Allowance concerns

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School leavers with learning disabilities in Derry are not getting their social welfare benefits due to red tape, it’s been claimed.

Campaigners are angry that families of people with learning difficulties cannot have their Employment and Supported Living Allowance welfare applications dealt with in Derry because the service has been moved to Belfast. Parents and campaigners have claimed that when they call the phone number provided for the Belfast office operated by the Department of Social Development in order to get processed for the allowance they get no answer.

Derry City Council has now written to DSD Minister Nelson McCausland to address the situation. Chair of the council’s Development Committee, SDLP Colr Brenda Stevenson, who also works in special needs education in Derry, said the “current system is broken”, adding that many parents are not even aware that their children are entitled to the allowance on leaving school.

“The current situation is unacceptable. I know of one parent who has been trying to get through the office in Belfast since June but cannot get through on the number provided. Parents are trying for hours to get through. When people go into the benefits office at Asylum Road they are told they can’t be dealt with there because they must first be processed by the Belfast office. The system is broken and needs to be fixed.” Mary O’Neill, from campaign group, Foyle Parents and Friends, said: “Parents are finding it really difficult to contact the office in Belfast to get the forms they need. The line is constantly engaged. If young people from here leave school they should be able to register to sign on here.” She added: “Our young people are not made aware of what they are entitled to when they leave school and as a result do not access the benefit the are entitled to. I have spoken to one parent whose daughter has received nothing since September.”