This year my health has gone downhill somewhat. I suppose it has been doing that for some time, but when I finished my previous job I just knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I was a total mess, and my list of needs and adjustments from a job was getting longer than the job description itself.
In April I applied for Employment and Support Allowance for the first time. For those of you that don’t know much about it, it’s the benefit that replaced Incapacity Benefit – for disabled people who can no longer work.
There are three rates – the Assessment Rate, the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) and the Support Group. If placed in the WRAG they admit you’re too ill to work currently, but feel you should be able to work with support in the future. People in this group have to attend regular work-related meetings with companies who receive bonuses if they can get you into work; can be forced into unlimited work-placements and can even sanction you. So in one breath they admit people in this group cannot work, and then force them too – and stop their benefits if they refuse. The Support Group means they feel you cannot work, and do not expect you to anytime soon.
The way the system is supposed to work is that you receive the assessment rate for 13 weeks, then either a decision maker at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) decides if you should go in a group or be found ‘fit for work.’ If they feel they don’t have enough information they can send you for a medical with ATOS. The assessment rate is lasting much longer than 13 weeks, however, which is probably because a large amount of people are being sent for the medicals despite copious medical evidence with their applications that should give the decision maker enough information to decide.
The medical tests themselves are highly controversial as it’s been shown those carrying them out are under a lot of pressure to find the person fit for work. The tests are extremely limited in scope, and most people are indeed found fit for work and then have to appeal it. In most cases this decision is overturned at tribunal level – showing the system is flawed. The whole process causes a lot of stress to the claimant and this horror vastly increased in October when they decided that if you were found fit for work and appealed, you’d no longer be paid the assessment rate while you waited for the tribunal – which can take up to a year to happen. The benefit starts at £56.80 a week for under 25s, and £71.70 for over 25s. This amount is what people have to live on, and removing it is beyond cruel.
In July I was told I would be having a medical. While expecting this, I was still annoyed as my claim included excellent medical evidence. My GP had written a long letter, as well as my Occupational Therapist. I also had a pile of letters from my consultants including the top specialist in Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome in Britain.
But I heard nothing for six months. When October passed my worry increased dramatically. I wondered what would happen if I was found fit for work and had no income while I appealed. I fretted about how I’d pay the rent for the accessible bungalow I live in, or pay for the treatment the NHS won’t cover.
I’ve also been through all this before with Disability Living Allowance and it wasn’t a very fun time. I pretty much had a mini-break down and had to go through two tribunals. You can read about that starting here and follow the whole saga under the tag ‘benefit claim’.
Having had bad news so often before, and living in constant fear of bad news from the DWP – I have a certain reaction every time I spot their distinctive letter I call the ‘dreaded brown envelope.’
I’m a little superstitious, even though I know it’s silly. I say the rhyme when I see a lone magpie, I throw spilt salt over my shoulder and I make a wish when the numbers on a clock are all the same. I’d been lying awake for some hours trying to sleep (not uncommon) when I spotted it was 2:22am. I made a wish. “Please. Please just let me know either way before Christmas.”
The next morning I was hobbling past the front door when it caught my eye. The dreaded brown envelope. My heart began to thump and my breath caught in my throat. I opened it quickly, and tried to make sense of it. Two words stood out to me – Support Group.
Relief flared through me, but as I read further it stated that I’d been placed in the Support Group from July – 30th November.
When you get put in a group a time of claim goes along with it, and I was aware that people have been placed in a group before and thought they were okay, only to find out that by the time they’d been told which group they were in, their claim had finished. Was that what had happened to me?
I immediately phoned the DWP and spoke to a nice lady who looked my claim up, and agreed that the letters were confusing, but those dates were referring to back pay. They agreed I should have gone into the Support Group from July, and up until November 30th had been on the assessment rate. So I’d get back pay up of the difference between the Assessment Rate and Support Group Rate until that date. Then from the 30th November my claim will run for two years.
I began to cry – and apologised to the poor woman. I explained I was just so relieved. She responded kindly by saying I didn’t have to worry about any medicals, or sending anymore sick notes.
I honestly can’t believe I got put into the Support Group first time and didn’t have to go through a medical. It seems incredibly rare with ESA not to have a medical, and even more so to be put straight into the Support Group.
I can’t even begin to put into words what this means to me. It should mean some financial stability during this time – until the Personal Independence Payments rollout.
Credit to: Cieleke
Finally after years of stress, struggling and tears I’ve been awarded Disability Living Allowance. Both Care and Mobility, at Higher Rate Indefinitely.
They sent the confirmation six working days after I saw the doctor – which isn’t long at all, although it felt like an eternity.
I can’t explain what a difference it will make. I now become entitled to Working Tax Credit, free prescriptions and dental care (because of the WTC), can get a motability car or free car tax. Overnight my income more than doubled, as I was living off 16 hours a week at minimum wage.
I will be able to afford to pay for the treatment I need, and help pay for a cleaner to help mum out as she has to look after the whole house and care for me. And I can put towards to rent to get us a bungalow – something we have been struggling with the council for years with. A bungalow would allow me to be able to access my own room, access the toilet and have parking outside the house – rather than down the street.
So to those out there still battling the system – please don’t give up. It took me three claims, two tribunals and two medicals – but I got there in the end.
I do kind of want to send my award to the head of the second tribunal who said I was contriving my conditions/help I need, and to the first GP who did my medical who said there was nothing wrong with me with a note to them attached – you can imagine what that would say, but a hint is that it’s two words long.
