Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Right Result #esa

My form had to be returned by April 8th so I was quite surprised to get a phone call from the DWP so quickly - a nice lady rang yesterday morning. The nice DWP lady seemed a bit peturbed by my voice loss* and kept asking if I was well enough to speak to her as she could call back. Having not heard why she was phoning at that point there was no way I was letting her go without telling me what the call was about, I'd have been hysterical all weekend.

So, through croaks, coughs and splutters the nice lady read out her script and told me that I'd been found to have such significant disability that I've been placed in the support group, to be reviewed in April 2016. I asked her a few questions, but had to wait for the right part in the script she was reading - apparently they aren't allowed to deviate from that even when asked a question. Mostly it was ok, but there were disturbing implications in the script - I'd been found too sick/disabled to be expected to participate in any work related activity, but I could always 'volunteer' at the Jobcentre if I want. Which is slightly odd because volunteer and jobcentre aren't exactly words I'd naturally associate with each other...it took me a while to work out it did not mean that the jobcentre would support me with actual volunteering work, but that I could volunteer to erm, I'm not sure actually...be sanctioned on a work programme?

Once the relief settles down a bit I'll go through the inevitable psychological consequences of being deemed so disabled that even in the current climate the DWP don't feel the need to harrass me, but that isn't a new feeling, its always associated with successful benefit claims in relation to sickness or disability. It's strange - however frightened and anxious people are about claiming, however relieved they are by being granted eligibility to a particular benefit, afterwards there's always a strange readjustment process to a sickness or disability you've long adjusted to coping with as best you can.

But, I'm one of the lucky ones. I have a clear diagnosis of a genetic disorder to explain my symptoms. I have a supportive GP who was happy to supply the relevant medical evidence, I'm educated and I understand how to fill out a form, I have people in my life who I can ask for help and support through the process. Like I say, that makes me one of the lucky ones. Going through the ESA process is not like that for most people. And even as one of the lucky ones I've experienced so much stress from the process that its had a significant impact on my general health, which will take me time to recover from. If I knew I had to do all this again next year I would be in utter despair, but having three years gives me a level of security about my future and the freedom to continue either volunteering or hoping that eventually there might be a realistic way for people too sick/disabled to work consistently, even on a part time from home basis to use their skills to earn some money but not lose eligibility to the support we need. Once upon a time some of us hoped this would be the big change with Universal Credit, but the application of politics and ignorance to a once good idea has ensured that won't be possible.

I haven't had any contact with Atos at any point, so I can't really comment on their part of the process, other than having been told my application was assessed by them via 'scrutiny' which means that a decision can be made based on the form and submitted medical evidence without seeing the claimant face to face. Communications by phone from DWP have happened when they should do, including reminder phone call. Actually both ladies were lovely which helped, but in all the years I've had to speak to DWP staff as a claimant its the one's who aren't which stand out as the exceptions. Most have been kind and helpful. The new focus on jobcentres and work from DWP staff as part of their standard script is deeply unhelpful though and comes across as intimidatory even when the caller is pleasant.

Written communications however were a different matter. I had the latest version of the form to fill in and it was awful, worse than previous versions. There are tickbox questions which I couldn't work out what the answer was meant to be because the question was so poorly worded. There is no option on the mobility tick box to answer 'less than 50 meters'. As I'm an awkward type I wrote on the actual form that none applied, but only after a great deal of distress. Lots of people tick the 50m box because its the shortest distance but then of course it indicates you can walk 50m. This box comes up in discussions with claimants over and over again.

I can't stress enough how bad the tickbox questions are. With the boxes you can write in what you need to write, they are too small but most people know to use extra paper and attach it. But the tickboxes take more time and cause more distress than the free text answers.

I learnt that going through the process feels like Russian Roulette. I knew with utter certainty that my form had been filled out correctly, that I had hit various descriptors at various points and that the letter from my GP contained the exact information required to make a decision. Despite all that it felt entirely down to chance - would the Decision Maker understand the condition, would the Atos HCP have enough time to scrutinise the file, would it go direct to a face to face WCA because it was too complicated to make the decision. And of course that builds on the enormous stress and fear about the consequences of going to a WCA and how that might impact on the rest of my life, ability to remain in my own home due to impact on benefits by being found fit for work or placed in the work related activity group.

The biggest relief for me is getting a review date in 2016. I now have some security because I've got three years. The constant stress for people repeatedly being given awards of 12 months or less is breaking many people. Asking around other claimants many people haven't been told how long their award lasts so are living with the constant stress and anxiety every time the postman comes. Knowing is better than not knowing, even if its not exactly what you hoped you would find out, and ensuring that everyone is clearly given the date when they can be expected to be re-assessed is such a simple task for the DWP, but would make such a different to sick and disabled people.


*yes, again. I blame the mini weapons of biological warfare also known as nephew and niece!

11 comments:

Erika said...

Well done, I got mine after waiting for 5m after sent the fom. I agree about boxes I can't walk at all, yet like the new dla form there is no option for cant walk at all-strange since you have to be virtual unable to walk to qualify! I kept having to leave the boxes unticked and write in box. the first 8 or so questions, how far can you walk, do you fall when you walk, do you need someone to help you walk, can you walk outside etc DONT apply.

It's very off putting when having once geared self up to doing the blimey thing you can't answer the question or you feel like belately trying not to ask the questions that apply to the most disabled.

No idea how long I've got just said support group, but really pleased you have some sort of breathing space now.

kimmie stuckinscared said...

