DWP issue conflicting advice as everyone is swamped with benefits paperwork

ESA File Height

Further to our story yesterday entitled “Benefits Paperwork Overloading Claimants” this website has uncovered certain documents in the public domain that seem to demonstrate confusing and conflicting information from the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) with regard to Employment & Support Allowance Appeals.

The story yesterday spoke of ESA Benefit claimants being swamped by the paperwork that is involved with making a claim. The picture above was used to demonstrate the size of one claimants file of paperwork about her ESA claim that started in July 2010 which is still ongoing, next to a standard pack of 500 sheets of A4 paper to show comparative size. This claimant has not been paid any benefit money for approximately one year but is swamped with the paperwork involved in appeals and Tribunals as she believes she has never been placed in the correct category for her limited capabilities due to her Fibromyalgia.

The story also referred to a BBC Website article on the 4th May this year entitled “GPs ‘flooded’ with letter requests due to UK benefit reforms.” This article claimed BMA Scotland had said GPs were being “flooded with additional avoidable work” as patients seek support regarding benefit payment appeals. Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the BMA’s Scottish General Practitioners Committee, said: “The UK government’s flawed approach to benefits reform and changes to the Work Capability Assessment are flooding GP practices across Scotland with additional avoidable work.” It also states that The committee has advised GPs not to respond to these sort of requests which could literally leave claimants high and dry as they can not collect medical evidence to appeal.

In a document within the public domain dated 19th April this year the DWP have responded to a Freedom of Information Act request. The Question posed to the DWP was: “When a person appeals the decision of the DWP, for DLA & ESA which is based on an Atos work capability assessment. Who is responsible for obtaining medical evidence from their GP; the DWP or the person who is making the appeal?” The answer from the DWP was: “It is the responsibility of the appellant (the person who is making the appeal)
to obtain medical evidence.”

Yet in direct conflict the DWP responded to the BBC Website Article saying: “If the DWP requires further medical evidence it will be requested by a healthcare professional working for Atos Healthcare, which GPs are required to complete as part of their terms of service.” The article goes on and quotes Dr John Ip, secretary of the Glasgow local medical committee and a GP in Paisley who says: “There are contractual and agreed methods for GP’s to provide medical information to the Department for Work and Pensions.”

There seems to be total confusion about who should be requesting medical evidence from GP’s and Health Professionals. Quite simply it appears claimants are given misleading information from the DWP and do not know if it is their responsibility to collect medical evidence for an appeal or if that responsibility lies with the DWP. Due to this patients contesting controversial Work Capability Assessments conducted by ATOS Healthcare are having to collect evidence against these assessments for their appeal cases and they are doing so in huge numbers which is putting a strain on GP’s. There is so much strain that the BMA in Scotland are advising GP’s not to respond to requests which could lead claimants without benefit they may be entitled to because of the sweeping benefits reform especially with regards to ESA.

In yesterdays article we showed how claimants are swamped with benefits paperwork, the BBC article claims GP’s are swamped with benefits paperwork and we also know the Tribunals Service have a huge backlog of cases and are swamped with benefit paperwork as well. Therefore it is no surprise that a number of disability charities teamed up with Citizens Advice (who are incidentally swamped with benefits paperwork) to publish a document in 2010 about ESA, entitled “Not Working” because the benefits system is literally “Not Working” and since then nothing much has changed. This government have said they are committed to reducing bureaucracy and cutting paperwork levels within the public sector. But with regards to benefit reform and ESA, everyone concerned seems to be swamped in benefits paperwork as this system is simply “Not Working”.

Benefits Paperwork Overloading Claimants


The paperwork for benefits claims is overloading claimants who have to prove they have limited capabilities for work and work related activity yet, are expected to manage a huge amount of paperwork.

The picture above is the file containing paperwork for one Employment & Support Allowance Claimant, next to it is a standard pack of 500 sheets of A4 paper for a direct comparison. Her claim started in July 2010 but this claimant feels she has yet to be placed in the correct category for ESA. She has not received any benefit for a year because of the 365 day rule for Contributory Based ESA, as she was placed in the Work Related Activity Group. By 365 days a claim should be resolved but instead it has taken nearly 3 years so far.

