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Armstrong disappointed after Department appears to put scrapping six-month rule on back-burner

Alliance Communities spokesperson Kellie Armstrong MLA has said she is disappointed after plans to scrap the ‘six-month’ rule for those with terminal illnesses claiming benefits appeared to be put on the back-burner by the Department for Communities.

The Strangford MLA was speaking after a meeting of the Assembly’s Communities Committee, during which it was confirmed legislation would now be needed to get rid of the rule, which means people currently have to prove they only have six months or less to live before being able to be fast tracked for certain benefits. Ms Armstrong said it meant the Communities Minister did not have the legislative ability to fund the scheme.

“I completely understand the Communities Minister is under pressure to allocate money from her Budget to various areas under her remit. But the Assembly has previously unanimously backed an Alliance motion calling on the cruel six-month rule to be scrapped. Fast access to financial support benefits for those with a terminal illness should be a priority,” she said.

“It is disappointing we have got this far and only now does the Department realise legislation will be required to remove this rule, particularly given a review recommending its removal was published three years ago, and therefore the Minister doesn't have the legislative ability to fund the scheme.

“The distress and pressure the six-month rule puts on a person, their family and medical professionals is a disgrace. The Department needs to reassess its priorities and while internal efficiencies can be made, it should not be at the expense of terminally ill people. Removal of the six-month rule would adopt a fairer definition of terminal illness, while giving people back their dignity in what may be the last moments.”