. The latest available figures from October 2018, show that the target was being met."

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