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Mum protests at department's Belfast offices over benefits decision

Kirsty Scott with her son Stephen at the Causeway Exchange building in Belfast city centre. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

AN ILL mother and her disabled son led a protest outside a Stormont department's offices yesterday after being turned down for benefits support.

Kirsty Scott applied to the Department for Communities (DfC) to receive the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA), but was turned down for both.

She demonstrated outside the Causeway Exchange building in Belfast city centre to call for a meeting with DfC permanent secretary Leo O'Reilly to hear her story.

Ms Scott (52), who lives in Newtownabbey with her 28-year-old son Stephen who has autism, said she has been "dealing with the profound grief and trauma" of several bereavements and is "battling a range of physical and mental illnesses and conditions".

"This is my story, none of which was recorded by PIP or ESA assessors or taken into account by decision-makers," she said ahead of the demonstration.

"If all of this is not recognised as constituting 'exceptional circumstances' how does anyone have chance of getting the support they need?"

Sara Boyce, a development worker at the charity Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR), which has been supporting Ms Scott, urged DfC to "pay Kirsty an income to support her family" and to "implement a human rights checklist to safeguard the vulnerable".

PIP is replacing the old Disability Living Allowance (DLA), with more than 125,000 people in Northern Ireland gradually being re-assessed to see if they qualify for the new benefit.

DfC said Ms Scott was met yesterday by a senior official and the letter she presented was "received and acknowledged and a commitment was made to respond directly in due course".

A spokeswoman said DfC could not comment on individual cases, but said that anyone disagreeing with the department's decision could ask for it to reviewed. There is also the opportunity to appeal to an independent tribunal, she added.

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