Getting the right bit of paper

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A report from this weeks stall:

Jen had come to the jobcentre to find out what was happening with her Work Capability Assessment – but of course that is the last place that might be able to help. She has numerous health problems, including two sorts of epilepsy, but she is still waiting for her assessment, and having to organise regular doctor’s notes, because the day that she was due to be seen Maximus didn’t have enough assessors available. They told her that they would arrange another appointment, but that was April and she has heard nothing since.  We contacted Welfare Rights for her and they promised to chase Maximus on her behalf. However that only addressed a part of her problems. Although she gets PIP as well as her basic assessment phase ESA, she currently has nothing in her bank account as a (now former) friend had helped themselves to her card. This is the sort of emergency that can be helped by a Scottish Welfare Fund grant, but before asking for that she needed evidence of the theft in the form of a crime number. Jen also has anxiety problems so one of our activists accompanied her to the police station to get a crime report before going onto the council offices.

Meanwhile, beside the usual ESA queries (as discussed last week) we arranged a food parcel for a man with just £5 in his pocket to see him through the week, and we talked with John, a former oil worker who had had to give up his job for mental health reasons and was just out of hospital. We gave him the link to the Scottish Government’s fund for ex oil workers. We hope they can help, though it was set up for people who were made redundant rather than those with health problems.

We also met a frustrated young man who had been told to get a letter from his GP as proof of identity before his claim could be processed. With lack of accepted documentation proving a frequent cause of benefit delay, getting the right papers can be very important. But for the many people who don’t have a passport or a driving license because they have never needed or been able to afford them, there is very little guidance about what can count. We have discussed this with our friends at the Child Poverty Action Group, who explain that there is no official list and that you can use a range of different things such as a birth certificate, paid utility bills going back a period of time, a tenancy agreement, or the GP letter stating they have known you for so many years. The DWP can’t make you provide evidence that you don’t have or that would be difficult for you to get. It simply needs to be enough to establish your identity on the ‘balance of probability’ – and if they are being difficult you can appeal.

(So many problems, and the full Universal Credit roll-out hasn’t even hit us yet. D-Day for Universal Credit in Dundee is 8 November, so a further reminder for anyone local that we will be protesting outside the jobcentre that day from 12-2.)

Thanks for help on the stall to Jonathan, Tony, Norma, Dave and Gary

 

 

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Christopher Neill R.I.P.

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We are shocked to hear of the death of our friend and comrade Chris Neill. ‘Father Chris’ was a stalwart champion for justice, both on our stalls outside the buroo and when accompanying people into the dreaded health assessments. He joined our band of eccentrics after we met him assisting his son, Duncan, sign on, when he quickly told the troublesome ‘advisor’ what was what. Besides helping the SUWN he was an active advocate for Indy, describing himself as Scottish by Choice, and probably confusing a few onlookers by marching for Scottish Independence bearing a St George’s cross. But conformity never bothered Chris. As a Greek Orthodox priest he kept up his good humour in the face of a stream of banter from his atheist comrades, for whom he was a real friend as well as a co-campaigner. He died on his houseboat in Manchester, which he had been getting ready to move up to the Forth and Clyde Canal. In a short time he had become a loved and valued member of our group, and he will be badly missed. Our sympathies to Duncan (who was responsible for bringing Chris to us in Dundee).

‘Welcome to the wonderful world of the DWP, David’

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Whilst there is mounting trepidation at the prospect of the full roll out of Universal Credit (expected to hit us in Dundee on 8 November), we are already experiencing a rise in the number of cases and inquiries we are fielding at Dundee buroo, and this week was no exception. Many of the cases we dealt with at our stall or on the phone  – eight out of 14-15 – had a familiar ring to them, involving  people who had been refused entitlement to ESA, or who had ESA terminated a  following re-appraisal.

The case of Margaret, an older woman from Stonehaven, was one notable example. David, her nephew, had phoned us on her behalf, and, with no prior experience of the wonderful world of the DWP, was clearly shocked at the way she was being treated. Margaret, who recently lost her husband, suffers from mental health problems. She had been on ESA for seven months, but had very recently attended a work capability assessment  where she had been informed that she should expect to lose her ESA entitlement.  David was puzzled as to how privately employed ATOS assessors have the legal authority to over-ride GP’s when they decide that their patient  is unfit for work – to which our volunteer replied, ‘welcome to the wonderful world of the DWP, David.’

