DLA Higher Rate Mobility for children with behavioural issues: your Top 5 questions answered

9 mins read

Wednesday 21 September 2022

Tags: dla, facebook q&a, higher rate mobility

This month our Family Finance Team ran another busy Q&A session about how to claim the higher rate mobility (HRM) component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for children with autism spectrum conditions or learning disabilities. 

Below are 5 interesting questions asked during the Q&A that we think many other families will find helpful, but you can read them all in Contact’s private Facebook Group for parent carers. 

We also recommend taking a look at our HRM factsheet, reading our answers to the Top 5 questions asked in our previous Q&A, and watching our YouTube webinar for more in-depth advice. 

1. I have just applied for HRM for my six-year-old daughter, and I asked my local shoe shop to evidence what they saw when we were in. Are ‘witness statements’ like this taken into account? 

Supportive evidence doesn’t always have to be provided by professionals. Ultimately, anyone who knows your child well and who has a detailed knowledge of the difficulties that you face out of doors can be asked to provide written evidence in support. 

The more information that you can provide about your child’s mobility needs, the better. Families will often provide supportive evidence from professionals who are involved with their child. It’s not normally enough for a professional to simply confirm that your child has a particular condition. 

In order to be useful, any letters or reports from professionals will also need to describe the difficulties your child has in getting around out of doors. School or nursery reports can be common alongside letters of support from health professionals such as doctors, nurses, health visitors or therapists. Some families may also have a social worker or social care staff helping them support their child.  

2. I was told that my son won’t qualify for HRM on the grounds of ‘severe mental impairment’ because he only needs to be restrained at home. He masks quite well at school, but outside it’s horrendous. I don’t feel this is fair. How can I sort this out?

One of the tests to qualify for HRM on the grounds of severe mental impairment is that the need for physical restraint must be ‘regular’. In another case, a Judge found that in order to be classed as ‘regular’ restraint must be needed not only when out of doors but also at least some of the time in-doors. If your child needs restraint at home as well as outside – even if not normally at school – there may still be a case to argue. 

However, there have been disagreements in case law about the relevance of a highly structured school environment in applying these tests. The rules are extremely complex, so I would recommend that you call our free helpline on 0808 808 3555 (open Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm) to discuss this in more detail with a member of our Family Finance Team.

3. How should my child’s school word their supporting letter for our DLA application? I have heard of applications being rejected because assessors focused on particular words, such as ‘chooses to’. 

Unfortunately, there is no standard form of wording that is likely to lead to a more successful outcome. Ultimately, any information that is provided in support of an HRM award would need to be specific to that child’s individual behaviours and needs – and these can vary hugely from child to child. 

In relation to cases where a family are arguing for HRM on the grounds of refusal episodes, it’s not uncommon for the DLA Unit to refuse on the basis that they believe that a child is able to walk and is making a conscious decision not to walk, i.e. that they won’t walk rather than can’t walk. 

However, it’s often possible to argue that any refusal episodes result from your child’s behaviour problems and are intricately bound up with the symptoms of their condition. Where a child is not in control of their behaviours or their response to these, it’s possible to argue that they can’t accurately be described as a child who is merely choosing not to walk. 

Children may often have a raft of symptoms that are relevant to their ability to walk but which may make them not wish to walk – including sensory issues, clumsiness and lack of coordination, high levels of anxiety and fearfulness, poor balance, muscle weakness, tiredness, lack of endurance, breathlessness, and embarrassment. If you can show that your child has symptoms of this type and as a result has frequent episodes where their ability to walk is interrupted – and that these episodes are sustained and not easily overcome by coaxing or the promise of treats – you should have a good case to argue that these episodes are not due to your child being wilful or naughty, but rather that they are symptoms of his condition over which they have no control. You will need to explain to the DLA Unit the types of refusal episodes that you face, how frequent they are, the difficulties you face in overcoming them in trying to get your child to walk, and the symptoms that you think are causing these behaviours. 

4. Is there an assessment that can be done, such as an IQ test, to prove your child is severely mentally impaired (SMI)? I only have reports from my son’s special school and his paediatrician, but neither cover all the points needed to qualify on the grounds of SMI. 

A ‘severe impairment of intelligence’ is generally taken to be an IQ of 55 or less. However, while IQ is a starting point, this is not the only measure of impaired intelligence. If a child’s IQ is above 55, or it is difficult to measure their IQ test, the decision-maker at the DWP must consider other evidence. For example, children who have autism spectrum disorders may do well in intelligence tests but may find it very difficult to use their intelligence in everyday situations, such as using the road safely. 

So even if a child has an IQ of more than 55, it may still be possible to show that they have a severe impairment of intelligence if you can establish that they have difficulty applying their intelligence in the real world. The DWP must consider, for instance: does the child have the ability to make sound judgements? Do they have insight, i.e. the ability to discern the true nature of a situation? Do they have sagacity, i.e. the ability to reason and deliberate, to evaluate information before making a decision? In one Upper Tribunal case, it was accepted that a child with no sense of danger ‘lacks such a fundamental aspect of basic intelligence’ that his intelligence must be severely impaired. 

So alongside gathering evidence from your child’s school or nursery about any cognitive difficulties they have in comparison to their peers, information about issues such as lack of insight and awareness of common dangers will also be very useful. 

5. I want to re-apply for DLA for my son, who gets lower rate mobility. He isn’t physically impaired, but he needs a lot of support and supervision. It’s more of a psychological issue than a physical one. How could he qualify for HRM? 

There are two ways that a child with challenging behaviour can qualify for HRM.

The first is on the grounds that they are effectively ‘virtually unable to walk’ as a result of temporary interruptions in their ability to walk – what are often referred to refusal episodes. For example, they might have frequent episodes where they will refuse to make any progress on foot, perhaps throwing themselves on the ground or going limp. Children with autism spectrum disorders also often have refusal episodes where they refuse to either leave the house or go where parents want them to, or will refuse to go any further while they are out. 

The ‘interruptions’ must be part of a physical disability or have a physical cause, rather than being under conscious control. DLA case law has accepted that autism spectrum disorders are physical disorders of brain development, and that some children with learning disabilities may have ‘interrupted’ walking because of a physical cause such as brain damage, or a chromosome or genetic disorder (such as Down syndrome). 

The problem is that there are no hard and fast rules about how frequent these episodes must be in order to meet this test. Ultimately, a decision-maker will need to look at the individual case and see if they feel that these episodes are happening with enough regularity that the child can fairly be described as virtually unable to walk.  

The second way of qualifying is on the basis of ‘severe mental impairment’ (SMI). This is only open to those who get the highest rate of the DLA care component, but that is just one of the five tests they must meet in order to qualify. You must also show that they have ‘a state of arrested development or an incomplete physical development of the brain’ (for example, an autism spectrum disorder); that they have a ‘severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning’; and that they exhibit very unpredictable behaviour which is extreme and disruptive. 

Their chances of getting this benefit on the grounds of SMI will depend on the challenging behaviours they have and whether they meet all of the five tests set out in our factsheet. For example, you would need to show that his behaviours are disruptive and extreme and that he requires regular restraint to avoid a risk of danger to himself and others and that he is so unpredictable that the whole time he is awake (i.e. not just out of doors but also at home and at school/nursery) he needs someone to be there watching over him.