Dad forced to prove sons still disabled
Attention, Work and Income managers and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett: Muscular dystrophy is not a condition that somehow goes away.
A Hamilton family are frustrated by Work and Income bureaucracy after the government department threatened to put a stop to disability payments for their two teenaged boys unless they can prove they still have their condition.
Hamish Taylor, 17, and his 15-year-old brother Austin have duchenne muscular dystrophy. Its symptoms including muscle weakness and wasting. They will have to live with it for the rest of their lives.
And that's the message the boys' exasperated father Steve has been struggling to get through to staff at Work and Income, after the organisation's Hamilton Community Link service contacted them to say support for Austin had been stopped because they had not received confirmation from a medical specialist that he still had muscular dystrophy.
"I just don't understand why they want us to keep proving they have a disability," he said.
"I don't have a problem with filling out forms, but to have to prove this, having to go and get these confirmations from the doctor saying they still have muscular dystrophy, is silly.
"I went in to see the manager with a photograph of Austin to show them. I was going to say: 'This is Austin. He is still in the chair. That is not going to change. As soon as he dies I will let Work and Income know. Even before immediate family. That will be the change in his condition'."
Taylor was denied the chance to deliver his message.
"The staff member at the front counter told me managers do not speak to the public and refused to let me see her."
When finally meeting with the manager three weeks later, he said: "Look, why are you wasting my time with this and why are you wasting your own time with this?" The manager was "really good and agreed there was a problem with the system", he said.
"I'm still happy to do the other forms they need me to do - if we have a change in our financial circumstances or something like that . . . but this can be fixed if they just make a small change to their system, acknowledging that conditions like muscular dystrophy are permanent things. It's not that hard to do.
Taylor said the family was "making a fuss" because there must be other families in a similar situation.
"It is not just about my case, as the community centre manager has sorted out mine, but everyone else."
The Taylors' situation was recently raised in Parliament by Hamilton-based Labour list MP Sue Moroney, who said they were far from alone in their predicament.
"Does the minister accept that this constant reassessment by Work and Income of conditions that can't be cured creates additional stress for families who already face difficult circumstances, creates unnecessary cost and bureaucracy for Work and Income and also puts additional work on GP services who are already stretched?"
Bennett replied she did not believe Work and Income was pestering for confirmation.
"At the end of the day we don't believe they are being reassessed. If there are cases where they are, then we will fix it. It is not our policy. It is not the way it should be happening and it is not happening in those cases as you have presented them."
However Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Te Rehia Papesch confirmed a mistake had been made.
"In 2008 we received a medical certificate for Austin which said that he should never be reassessed for his condition," he said.
"A five-year expiry date was incorrectly loaded onto his file and the Taylors received a system-generated letter last month asking them to provide another medical certificate for Austin.
"We met with Mr Taylor in October to apologise and explain what happened. We've fixed the error."