Brain injury victim's family disgusted at 'work' letter
A Londonderry man left in a permanent vegetative state following a sectarian attack has been asked by the Social Security Agency if he is fit for work.
Paul McCauley, 36, was attacked by a gang at a barbecue in the Waterside area of the city on 16 July 2006.
He suffered severe brain injuries and requires round-the-clock care. One man is serving 12 years for his part in the assault.
"This can be difficult and emotional," said the Social Security Agency.
Mr McCauley's family told the BBC they are "disgusted" by the letter.
His father, Jim, said a 12-page document with 30 questions had been posted around the Christmas period in 2012.
"In the majority of the questions we had to record that our son is in a permanent vegetative state," he said.
"I tried to phone the department but I didn't get through to anyone.
"I was later sent a second form and I assumed it was an error.
"I filled in the first form myself and attached the specialist neurosurgeon report along with a report from Paul's GP."
Mr McCauley told the BBC that the family decided to speak out about the issue after a similar story was broadcast on BBC Radio Foyle in August.
Jim said he only just picked up the courage to talk to the media following months of "anger." He said he felt he responded adequately to the Social Security Agency the first time and said Christmas time was an "extremely insensitive period" to send such document.
"Something the Social Security Agency should look at is how they collect information," he said.
"This was quite distressing for the entire family at the time and talking about it now brings back memories.
"All the agencies are entitled to collect their information but some greater sensitivity should be shown for those involved in an industrial accident, a road accident, a sectarian or drunken attack.
"There is a lot of trauma for the family and it's not eased when forms like this really rub salt in the wounds."
A spokesperson for the Social Security Agency said: "Whilst the Social Security Agency is unable to comment on individual cases, it does acknowledge that asking family members to complete complex benefit forms on behalf of their ill relative can sometimes be both difficult and emotional.
"Incapacity benefit is being replaced by Employment Support Allowance and the 83,000 existing incapacity benefit claimants do not automatically receive the new benefit but are mandated by law to complete an application form if they wish apply for it.
"In all cases the agency writes to and telephones all claimants to talk them through the process and offer support. The agency has put in place arrangements to fast track applications by people who are terminally ill or have a serious illness to ensure they receive their payment as soon as possible.
"In these types of cases involving terminally ill or very seriously ill people, the health assessor will decide that there is no requirement for a face to face assessment to determine if the claimant is fit for work."
The agency said it was continuing to work with a wide range of voluntary groups to ensure the process is simple for people with terminal or serious illnesses to apply for and get their social security benefits.