I now have a pile of consultant’s reports telling them they were totally wrong, and an indefinite award in response.
Credit to Steffen Zelzer at http://www.flickr.com/photos/67721855@N06/
It’s a fantastic feeling.
My DLA medical finally arrived yesterday. If you remember I had some difficulties over the location, first by them saying I couldn’t have it at the centre, before they said I could as it was accessible.
The same friend helping me with the claim came with me for moral support and to be a witness, as my last medical went so horribly wrong, when he put the opposite of what we talked about down throughout the form and declared me fine as detailed in the post ‘Applying for Disability Living Allowance Part 2.’
We arrived at the door and pressed the buzzer for entry. I was slightly worried at the big step into the building, but saw a sign with a wheelchair on, that said to ask for assistance. I assumed there was a door around the side or something with level access, but when the receptionist came to the door she informed us that was actually the only door. So yes, I did have to get my wheelchair up that step and the building for accessing people with disabilities did not have wheelchair access.
I asked if there was a ramp, and the receptionist said there wasn’t. My friend pointed out we’d informed them I was coming in my wheelchair, and the receptionist snapped she hadn’t been told. I then asked if she could help me, and she said she wouldn’t. It’s important to note the lady helping me is also disabled, and is on two crutches, so there was nothing she could do. But instead of recognising this, the receptionist turned to my friend and said “You’ll have to tip her in.”
My friend pointed out she physically couldn’t, and finally the receptionist said she’d see if security was about to help me.
This whole issue made my anxiety levels which were already ridiculous jumped to heart palpitations with the urge to curl up in the corner of a room rising. I was embarrassed, and just wanted to abandon ship.
The receptionist returned to say there was no security in the building, and that I’d have to get myself in. Again, we both turned to stare, before she decided to go and get the doctor to inform him I couldn’t get in.
Luckily at this point a really kind man walking past stopped and asked if I was okay. I explained I was trying to get into the building, but couldn’t. I thought it could probably make the step in the electric wheelchair, but I couldn’t do without someone standing behind just to steady it in case it tipped. My wheelchair has two small anti-tip wheels at the back, that actually make it more difficult going up steep steps, so he managed to adjust them out the way, then helped me up. Thank goodness for human decency.
The waiting room had a lot of chairs in the way, so I decided it was safer to just to wait in the corridor. The doctor came and got my notes from the receptionist and went to read them, while she came to look at my ID. The letter said I needed my passport, or three other forms of ID. While fishing them out, she said I only needed one, and that she had no idea why it said I needed three. I explained her we weren’t blaming her for the building, we just couldn’t believe they hadn’t made provisions for a wheelchair. She agreed and said the building was terrible.
The doctor then called me in, and we both went in. He seemed confused as to why I had been called in for a medical having read my information, and apologised for me having to come in. He then asked if I already had DLA, and I said no. First claim? Nope. Third. He seemed shocked, and asked if they’d seen all my medical evidence. I explained they hadn’t seen the exact information he had, but I’d had other evidence and knew what was wrong with me.
He then said although he could write a whole report on my medical evidence alone, he still had to go through the form with me. We went through everything, and he did a few minor physical tests like a grip test which he said was poor. He didn’t make me stand as he realised it would be painful.
At the end he said he didn’t make the decision, and they are turning a lot of people down, but he would do his best for me.
I would love to be optimistic at this point, but I have just been screwed over too many times before with other medicals and tribunals that I can’t be. I need to have the decision in my hand before I let myself think anything.
Now all I can do it wait.
Waiting. Credit to Jesse Therrien www.jessetherrien.com
On Tuesday the DLA doctor turned up at my doorstep – despite the medical being cancelled.
Yesterday the lady from ATOS phoned to give me a new date for the medical at the centre. So they are continuing to go through with the medical despite the fact my claim has yet to be looked at. Interesting tactics.
In other news, I’ve been signed off work for a month. Hopefully it will help, as I’m just so exhausted at the moment.
Credit to Kurhan
Today was the seven year anniversary of my Nanna’s death, and as a family we go somewhere she liked to visit. We were supposed to be going to Felixstowe today, but sadly the weather was so bad we ended up having lunch then heading to a shop in Hadleigh.
In the meantime, the lady helping me with my third DLA claim spent the day on the phone battling on my behalf. She first spoke to the Medical Centre reception and asked whether they were wheelchair accessible, and they said they were, and they couldn’t understand why Atos had told me I couldn’t have my medical assessment there on Health and Safety grounds.
She also contacted the disability help line (not sure if this is the right name?) who were shocked at what was happening. They phoned Atos on my behalf and asked why an earth I was being told I had to have a medical, and why was I being sent for a medical when they hadn’t read my claim form yet – as all the specialists letters in there give them in the information they need. (I’m not exaggerating, they were brilliant, in-depth letters that should get me DLA based on those alone.) The lady at Atos denied saying this until she finally looked up my file and apparently went quiet – so what she saw on the screen, I don’t know.
Atos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Atos said they would write to me with a new date of the medical, but the lady helping me is very hopeful that they may actually look at my claim form first. This would mean the world to me, as I’m not sure I can face the stress of a medical at the moment, and the subsequent lies and the way they twist my words into something I never, ever said.
Thank god for this assistance. She really is doing her best to fight for me, and I don’t know what I would do without her. I’m perfectly able to fight for other people, but as soon as it comes to me I just become an emotional wreck – and you can’t when dealing with the Department of Work and Pensions or Atos! So I just can’t thank her enough.