When I first started this blog in October 2014, I was first starting out my journey of trying to understand what was happening to my mental health, while trying to work my way through the complicated benefit system. I must admit I was not in a good place, and that didn’t change for a good 2 years. Blogging helped.
I often talked about my frustration with the benefit system, this is meant to be a system that helps the most vulnerable in society. What we have had over three years is watching cut after cut after cut happen.
I thought once I had been granted the benefits I got granted, then it would only be for three years (2 Disability benefits PIP and ESA are only granted for 3 years then reviewed) However that is not how my life has turned out.
So I have had to go through the process again. When I first applied, there was a lot of talk in the papers about how people with mental health where being turned down because the assessors just didn’t understand. This, rather than working against me, worked for me and I got the benefits without much fuss.
This time round though it has been a battle. The system is very much geared to blaming the person claiming not the system.
First of all Child Tax Credits. You receive this, for up to 2 children, it is based on how much income you have coming in up to (I think) £26,000 you can claim for this. A lot of working families rely on this benefit. I am not joking when I say no one knows how this works. Do you know the time everyone dreads? Its April, when the start of the tax year is. It doesn’t matter if you have claimed exactly to the penny, you are still shitting yourself because the chances are you are going to get a letter claiming you have an overage and you own them money, you then have to spend hours trying to sort it out, you might find out its actually from five years ago. You still have to pay it back.
This year, we were granted working tax credits, which is just a slightly different bit of it. Its difficult to explain because I have no clue what the hell it is. We got it for 6 weeks, before being told they had redone our calculation and we were infact not entitled to it.
Next we have housing benefit, this isn’t done by government as such, this is done by our local council. Again, this is income based and because of the high rents, a lot of people rely on it. Working and non working. This is also the one that I hate going wrong, apart from the fact it pays at least some of my rent, its the one I use to have to physically go in and talk to people, well till they updated the website and I can now do it all online. This for me got suspended 6 weeks ago. I remember when I first claimed it, it took 6 months to sort out. This was compared to a previous council, when it took less than 6 hours.
For us, this has been a fuck up because, we never received the letter saying they were doing a review. I honestly don’t know a lot of people who would get that letter ignore it and hope they forgot about it. However the council must do, because they suspended it, on the basis and this is a direct quote “if it had gone to the wrong address it would of been sent back” that is bollocks, if it had gone to the wrong address it probably would of been binned. However how am I meant to prove, something which I never received? We took in the evidence, waited, got told to bring in more evidence, which we did. Only to find the person working on it, is part time and works one day a week. I think what frustrates me more about this is, without friends and family we would be unable to pay our rent. The landlord can evict us after 2 months of non payment. If you don’t pay your rent you are found to have made yourself intentially homeless so the council don’t have to do squat to help.
The other thing that annoys me about the Housing Benefit is that they often say, you must keep us informed as we don’t get other information from other places. This is bollocks and they do, I should know they have changed my benefits enough everytime one other changes. Hopefully this one is going to be sorted by Friday, please keep your fingers crossed for a Christmas miracle.
ESA (Employment and Support allowance) now this has been fun, first we had the whole being assessed, being turned down, appealing, being turned down and then appealing to a tribunal which got accepted, now I assumed this would be the end of it for about three years, unless I changed it in anyway, for example with this benefit, there are two groups, there is the support group, where they leave you alone for three years, which I am in or the work focused group, which is the one I want to be in, hopefully in the next year, this is still saying you are not fit to work, but you might be ready in about 6 months or so, and they send you on courses, help you write your CV and generally get you ready to be able to work. I also believe on this one, you might be able to volunteer, which you are not able to do in the support group.
All was done and dusted, till I got a letter saying I either owed them money or they owed me money. After not hearing anything for a while I phoned them after a bit of back and forth, we discovered the problem which was my partner wasn’t on the claim. Now while he technically doesn’t claim benefits, because we live together, his earnings are counted in to whatever I say, if you don’t tell them you are not living together it is fraud. I have been with my partner longer than we have been claiming benefits, we are linked. It wouldn’t occur to me, not to say that I don’t have a partner. Also I have copies of the document that I sent them, which clearly says I have one. They have been overpaying me because they thought I was single. I pointed out this was their mistake, not mine. Fine, she made a note and I thought well thats that done. Till we got a letter saying he (not me, but my partner) needs to go in for a return to work interview. He bloody well works, phoned them told them this, Didn’t matter. The classic they arranged for the interview 20th December at midday. My partner works in retail, they don’t get days off, explained that, doesn’t matter he must attend otherwise they will be suspending that benefit. The real kicker of this one. I got a text on the 19th saying they were cancelling his interview till January.
Finally PIP (personal independence payment) another disability one. This one is ongoing again. I got assessed I got turned down, I appealed got turned down. So I appealed again and being fairly pissed off at this point got my MP involved. The system is stupid I have 28 days to appeal, send off all the evidence otherwise I have to prove why I wasn’t able to, such as being in hospital. The DWP (department of work and pensions) have 28 days to reply. I sent all the information off by the start of November, they had till the 2nd December to reply, then they have another 10 days, followed by 7 days. Do you know where that takes us till the 19th December, which probably means that yet another benefit gets delayed till after Christmas through no fault of my own.
This is not just unique to me this is happening to thousands of people up and down the country. The system is designed to fail those of us who need it. They rely on people giving up.
I do get we are luckier than most in this country, we have access to clean water, health and education. However for thousands of people living in the UK, in a country that is meant to be a first world country, a democracy, looking after all its people the simple fact is we have parents going hungry to feed their children. Thousands of people relying on food banks. Old people choosing electric over gas. Young people living in cars and sofa surfing because they can no longer afford the rent and disabled people being given so little help that they are taking their own lives because of how the system grinds them down.
I, as one person, can do very little, what I can do though this Christmas is try and open the public’s eyes to what is going on, not with me, what is happening is not rare, its the norm and it shouldn’t be.