Margaret is now struggling to cope, both financially and mentally, to the extent that she is finding it difficult to function. David is clearly very worried about her, and our volunteer advised that Margaret’s worsening condition should be assessed by her doctor, that a mandatory reconsideration (MR) should be phoned in asap, and that Margaret should then make a claim for JSA. Our volunteer explained that, for those living in an area where Universal Credit full service is yet to be rolled out, it was important that the MR is phoned in BEFORE the claim for JSA is made, because making an immediate claim could result in Margaret, as a single person, being signed up to Universal Credit instead. It is also the case that a decision on ESA entitlement will take much longer to be made if the MR is posted, and that the vast majority of ESA MR’s fail because they are dealt with by an ‘in-house’ ‘decision maker’ with a 80% fail quota. By phoning, rather than writing, folk can proceed more quickly to the tribunal, the second stage of the appeal process. Once you are on the appeal stage you can go back on basic rate ESA again. Because the tribunal is made up of independent representatives, claimants have a better chance of their appeal being properly considered, with almost 70% of ESA appeals being successful.

Many folk who have been bumped from ESA cannot figure out how they are expected to claim for JSA. They quite reasonably point out, they are not ‘fit for work’, leaving some feeling like frauds for claiming JSA, to which we invariably reply, ‘welcome to the wonderful world of the DWP’.

The only way in which those affected can receive social security payments whilst waiting on the Mandatory Reconsideration process to conclude is by applying for JSA, despite not being fit for work. Once folk are signed up to JSA and receiving payments, then they can ask for an ‘extended period of sickness’ note from their GP, which lasts thirteen weeks, and which should take them through the period required before the appeal stage. This may not take the pressure off completely, but the GP can explain that the stresses of the jobcentre routine are affecting your health. It is also the case that because many Job Centres (JC’s) are being inundated with such cases, JC ‘work coaches’, or whatever their title is this week, are increasingly aware that many claimants, despite being on JSA, are not really capable of work. For this reason, some ‘work coaches’ take quite a sympathetic approach to such claimants. Where they do not, and where the claimant is vulnerable, as is the case with Margaret, we would advise that they are accompanied in to the JC by a family member or friend or welfare rights worker, to discuss and negotiate their claimant commitment with the ‘work coach’, and to ensure that any special needs or problems that the claimant has are taken into account.  Family members and friends should be aware that they have the right both to attend meetings with the claimant and to speak on their behalf, with the claimant’s consent  – do not allow bolshy ‘work coaches’ to tell you otherwise.

We also met Peter, who had gone five months without any payment, and we went into the jobcentre with him to ensure this was sorted out. He had been on ESA and had been informed by the jobcentre that if he came off this he would go back on JSA. His health proved better than he feared, so he came off ESA, and waited – but no JSA payments. He assumed this was par for the course because when he had been made redundant and claimed JSA last year, it took the DWP five months to sort his payments out. This time, as he waited, he lost his car and his TV and was threatened with eviction. He got assistance to fight the eviction and arrange Housing Benefit, but no-one seems to have mentioned the need to put in an application for JSA. Unsurprisingly, his health deteriorated and he is now back on ESA, but he had talked with Citizens Advice and been told to put in a claim for JSA for the missing period. I have to say that the advisor was helpful, and he was given a form to explain in detail what had happened. Now he must wait for the ‘decision maker’. We made sure that he asked for a photocopy of his completed form – a point he appreciated as he observed that, of the four doctor’s notes he had had to hand in for his ESA, the jobcentre had lost two, requiring him to get duplicates.

Mark had received no money since his ESA claim had been closed down for failure to come to a Work Capability Assessment. The problem was that he had never received a letter telling him about the appointment. He told us that he had been five minutes late for a previous appointment and been told to go away and wait to be given another time, but had not heard from them after that. He also told us that he had been earlier informed that he would not need to go to an assessment as his medical evidence would be sufficient. His list of health (and other) issues included PTSD following multiple stab wounds – he insisted on showing us the scars, accompanied by graphic description – and he was currently homeless and staying on a friend’s sofa. We made an appointment for him with Welfare Rights, and left him hurrying to the council to put in for a Scottish Welfare Fund emergency grant before they closed for the day.

George was fuming when we met him. He explained that he had recently underwent an assessment for PIP, and had received full PIP, for both mobility and daily living, but two days after receiving the letter confirming the decision he had attended a ESA appeal tribunal where he was stunned into furious silence when his appeal was rejected – he had failed his Work Capability Assessment by one point. Welcome to DWP world, George.

Next up was Louise, a vulnerable young woman with a number of conditions who, due to lack of money, was back living with her mother. She had been bumped from ESA, and placed on JSA. However, weeks after making her application, she had still not received any money, and we urged her to contact Welfare Rights asap for an appointment so they can take up this case of administrative failure on the part of the DWP, and also to apply for a Scottish Welfare Fund grant. Although Louise’s situation is quite desperate, the fact that she is living with her mother may well affect her entitlement to a grant, and we asked her mother to keep in contact with us so that we might offer further assistance, if required.  This may well not be the last time we hear from Louise and her mother.