Despite her not being paid any benefit for a year, the responsibility to prove she isn’t capable to work is on her, despite her condition. This puts her in a real catch 22 situation as she is not capable to manage her case, but she has to do her case to prove she is incapable. When it comes to Tribunals claimants are not automatically entitled to help and many have to rely on charities and organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureaux who are being swamped by the volume of people needing their help. This has led to them joining other charities and publishing a report entitled simply “Not Working” about how the benefit simply does not work and overloads anyone going through it.

It all rests on the claimants responsibility to collect their own evidence, but if they are too unwell to do this and too unwell to approach these charities they often find themselves not being able to cope with the demands the state places on them. ATOS Healthcare are notorious in the British press and they hold the contract to conduct the Workplace Capability Assessment on claimants. However their notoriety comes from a high volume of clients appealing their assessments as ATOS has found they do not have limited capabilities. Often this decision is then overruled at appeal or tribunal if the claimant (who is incapable of work) puts a strong enough case together.

It is a huge problem for claimants when ATOS deem them capable as they then have to gather and often commission there own medical reports in an attempt to show ATOS are wrong and they are in fact incapable of work. This gives them a huge workload and overloads the charities that might be helping them. Today we have heard the volume of requests is also overwhelming GP’s according to BMA Scotland in this BBC Article. But the responsibility for all of this rests with the claimant who are drowned in paperwork, desperate for written evidence from GP’s , Specialists and Healthcare Professionals. As said previously the claimants often have to commission these reports themselves, it is their responsibility. This can cost hundreds of pounds while cases go on for three years despite not being paid any benefit.

Often ESA claimants also have to apply for other benefits like Disability Allowance, Housing Benefit & Council Tax relief. With benefit reform sweeping through these areas claimants are often left with huge files, like the one shown in the picture, for each benefit they apply for. I would certainly agree with CAB when they say “Not Working” as its not working for anyone and the system is simply flawed.

ESA Appeals and Tribunals Guide

Just a quick post to mention that (as the title suggests) I have done a guide for Appeals & Tribunals as they are so common and one of the most frequently asked questions. You can find it under benefits THEN Employment & Support Allowance THEN Appeals & Tribunals Guide on the red menu bar above this post near the top of the page, but to be really kind you can simply click here to be taken there by magic!

I am working on a Guide to the ESA50 form for ESA now. Its already feeling like filling hundreds out at once. Oh well my pain is your gain and all that.

Someone cleared a paper jam at the DWP!

I have had one of those collections of letters you can only get from DWP (Jobcentre Plus.) You know the type, it’s as if someone has cleared a printer jam and they have sent you all the rubbish the system sent to print!

It is so silly when you get multiple letters at the same, often containing contradictory information. Anyway, reading between the lines it looks like they are backdating my Support Group ESA payments after all. You get a four page letter each time a payment setting is changed. “From [Random Date] your payments will change to [Random Value] a week, if you disagree then you can appeal etc…….” it always seems that these dates are plucked out of the air and it’s almost impossible to work out if your getting the correct amounts. When you put all the letters together you have multiple dates, some only a day or so apart, the only true approach you can take is to total what you think you should be paid over a certain period, total what you have been paid and if there within a hundred quid of each other then accept it, if not, (deep breath) complain! Whoever thinks this process is fit for purpose needs a health check. Wouldn’t it be nice to have it layed out bank statement style in over a page so you can see exactly what’s going on! People say fuel bills are confusing…….

