I've been working on my own benefit claims over the last month or so; ESA and DLA. I have to say that I am sincerely disappointed with the DWP. Until now I had pretty much given them the benefit of the doubt; I thought that the employees were not to blame for how the system works, but as much victims of it as the claimants. Just part of the machine.
I can now categorically tell you that, sometimes, they do not even look at our application forms before making a decision. I realised after posting my DLA form that I had not signed it. I therefore fully expected it to be turned down, with a letter asking me to resubmit it, having sign it. However, what I actually received was a fail based on the medical assessment I had for ESA 18 months ago.
I will point out at this juncture, that the medical 18 months ago was over-turned immediately. It was wrong, the assessor had made unreasonable assumptions based on no evidence, which I clearly illustrated to the DWP as soon as I received her report. I received ESA from a reconsideration, and placed a complaint against the assessor to Atos. (Atos of course defended her).
While it is outrageous that they are using outdated evidence, that is not my point. Had they actually looked at my form they would have realised straight away that they could turn it down based on the lack of signature. They didn't look at it! That is disgusting. Do they have the slightest idea of how much effort, how much energy, how much blood sweat and tears, go into those forms? I severely neglected Christmas preparations because they expected the form back just before Christmas; my waking hours were utilised on the form (plural actually, as I had my ESA50 too). They obviously do not care. I wonder how many people are declined at this stage, not realising that their form has not even been looked at, and not aware that they can appeal. I wasn't aware that you could appeal the first time I was declined after all. No one actually teaches you how the system works.
I can't help thinking that it would save them money if they didn't faff around like this, playing silly buggers. If they actually processed peoples claims properly when they were first sent in, based upon their form and accompanying evidence, surely there would be less need for appeals.
Unfortunately, my experience with ESA is no better. In fact I think I would go as far as to say it's worse. It's a lot more complicated though, so if you cannot follow what I try to explain now, don't worry too much about it.
Whilst getting divorced in 2010 I applied for ESA over the phone. The DWP friendly telephonist I spoke with checked that I had enough National Insurance Credits to claim Contributions Based ESA. My ex had tried to scare me, telling me that I hadn't paid enough of them, which is why we checked, and why it is so memorable that I did have enough of them. (My ex was trying to scare me regarding money in a lot of ways). So, I applied for CB-ESA, got through the application process, and started receiving ESA basic rate.
At the beginning of November I moved into my own flat (call this location A), so changed my address over the phone with the DWP. A couple of weeks later in November I received my divorce settlement. I phoned the DWP to find out if this had any baring on my claim, as I had heard that it could do. I was told that I would no longer receive ESA payments, but that my National Insurance would still be credited. It's a shame that I did not know the system so thoroughly then, as what he told me was wrong and I would have recognised it.
In December I went to stay elsewhere (call this location B) while problems with my flat were sorted out, so I phoned the DWP and gave them the new address again. At that time I was not informed of any problems with my claim.
I moved again in March due to problems with location B, and location A never got sorted out (so call this location C). I contacted the DWP again to give them the address for location C. I was told that they could not change the address on a closed claim. I asked when the claim had been closed, and was told it had been closed in the November, when I had told them about the divorce settlement. I was astounded, as I had not been told in November that he was closing my claim, nor had I received any paperwork to that affect.
When I had returned to location A to check I'd got everything, I found two letters from the DWP; one summoning me for a medical assessment, and another telling me that because I had not attended the medical assessment my benefit would be revoked. They were dated February, and expected me to be at the medical a few days before I found the letters.
So they had screwed up:
- they should not have discontinued a Contributions Based ESA claim based upon a divorce settlement. Contributions Based ESA is not means tested.
- if my claim was closed in November 2011, and you cannot change the address on a closed claim, then I should not have been able to change my address in December.
- when my claim was closed, I should have received paperwork to inform me.
- if my claim was closed in the November, I should not have been summoned for a medical assessment in February.
So, recently, my GP gave me a fit note to cover me for two months. He wanted me to have some income. I wasn't sure what you do with fit notes, so I phoned the DWP to ask. I spoke to one of their helpful telephonists (as opposed to the unhelpful ones), who tried her best to initiate an ESA claim for me, but just could not do it. My record was screwed. Every time she tried to start a claim the computer gave her an error. She probably should not have told me that really. Anyway, she put a request in for me to be sent an ESA1 in the post so that I could fill it in manually and return it myself.
I received the claim pack for Housing Benefit.
I received the claim pack for Carers Allowance.
I received the claim pack for some Disability thing I've never heard of.
Eventually an ESA1 arrived.
On the ESA1 you have to decide whether you wish to claim for Contributions Based ESA, or Income Related ESA. Being aware that my record was a complete mess I thought I'd better check what state my National Insurance was in, so, again I phoned the DWP. I was given a different number to contact the NI Office. I spoke to a lovely man who told me that I have three years of Class 1 credits, should have no problem placing a claim, and that he was disgusted that I was having to do the DWPs legwork for them.
So, confident that they'd screwed my record up enough for me to claim Contributions Based ESA, I ticked that box. Surprise surprise; I received notification back that I do not have enough NI to claim Contributions Based. I already know I can't claim Income Related because my other half's earnings are above the threshold, despite the fact that his outgoings don't allow him to support me.
I'm stuck in a rut. I have made my MP aware of the situation. She is trying to get my National Insurance sorted out, but I suspect that when it is sorted out it will still not be the right kind of credits to claim ESA. She has also given me a supporting letter for my DLA reconsideration, as she was already aware of my health before any of this happened.
Over the last few weeks, working on these claims, I have found out a couple of things that people with M.E. may find interesting:
M.E. claimants, along with claimants who suffer from mental health conditions, are given time limit concessions. That means that they are expected to get their forms back a little late. The DWP telephonists aren't actually aware of this, so if you're phoning the DWP to inform them of lateness, you'll need to explain it to them. It's also a good idea to remind decision makers in a note with your claim. I wouldn't advise returning your form late if you can avoid it, and certainly not weeks late.
M.E. is assessed as CFS by Atos. The Atos guidelines for assessing CFS do not tell the assessor what kind of condition it is, but give them the choice as to whether they assess it as a physical condition, a psychological condition, or a mixture of both. Personally, I don't like this. M.E. is recognised by the WHO and NICE as being a neurological condition, with neurological indicators. The DWP is supposed to use doctor's to assess neurological conditions, but M.E. is exempt from this. I was assessed by a nurse. I know others who have been assessed by physiotherapists, health workers, etc. The reason for this is, apparently, that people with M.E. do not show neurological indicators. Well; I know I do. I also know that they are described in some detail on my form. As such I SHOULD be assessed by a doctor, but can guarantee I will not be.
Honestly, it probably doesn't make any difference. I just feel indignant that M.E. is degraded in this way.