I'm so pleased your claim was successful, I completely relate to the stress of filling out the form.
I too was placed in support group but was not told how long for! When my husband asked on my behalf he was told it award was ongoing and we would be notified in writing when next assessment was due. The daily fear (as you say) of the postman is overwhelming and has greatly exacerbated my mental health issues! Thank you for campaigning efforts and for raising awareness here on your blog.
It really does mean an awful lot X

Anthony Turtle said...

I can do no more than fully agree.

The new (2011) form has the wording:

Can you move at least 50 metres (about 54 yards) before you need to stop? (a double decker bus is 11 metres long)

Ticky boxes are [No] [Yes] [It Varies]

Problem I have is I have never seen four and 3/4 buses parked nose to tail, and it's a looooong time since I've seen a double decker bus!

Why can't they say "An average car is a little under 5 metres long, so 10 car lengths"?

thejars said...

I got 3 year support esa in nov 2012.

The letter is hard,phone ain't easy.

I bounced up & down emotionally & depression.

They say no scrap heap but DWP told me chances of work in my lifetime is "nil to close to zero"

Was also advised by them to be careful with my volunteering roles so some had to go

Up & down but the plus side when due for review they told me it will be just a call (probably) to check COC then they just renew, back to scrapheap again.

Mine was less than 5 weeks start to finish, DWP determined no ATOS needed :-)

Good luck just ride the ride & smile.

ONe warning,tax credits if entitled DWP for support category are meant to arrange it but HMRC often reject DWP papers. Took me months to sort Mary Macloud MP failed lol

Anonymous said...

I read my son being assessed when he turns 16. He has Aspergers, which means he's physically able but otherwise struggles.

He's 14 now, but still has to hold hands when we go out as people en masse are extremely scary. He has limited appreciation of risks and danger, and if he sees something he darts for it. Walking down a busy road with him is like playing Russian roulette.

School has excluded him several times for "failure to comply". When he overloads mentally (too many instructions, confusing instructions, shouted instructions, general stress) he withdraws into himself and shuts down. The teachers then stand over him and, with increasingly loud voices, demand he do as instructed. As a result he withdraws further.

Eventually, the "restraint trained" teachers are called in and haul him off to the remove, I'm phoned and it's another week of exclusion. It's punitive, primitive and barbaric but that's the way it is now.

All of his support has been withdrawn over the past four years due to funding cuts, resource limitations, changed priorities and staffing cuts. No speech therapy, no mental health worker, no pupil support assistant, no mental healthy support auxiliary, and the list goes on.

When we saw his psychologist in February, she said he needed more support and that support would make a difference. She then shrugged and said, "but there's no budget and no will to support children like him so I'm afraid you're on your own". (The hospital's paediatric metnal health unit is almost deserted these days—no receptionists, no back office staff, no nurses and only three or four psychologists. You walk in through corridors that go past empty consulting room after empty office after empty consulting room after empty office.)

The psychologist can't see him again for at least 18 months and probably longer given the conflict between demand and diminishing resources. So that's it, no support from the health system, exclusion from the education system and in just over two years almost certain exclusion from any support of financial support system.

All that's needed now is for the bastards that run the country to propose exterminating the disabled because they "don't contribute". What a great country this is.

Anonymous said...

I was right. They have proposed exterminating the disabled: Baroness Warnock has just come out and said dementia sufferers should top themselves because they're a burden on the NHS and their families. Won't be long before the rest of the crips are lined up and finished off.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Dear Anon 1106am, I agree that the comments by Bness Warnock were disturbing, but they were made in 2008 in a completely different socio-economic context to now. Its not a new comment
BG

Stacy David said...

Fantastic news. I got put in the support group this year for IBS and extreme anxiety, but don't know how long for.

Lesley-Ann said...

I don't think either ATOS or DWP have a clue to be honest.

I was assured I wouldn't be assessed for ESA from IB until December 2012 as my IB award ran until then at least. I got a form July 2011.

After waiting over 3 months I got put in the WRAG and upon appeal got moved to the SG. I got awarded 2 years of ESA according to JCP at my one and only Work Focused Interview.

Was gutted when almost a year to the day later a heavy white envelope slammed onto the mat behind our door with another ESA form to complete and return in less than 3 weeks, it must have walked from ATOS to me as the date on my letter was over a week previous.

Struggling through again I instead used the PDF and printed as my hands have deteriorated, a lot has since my first ESA assessment in fact, and I sent it back in just the nick of time and a week later got a reminder to send it back or my benefit could be stopped. Strange as the tracker with RM said they had the form three days before the date of my reminder letter.

I then heard nothing from August 2012 to April 2013 when I got a form letter about my benefit at tax years end. Nice of them to tell me I was still eligible and still in the SG so quickly isn't it?!

I fully expect that terrifying thump to come through in just over a months time and am dreading it already ....

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you got the right result. Unfortunately I haven't been so lucky - I've just been 'migrated' into the WRAG so I am requesting a reconsideration for the support group. At least I haven't been made to go through the farce of an ATOS assessment yet. I'm basically bed-bound so this would have been somewhat difficult.

bp said...

hi i was awarded ESA last october and put into the support group however it was all done by letter and no date was set for a review. so everytime the postman comes the nerves get worse. and im scared if i phone them up thy could get funny and stop my claim. i suffer from anxiety attacks and cant take too much pressure at the moment. what should i do advise needed thanks