I was recently contacted by a lady who is receiving treatment for cancer. She applied for disability allowance in April this year but was told she is not likely to receive a decision on her application until mid-July.
In the interim, she has been travelling to and from Dublin every day from Westmeath to receive treatment. She does not have her own transport and there is no alternative for her to get to Dublin from where she lives but to take public transport. Every day, she and a companion, who travels with her to support her, take the bus to Dublin and back in order that she can receive radium treatment. The cost of this travel is almost €40 per day. A cancer diagnosis does not mean everything else suddenly stops. Bills still need to be paid and food put on the table. Life has to go on, but for already stretched families an extra travel bill of €40 per day is often too much to bear.
If this lady's application for disability allowance is approved, and we expect it will be given her circumstances, she would be eligible for free travel and would not have to incur these costs. However, as I understand it, it is not possible to claim back travel costs already incurred once disability allowance is finally granted. This means people who are extremely ill and would ordinarily be entitled to this benefit are incurring very high costs for transport due to the long processing delays in the Department.
On a separate issue related to delays, I have also been contacted by a lady who has applied for carer's allowance but must wait 18 weeks before her application will be reviewed. These long waiting times are simply inexcusable and unacceptable and something must be done to address them.
Specifically in the case of those who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer, and who are receiving regular treatment that requires travel over long distances, it would be appropriate to automatically grant them free travel from day one. This would relieve the extraordinary financial stress that some find themselves under at a time when they are already extremely vulnerable and need all of the support they can get. Lest we forget, these people are fighting illness and we should do all we can to help them.
I understand that disability allowance, or any other benefit, cannot simply be handed out without a proper assessment as to entitlement, but where we know that somebody has a serious and potentially terminal illness and has to travel for treatment, free public transport should be offered from the outset and without any further review.
It is likely that a large number of people will make their own transport arrangements and not need to take public transport. This measure should make a huge difference to those who need public transport and its introduction would be reasonable and justifiable. Most importantly, it would be the caring and compassionate thing to do for those affected. Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider amending the system to make this benefit available in circumstances such as those I have outlined.