“Work for those who can. Security for those who can’t. Support for all.”

Work for those who can. Security for those who cant. Support for all.


Sunday, 13 April 2014

Getting the right support shouldn't be this hard



Claire has multiple and severe physical and mental health conditions which have left her unable to work since 2004. Her initially successful claim for DLA ended in 2008. But a period of homelessness and lack of access to a GP for proper diagnosis meant she couldn’t renew her claim.

It has taken Claire until May 2013, via two tribunals, worsening health, attempted suicide and a further threat of homelessness, to get to the correct level of support through DLA and ESA. Here is her story of that battle, which took place amid the raft of recent Welfare Reforms.


"Once suitably housed, I applied once more for DLA in 2010 but it took longer than anticipated, and administrative errors by my GP meant I ended up going to Tribunal. Following the tribunal, I was awarded low rate care and mobility.

Fast forward a few years to 2012 as Welfare Reform was taking hold around the UK. I was well aware of the possible changes I was facing. I knew I'd be hit hard. Like everyone else I had heard horror stories and I was very frightened about how I would react. When I last applied for DLA and had to go through a Tribunal my mental health took a very direct hit. I tried to kill myself more than once.

The changes I was facing all fell towards the end of 2012 and were as follows......
Housing Benefit - I currently rent a ground floor 1 bedroom flat that I moved in to in 2010 following a period of living in unsuitable (due to my health needs) temporary accommodation, I am under 35 and 'just' on low rate care DLA (If on medium rate care the under 35 rule isn't applicable) Due to changes in Housing Benefit rules I learned I was to have my housing benefit cut by £73 a week.
DLA was up for renewal in 2013. My health had worsened considerably between 2010 and 2012 and I strongly believed I should have been awarded at least medium rate care. When the decision came back that I was still on lowest rate care my life suddenly felt extremely unstable. I lodged an appeal, a very risky move but necessary.
Migration from Incapacity Benefit to Employment & Support Allowance - I received the forms in late November 2012 and was to ensure forms were back no later than 28 days after date on letter enclosed with the dreaded ESA50.  I apprehensively posted them 7 days before the deadline.

Whilst awaiting the various outcomes of my own Welfare Reform I had to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment to cover some, if not all, of the £73/week  shortfall. I was awarded a partial award that meant I still have to cover around 80% of the shortfall, not easy on such an already limited income.

I was facing homelessness if I couldn't get situation sorted, there was no way I could live in shared houses because of health issues and I need to have access do my own bathroom amongst other reasons.

In mid March 2013 I received, after much chasing on the phone to DWP, a letter informing me that I would be on ESA in the Support Group category. I didn't have to, thankfully, have a face-to-face assessment at the dreaded local ATOS office. I was very relieved by this outcome as I'm sure you can imagine.

Meanwhile I put in an appeal for a higher rate of DLA care. With help from a wonderful friend, I was able to get the award changed to medium rate care. I received the decision in May 2013. Needless to say I was ecstatic as it meant my full rent would be covered now. My wonderfully patient and supportive landlord was actually the first person I called with the news! He was equally as pleased for me as he didn't want to lose me as a tenant.

Following on from getting award notifications I was informed I would probably be eligible for a further benefit called Severe Disablement Premium linked to ESA. You can only apply if on ESA and on medium or high rate care DLA I applied for it. It meant I would have to change over to income related ESA. Following some issues with mislaid paperwork at DWP I was finally awarded the SDP. It has meant an extra £60 a week.

By getting everything sorted, and undergoing extreme amounts of stress as well dealing with major health problems, life is a bit easier.

Ok so financially things will always be restricted but it's not as restricted as before last year. It's meant I can get to vital hospital appointments and go to hospital in an emergency like I've had to do rather a lot recently. I am able to visit friends and family. I am able to rest assured that my rent is covered and I won't lose the precious roof over my head. I am also able to pay my bills and not hide from every red reminder. It's enabled me to replace clothing that is falling apart.

Basically, by getting what I'm entitled to properly sorted and despite the immense stress, I am able to live as 'normal' a life as is possible (whatever normal is).

I still, despite my benefits situation being ok at the moment, worry about brown envelopes arriving and I always will. It is something we all fear. It shouldn't be like that. It's a very real fear.

The safety net that is the Social Security system is just that, a safety net. Nobody I know that has to claim sickness and disability benefits asked to be sick and disabled. Nobody ever wants to be sick and disabled.

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