7 January 2008
Plans to allow people with dementia to be tagged could make it harder for them to successfully claim benefits such as DLA or AA, even if they do not wear the tags.

The Alzheimer’s Society decision to support the controversial move, without giving any consideration to the potentially disastrous financial consequences, may make it easier for the DWP to refuse awards.

The government announced in April 2007 that it was looking at the possibility of tagging dementia sufferers, possibly with their consent, in order to reduce the danger of them becoming lost if they wander unaccompanied. Last month the Alzheimer’s Society, which had not previously supported the idea, published a position paper in which they stated that tagging is:

“particularly suitable for people with dementia in the early and moderate stages, when it can support independence, enable a person to take informed risks and consent can be given”

The Society went on to state that tagging could also be used on people in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, adding that:

“every effort should be made to enable people with dementia to participate as much as possible in the decision-making process, even when the person appears to lack capacity.”

Financial consequences
However, nowhere in the detailed paper did the Alzheimer’s Society look at the possible financial consequences of the use of tagging devices. Many claims for DLA and AA in relation to dementia centre at least in part around the issue of wandering and the potential dangers to the claimant. Examples of the claimant having disappeared for hours are frequently cited in evidence.

The danger is that the DWP will be able to argue that continual supervision to protect a claimant from substantial harm because of the danger of wandering is no longer required because a reasonable alternative is available in the form of a tagging device.

It is clear from the a commissioners decision of February 2004 (CA/4332/2003) that the availability of electronic devices may prevent a successful claim for benefits based on supervision needs. This case related to a claim for AA based on the need for supervision because of a danger of falling. The commissioner, referring the case back to be heard by a fresh tribunal, held that:

“There is then a more general question that must be considered as to whether the claimant could reasonably be expected to take precautions, other than being supervised, in order to avoid the danger. These days, such precautions might include wearing a device that enables a person who has fallen to activate a telephone monitoring service through which help can be summoned, provided, of course, that such a service is potentially available to the claimant.”

Given the Alzheimer’s Society’s support for the idea in principle, it will be very difficult for claimants to argue that it is unreasonable to expect them to wear a tag unless the cost is prohibitive. But if local authorities make the tags available for free, as seems likely, then it may quickly become considered unreasonable for people with Alzheimer’s to decline to wear one.

Other dangers
There may, of course, be many reasons why tagging would not remove a need for supervision. Questions such as whether the tag can be removed by the claimant and whether there are dangers other than becoming lost, such as wandering into strangers’ homes and failing to be aware of traffic and other hazards should be considered. However, there is a strong possibility that such issues will not be raised by claimants and their carers, unaware of the complexities of the benefits system, or accepted by decision makers.

Tagging may well prove to be a great source of security to many people with Alzheimer’s and their carers. But for a national charity to endorse the idea without a single reference to the issue of the potential financial effects on disabled people and their carers is extraordinary.

New guides
Benefits and Work will be bringing out two new guides to claiming AA in May of this year, following the anticipated introduction of a new style AA claim pack. We intend to give detailed advice about the issue of tagging, and other electronic devices, both in those guides and in future editions of our DLA guides.

© 2008 Steve Donnison


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