I will share a little story with you, my mum received a pile of these letters for her ESA, basically they all said from [Random Date] your payments will be £0.00, if you disagree……. Blah, blah blah!
There was no explanation as to why her ESA had suddenly stopped, there was no change in circumstances or further information at all. Obviously she rang them and got nowhere……. well after two days and HOURS on the phone she got through to someone who said “ah, I know what’s happened, we needed some information from you but the system isn’t capable of printing a letter out to ask you to provide it. So what we do is make the system send you a letter saying your benefit will be £0.00 as that usually makes people panic enough to call us, that way they will eventually get through to this department and we can ask them for the information over the phone. Then you will get another letter saying your payments will be the correct amount and if it’s put on the computer correctly it will be from the same date the system stopped the payments from!”

HOURS she was on the phone for! Bouncing from department to department getting false explanations until they got to the correct department! How much time and money is this wasting, can’t they just pick the phone up and ask for the information? Instead they send letters out to panic people into calling them? I’m surprised we’re not in some sort of national financial crisis where they are paying out more than they get in in taxes…………………….. “Oh, now wait a minute!”

The Brown Envelope of…….. Success (rare as it is)

I will cut to the chase……. I’m in the Support Group for Employment & Support Allowance!!! It’s taken a matter of days short of Three Years to get it though!

That’s right, three years of hellish backwards and forwards communication, involvement of MP’s threats of legal action, national and local media involvement, and even threats to publish my entire case file online have paid off! The truth is, since I left employment as a Police Constable I have been unfit for work and work related activity and as such I contacted the benefits hotline all those years ago and was advised that Job Seekers Allowance was the correct benefit from an adviser who hadn’t even heard of Employment & Support Allowance! This set the tone and was the standard of service I have received from “Jobcentre Plus” and the DWP at almost every turn. Looking at my file its sheer thickness is about the same as a pack of 500 sheets of A4 paper and my success is down to my painfull journey to learn about the law so I know what should happen, better than most of their paid “advisers” and hold the DWP to account at every turn.

One major objective for this site is to educate and inform, so that suffers of Fibromyalgia don’t have to do what I have done and can benefit from the lessons I’ve learnt, as its almost impossible to get the correct benefit unless you learn everything about the system and the law behind it. This is because the system does not work, the staff are incorrectly trained and the computer system that manages all claimants is unfit for purpose!

Obviously for me it’s not all good news, for some reason I can not fathom just yet I won’t be in the Support Group until the 28th August. I don’t yet know why I can’t be in the Support Group from now or even from the date of appeal. I also don’t know why my benefit isn’t being backdated, my latest appeal started last year and all my ESA was cut back in April/May time. Another thing I don’t know is how long I have been awarded it for, from experience I know it can be for as little as three months at which point I will have to start again with an ESA50 form and another probable ATOS medical. It is a joke that classification can take longer than the award is for and the appeal process can take over a year for an award of three months! So chances are a claimant will either be in the assessment phase or an appeal phase rather than being in an confirmed awarded phase! It’s o wonder the DWP have completely overloaded themselves with assessments and appeals is it?

I will now have to fight for my award to be backdated so the fight is far from over! I also want to write a comprehensive guide in PDF form on benefits like ESA & DLA. This will include advice on how to prepare for an ATOS medical, how to write a successful appeal and how to prepare for a tribunal. The truth is that this is going to take quite some time, my health means most of my time is spent in bed and incapable of working on such a document as frustrating as it is. In the meantime a lot of the advice I would write in a guide can be found on the benefits sections of this website. I can not stress enough how important it is to do your own points assessment using the links I have provided before you fill in an ESA50, attend a medical, file an appeal or attend a Tribunal. Also remember its all about evidence, your word is not taken at face value so get statements from medical professionals and inform all consultants etc you require a copy of all reports to your GP as trying to get them all copied afterwards takes time and probably money!

Of course, I will keep you updated with how I get on! Use the site and get in touch if you have any questions!

Awake and frustrated about ESA

Well, I’m finding myself awake and getting frustrated about my lack of Employment & Support Allowance. I complained last November and got a response in writing and a promise they were looking into my claim that I should be in the Support Group, gathering more medical evidence and to acknowledge my claims that I am finding it hard to keep up with constant letters going backwards and forwards highlighting poor treatment and even unlawful decisions by decision makers.

