Single mother denied daughter’s disability benefit for six years due to ex-partner’s work

Anne-Marie Harrington has won an eight-year legal battle with the government to receive disability benefit for her daugther   (The Independent )
Anne-Marie Harrington has won an eight-year legal battle with the government to receive disability benefit for her daugther (The Independent )

A single mother who was wrongly denied benefits for her disabled daughter for six years has won a legal battle with the government.

Anne-Marie Harrington, 56, was told that her daughter Amirra, who has autism, was not entitled to disability living allowance in the UK as her father was living and working in Belgium.

The Department for Work and Pensions fought for eight years in the courts over the payments but the Court of Appeal has finally ruled in favour of Ms Harrington saying her 13-year-old daughter is entitled to support.

Ms Harrington described the ordeal as a “very long unfathomable fight”. She said the eight-year legal battle had been worth it but taken way too long, adding: “I knew instinctively that this couldn’t be just and loathing any form of injustice I knew I had to fight.”

Amirra was just two years old when her father left the family in September 2012, just one month after the British family had returned to live in the UK after a period in Austria.

The father sends maintenance payments to the family but the amounts vary, Ms Harrington said.

In March 2015, the DWP stopped Amirra’s disability living allowance without warning and told Ms Harrington that she would need to apply to the Belgian authorities instead. The family later discovered there was no equivalent benefit under the Belgian social security system.

Judges ruled that the DWP should restart payments in 2021 ahead of a final decision. In April 2023 a Court of Appeal judge found that young Amirra was entitled to UK benefits in her own right and there was no basis for arguing that Belgium authorities should pay them instead. The government has decided not to appeal the decision - ending the eight-year ordeal for Ms Harrington’s family.

The family will receive a five-figure sum in backdated benefit to cover the years it has not been paid.

Ms Harrington, who has also been battling depression for the last ten years, has been dependent on benefits herself since moving back to the UK in 2012.

Speaking about the government’s decision to suddenly withdraw her child’s benefits in 2015, Ms Harrington told The Independent: “Financially it was such an enormous loss and Amirra was the victim from the beginning.

“She needed therapies and activities to help her when she was young and her brain was developing and we were denied all those possibilities. The financial assistance from the disability living allowance had made an enormous difference, and without it, life became far harder, and limited for Amirra.

“We’ve just existed, ever since. Everything had to be wound down to bare basics to survive. Even charities that help SEND families weren’t able to help us because she didn’t have DLA status. It was just a miserable time but I had to fight.”

Ms Harrington, who has an older son Kai, said Covid lockdown was relatively easy for their family because their financial situation had kept them stuck at home even before the pandemic.

She said: “It’s been a case of existing and not living. We’ve never been on holiday or done any of the other normal things you do with children. When the DLA was restored we were able to start up horserising and therapy again, and able to have days out together.

“It takes a long time to relearn how to be able to live. It’s very weird - you get stuck in such a mundane state of living.”

Ms Harrington was supported in her legal case by Citizens Advice and law firm Osbornes Law. William Ford, who acted for Ms Harrington, said: “This is a fantastic outcome for this family after so many years of uncertainty and hardship, which could have been avoided.

“The legal issues raised in this case were complex but equally, we would not have got the result we did without Anne-Marie’s strength and sheer determination in pursuing the appeal on her daughter’s behalf.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “This was a complex case. The government has accepted the court’sruling and is carefully considering how to implement the judgment.”