PIP benefit regular reviews to be scrapped for pensioners
Thousands of disabled pensioners in Northern Ireland are to be spared regular reviews for the Personal Independence Payment benefit.
The Department for Communities has confirmed that 7,500 people will no longer have to be regularly reassessed.
This follows a pledge by Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to scrap the current system.
From the spring, pensioners will face fewer checks and personal assessments.
East Belfast man Reggie Duff, 66, who suffers from degenerative lung disease, has cautiously welcomed the move away from a system he said "attacked pensioners" unfit to battle through reviews and appeals.
Mr Duff was told he would be stripped of his long-term disability benefit last summer following a reassessment as part of the change over from Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
He was finally awarded PIP in January following a lengthy appeal process he said left him so stressed he "lived in fear" of his next review.
"The threat of reassessment takes away your peace of mind, wondering about your finances and preparing for the possibility that disability benefit could be taken off you," he said.
"I know so many pensioners in the same boat as me and the stress is driving them nuts, it is soul-destroying.
"My disease is only getting worse, I already have the lungs of a 90 or 100 year-old man, yet until now I thought I would be reviewed.
"The current system does not give you hope or faith in the government, so this change should have been made long before now. It is reassuring to think I may not have to go through a review again but I will believe it when I see it."
Mr Duff added that his own negative reassessment left him believing "somebody could turn around and say they have made a mistake".
"My faith in the system will not be easily restored. Once your trust is gone it is gone," he said.
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Ms Rudd also plans to increase a government target for getting a million more disabled people into work by 2027.
In a speech on Tuesday to the disability charity Scope, she said her blind father's experience influenced her plans to "level the terrain" for disabled people.
"My father became blind in 1981. For 36 years his blindness was a normal part of my family's life. Of my life," she said.
"Disabled pensioners have paid into our system for their whole lives and deserve the full support of the state when they need it most."
A Department for Communities spokesperson said: "We will be mirroring this approach in NI and from this spring, about 7500 people in NI will not have personal independence payment (PIP) regularly reviewed."