Unwell woman, 98, denied government support due to Home Office delay

The Home Office has been accused of waiting for a sick 98-year-old woman to die before allowing her to receive financial support for her care needs, with Tory MPs calling on ministers to act as a “matter of urgency”.

Myrtle Cothill, a South African national whose immigration case gained media attention in 2016 after she was threatened with deportation – and subsequently allowed to stay – is now said to be “on the brink of destitution” as the government is denying her access to public funds .

Her daughter Mary Wills, a 72-year-old British citizen, who is the sole carer for her mother whom she lives with in Poole, Dorset, told The Independent the pair were struggling to get by without state support.

The Home Office has been threatened with legal action over the case, with Ms Cothill’s solicitor Jan Doerfel arguing that its delay in making a decision on an application to grant her access to public funds is unlawful.

(Mary Wills)

The 98-year-old, who suffers from end stage heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and macular degeneration, causing site loss, was threatened with removal in 2016 after the Home Office refused her appeal to remain in Britain despite her having no relatives in South Africa.

The decision was overturned following widespread media coverage of her case and public outcry, which saw 150,000 people sign a petition calling for her to remain in the UK.

However, the elderly woman is now suffering after waiting six months and counting for the Home Office to respond to an application for her permission to remain – which she must apply for every two and a half years – and to access public funds, which would allow Ms Wills to receive carer’s allowance to support her with looking after her mother.

This means she is receiving no support for her care needs, despite the fact that a medical report carried out in May 2021 – which was submitted to the Home Office – stated that she had end stage heart failure and that she had less than 50 per cent chance of living for longer than a year.

Ms Wills, who is herself suffering from health conditions, said she was struggling financially and physically to care for her mother, particularly following the death of her husband, who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, in May 2020.

“It’s got really difficult since he passed away. He helped me look after my mum and he brought in most of our income, through his disability allowance and his part-time job at a supermarket,” said the 72-year-old.

“We are struggling. I’m not well myself. Mom needs help. Without public funds I cannot afford for a carer to come in here and see to her. She is really frail, I’ve got to wash and dress and feed her. Things are not easy.

(Mary Wills)

“But the Home Office couldn’t care two hoots. Ella she’s a little old lady get it but they do n’t seem to care. I think they’re waiting for my mother to die, or for me to die. They’re pushing me to the end of my limit. I’ve picked up illnesses due to the stresses and strains.”

Ms Wills said she was currently surviving off £178 per week, plus a sporadic income from her late father’s private pension, which amounts to around £328 per month.

“I can’t afford to buy my mum clothes, I have to keep washing them. She dribbles and her tops are getting very dirty, but then I worry about spending money on my electric by doing washing, ”she added.

“There are wonderful people out there who have sent me little bits of money, my church has as well. That has sort of been keeping us going, but you feel really dreadful and belittled when people give you money. I’ve lost 10kg since last September due to the worry and stress.”

The Home Office delay has prompted cross-party MPs, including Tory MP Andrea Leadsom and Tim Farron from the Liberal Democrats, to urge the Home Office to speed up the decision process on the case.

Ms Leadsom, a former minister and contender for Conservative Party leadership, wrote to the department at the start of February stating: “Unfortunately Mrs Cothill is extremely ill and a determination of her applications is therefore required as a matter of extreme urgency.

“In all the circumstances, I would be grateful if you will please arrange for an immediate review of this case and let me have your comments as a matter of urgency to enable me to report to those representing Mrs Cothill.”

Mr Doerfel, who submitted pre-action correspondence to the Home Office on behalf of Ms Cothill last week, said: “The Home Office is well aware that there is no basis on which they can lawfully refuse my client’s application for further leave to remain […] If she returned to South Africa, she would be likely to die within weeks.

“But even though Myrtle and her daughter are on the brink of destitution and Myrtle is suffering from end stage heart failure and doesn’t have long to live, the Home Office is intentionally delaying making a decision on her application.

The Home Office states on its website that caseworkers make “reasonable efforts” to decide on change of visa condition applications “promptly”, especially those involving an applicant who is “street homeless, disabled or otherwise in vulnerable circumstances”. The latest data available indicates that it does so within 30 days on average.

Mr Doerfel said the six-month delay on Ms Cothill’s case was “entirely unreasonable” and could “not possibly be considered to amount to ‘prompt’ decision making”.

He added: “Considering the Home Office has already delayed my client’s application by over half a year and is refusing to expedite it even though Myrtle has literally only months left to live leaves me with the inescapable impression that the Home Office is waiting for Myrtle to die to prevent her possible recourse to public funds.”

The Home Office has been approached for comment.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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