When I finally got a phone call to tell me that the DWP was lifting John’s sanction we had almost given up on the idea that this was ever going to happen. John is in the ESA Work Related Activity Group – he should really be in the Support Group, but that is another story. He suffers from a whole range of problems including nerve damage in his leg, and some days can’t get out of the house at all.
John has to attend the Work Programme run by Triage in Dundee, but several times he has not been well enough to take part. When that happens he is careful to get a sick-line from his doctor, and he has then been given another appointment for when the sick-line has expired. Sometimes this has resulted in a letter from the DWP asking for ‘good cause’ for the missed appointment, but once that cause has been given, all has been well. When, at the end of October, serious back pain prevented him from going to his Triage session, he dosed himself up on extra high amounts of pain-killer in order to go out and get a doctor’s note (stating he was unfit for Triage or for his volunteer group) and to deliver it to the jobcentre before the session he was going to miss. The jobcentre said all was fine and they would pass the message on to Triage.
All did seem fine, until he received a letter from the DWP dated 6 December saying he was being sanctioned for missing the appointment. He went to the jobcentre to complain, and they said it was nothing to do with them and he must take the letter to Triage. He went to Triage and they said it was nothing to do with them and he should go to the jobcentre. He also rang the DWP, but never received the promised call-back. Triage did, however, acknowledge his ill health by arranging that his next three fortnightly appointments be by telephone, and they gave him a printout with precise appointment times when they would call him. The first two dates he heard nothing from them at all. The third date they rang about an hour early, and they told him that as far as they were concerned his sanction should have stopped. But it hadn’t – and that’s when he rang us. It was now 16 January, and since 6 December he had been surviving on just £25.35 a week. It would have been £29.05 but they were still taking deductions for Council Tax repayments!
When I rang the DWP I was told that they had no record of his doctor’s line, but they did have a note on his file from 13 December – the day after he had rung the DWP – saying that he had to contact Triage before the sanction could be lifted. This totally ignored the fact that, not only had he been in contact with Triage about the sanction, he had never stopped engaging with them.
The first person I spoke to told me that she was referring the case to the ESA maintenance section whose job it was to sort out the ending of the sanction, and that they would get back to me with a decision. When I had heard nothing further by the next afternoon, I rang the DWP again, and was again told they would call me back. They rang the following day and told me that in order for them to lift the sanction they needed a WP09 form from Triage to confirm John had ‘re-engaged’. John then rang Triage, who told him they had sent this form to the DWP on 14 December. The next morning I passed this information on to the DWP, who promised to ring back within 24 hours. 24 hours came and went, and in the afternoon I rang the DWP again. They said I should be contacting the local jobcentre instead, and gave me another 0345 number. Whenever the automated response asked why I was calling and I said anything about a ‘sanction’ I got a recorded message saying I had to ring the original DWP number and the call automatically stopped. Eventually I got round this by saying the problem was a ‘letter’ and then choosing ‘all other enquiries’. This somehow got me through to Exeter Jobcentre, who were able to put me through to the local jobcentre in Dundee. They looked through John’s file and told me that the last record they had was for 12 December, when they had tried to contact him by phone but got no response. I asked them to check their record of his phone number, and found they had got two digits transposed. However, this didn’t solve the outstanding sanction problem, and they told me to ring the DWP again. This time the DWP said the only thing we could do was ask Triage to send them another copy of the WP09, asking for it to be backdated. I also took the opportunity to ask the DWP to check what they had down for John’s phone number, and found they only had an old number for a phone he had lost – so it was hardly surprising they had failed to get back to him. This had all taken around an hour. It was now Friday evening, so John had to wait till Monday before ringing Triage again.
On Monday 23, John rang Triage, who said they would resend the WP09, and I delivered a letter to the jobcentre requesting a Mandatory Reconsideration of the initial decision to give a sanction at all. When I rang the DWP the next afternoon they still had no record of the WP09, so John rang Triage again the following day. And finally, that evening, I got the call to say the SANCTION HAD BEEN ENDED, and that he would get backdated payments so that he was only being sanctioned for a week. He has since told us that the Mandatory Reconsideration was accepted too, so even that week’s benefit has been reimbursed.
In case this treatment was not enough, I was shocked to discover that John had been living without mains electricity for six years. The problem began when his supplier accused him of tampering with the meter: he had been using very little electricity because he was often away from home. He was never taken to court, so he never had an opportunity to put his case and clear his name. But he was told that to retain his connection he would have to pay £2000. He said he would do without, and that is what he was doing, relying on an elaborate system of batteries. He had sought help in the past, but nothing had been resolved. We put him in touch with the council’s Dundee Energy Efficiency Advice Project – and he now has mains electricity again.