On 24 May 2022, the second reading of the Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill [HL] is scheduled to take place in the House of Lords.

The government committed to introduce the bill in the 2022 Queen’s Speech. The bill was not referred to directly in the speech. However, the government made the commitment in the speech’s background document. The government said the main purpose of the bill would be:

Amending the definition of terminal illness in existing legislation, so that individuals who are considered by a clinician as having 12 months or less to live (rather than the current six months) can have fast-tracked access to important disability benefits.

The bill would amend the terminal illness definition from six months to 12 months for the following benefits:

  • disability living allowance
  • personal independence payment
  • attendance allowance

Currently, there is no specific welfare benefit available for those with a terminal illness. However, there are rules within the existing welfare system to fast-track the claims of those who meet the definition of being terminally ill. These are known as the ‘special rules for terminal illness’. The special rules mean that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can consider claims without the need for a face-to-face assessment. If the criteria are met, benefits are often paid at the highest rate.

In recent years, there has been cross-party support for the principle of changing the special rules from a six-month definition to a 12-month end of life approach. Various charities—including the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Hospice UK, and Macmillan Cancer Support—have campaigned for the change.

In 2019, the DWP announced a review of the special rules. When the findings were published in 2021, the government said it would change the definition of ‘end of life’ from a terminal diagnosis of six months to one of 12 months. The government said that implementing the changes for disability-related benefits would require primary legislation.

The government has already changed the terminal illness rules to the 12-month definition for universal credit and employment and support allowance. Those changes were made through secondary legislation and came into effect on 4 April 2022.

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