It is important to remember that claimants who are facing delayed benefit payments are expected to apply for and have exhausted a Short Term Benefit Advance (STBA) before they can apply for the Welfare Fund Grant. Giving loans to folk with next to nothing and then expecting them to pay such loans back from the miserable pittance of JSA or Universal Credit only serves to further underline the warped reality created by the so-called ‘welfare reforms’ – where the disabled are forced into seeking work that may well harm them because employment is actually seen by the DWP as a ‘clinical outcome’.

In addition to the heavy workload on the issue of ESA, we also met John. He had just been sanctioned for failing to complete his job search, due to having to make arrangements following the death of a family member; and, in addition, he had been refused hardship payments. We strongly urged him to apply for a Welfare Fund Grant, and to ensure that he gets his Mandatory Reconsideration appealing his sanction in as quickly as possible.

Mark, a young man, had, in his own words, ‘bailed fae the buroo, cis it wisna worth the bother.’ This is a refrain we are hearing fairly regularly, particularly from younger folk, who, like Mark, are staying with parents. We are sure that the DWP would approve of Mark’s decision, as their entire strategy seems designed to make the experience of unemployment as unpleasant as possible. But, what of those young folk, as well as their older counterparts, who don’t have understanding and relatively well-off parents to rely on?

[For folk in Dundee – we will be marking the arrival of Universal Credit full service with a protest outside Dundee buroo, alongside our usual advice stall, from 12-2 Wednesday 8 November.]

Thanks to Norma, Davey, Gary, Sarah and Tony for their help at this week’s stall.

 

 

If you designed a system specifically to inflict pain, you couldn’t do much better than this: a report from last week’s stall

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Frank used to work as a driver, but since having a major operation seven years ago he has to get to the toilet at least once an hour, so driving, and many other jobs, are off the agenda. He does want to work, but not to be forced to apply for any job however unsuitable, as his ‘job coach’ is pressing him to do. He is in constant pain too, and the stress of the pressure from the jobcentre is making this worse. As if this was not bad enough, he has been deprived of any effective painkiller. He had been prescribed opiates, but these were knocking him sideways, so he decided to self-medicate with home-grown cannabis. However a neighbour reported him to the police, and although he only had a couple of plants, they took these away along with his growing tent and other equipment. So now he has no pain relief and is having trouble sleeping, even before the pressures from the jobcentre that are making it all worse. We advised him to go to his doctor and get a note for an Extended Period of Sickness, in order to lift the pressure and give him time to get a bit better. We also offered to go into the jobcentre with him if he needed help persuading them to treat him more reasonably and with more understanding.

Arun had just started in work, but was concerned that he was in line for a second sanction from his work programmer provider, Triage. He was already challenging an earlier sanction and had been warned he could be sanctioned again for missing an appointment, even though he had previously told them why he wouldn’t be able to come. We had to warn him that if he was sanctioned again he should still challenge it even though he now has a job, because if the job fell through the sanction would be held over to when he was on benefits again.

We also met with an older man who we had helped in the past and who was now having problems with his benefits being stopped when he had only been given a few hours’ work. His situation is very complicated and we pressed him to go back to the welfare advisor who had helped him before. And a man who was personally delivering proof of his wife’s student bursary because, although he had sent this twice before, the DWP claimed not to have received it, and without it they couldn’t pay him. And another man who had been told he was being made redundant from a job he had been in over two years, only to see his old job advertised two weeks later – which doesn’t sound like redundancy to us. (If you have similar problems you can contact ACAS for advice.)

There has been a post going round social media about a person who was deemed not to have mobility problems because they could manage to struggle to the foodbank and didn’t just stay at home and starve. In a similar vein, we were told about someone who has been informed that she doesn’t have problems going out and meeting people because she manages to get to her AA meetings. Surely that must be enough social life for anyone…

As we head into the big Universal Credit rollout, it has been amazing to watch the media, and even a few Tory MPs, wake up to the scale of the crisis this will cause. Whether this is enough to make Teresa May blink, we don’t yet know, but the appalling extent of the culpable mismanagement of this benefit has been exposed by a DWP whistle-blower in the Independent. The theory behind the staged rollout was that the DWP would learn from the experiences of their first poor guineapigs, but they seem quite determined not to do so. The stories recounted in online support groups are absolutely terrifying, but even worse are the comments by some other group members that demonstrate an acceptance of the idea that you should have to sell off your possessions and live off the cheapest foods and expect no quality of life. No wonder many posters question the point of living at all. We need to ensure that the media don’t forget these issues as quickly as they have taken them up, and that this helps generate the outraged resistance required to bring about change.

Thanks for help at the stall to Tony, Norma, Gary, Dave and Jonathan