Well, I’ve heard nothing since November, I’ve had nothing to inform me a decision has been made! I’ve had nothing to inform me a decision has not been made! I’ve had nothing!

In the first quarter I sent a letter of complaint and further information highlighting ATOS refusing to come and conduct a medical at my home at the request of my GP and FIVE cancelled medical requests! I RECEIVED NO ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF MY COMPLAINT

In the second quarter I was told my ESA had been cut under the new 365 day rule, I wrote another written complaint asking what the hell was going on about my Support Group Appeal. I RECEIVED NO ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF MY COMPLAINT.

To summarise they told me they were looking into my Support Group Claim in November 2011 but I have no result, I have written to complain twice and they are refusing to acknowledge my letters! What do I do? I had requested an appeal over six months ago and complained twice and they just won’t acknowledge my appeals and complaints?

What the hell do you do when the Jobcentre plus won’t let you appeal and won’t acknowledge any complaints? Can they just decide not to let you claim benefits, not to allow you to appeal, not allow you to complain if they feel like it? They have done with me!

I know it’s against the law for them to do this but I can’t take them to court, I have little money and I’m not medically able to go through it! Should I write to my MP? Should I threaten to publish my whole case online? Should I go to the press?

I’m going out of my mind tonight as I’ve finally managed to relieve nearly two weeks constipation (Too much information) and finally have a bit of energy, great, I should be sleeping! Not much chance of that is there?

Local conference of the British Medical Association votes against ATOS & the WCA

The United Kingdom Local Medical Committees Conference of the British Medical Association voted yesterday (Tuesday 22nd May 2012) to carry the following motion:

That conference, in respect of work capability assessments (WCA) as performed by ATOS Healthcare, believes that the:

(i) inadequate computer based assessments that are used have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long term sick and disabled persons

(ii) WCA should end with immediate effect and be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to some of the weakest and most vulnerable in society.


Links & Further Reading:

The post by the Black Triangle Campaign whose member and medical advisor Dr Stephen Carty submitted the motion to the conference.

Twitter talk on the conference can be found using hash tag #lmclive

Scottish Doctors voted in March to do the same at the Scottish LMC

The story was also run by The Guardian

Our Family Income just dropped like a stone

As the title suggest our family income has just taken a dramatic nosedive due to the cuts and benefit changes. How it is all worked out is very complicated so I’m not going to go into detail but the important bit is that our circumstances have not changed, but out income has.

From 1st May:

Child Tax Credit – Completely Withdrawn
Working Tax Credit – Completely Withdrawn
Employment & Support Allowance – Completely Withdrawn

We are still a couple, one disabled (bedridden), one working full time, one child under 2 in private rented home with no housing benefit or council tax reductions. Looks like this year is going to be a squeeze then, especially when my DLA does not cover my share of council tax, rent, bills, food etc etc. Cheques made payable to………………………

Well thats my Employment & Support Allowance gone!

Yes, I have officially joined the Scrap Heap of Disabled People too having had my Employment & Support Allowance stopped under the 365 day rule. I got my letter just before it stopped on 1st May as I was on contribution based ESA and in the WRAG. Got another nice untitled letter which I believe is my P60 so now were living off my wife’s income only. Given the fact I have been bedridden for over a year I have of course appealed and appealed and had already sent a complaint and appeal in before I got my letter. Yet again my complaint has not been acknowledged and appeal not been looked at so it looks like another letter will go in. I suppose the silver lining to the cloud is I won’t be told I’m fit enough to get a job that lets me work from bed for 0 hours a month.

On a lighter note I have uploaded a lot of content under the medications section, I’m also working on VAT free products and Fibromyalgia treatments too. I’m getting to the stage where I would like to get a design sorted now. I don’t know if I should do it myself, get someone else to do it, use template or pay for a template yet. I would appreciate people’s opinions in general and from people with WordPress sites. Also after me making the post about Spam comments I seemed to be getting even more now, I just hope that with the increase in Spam there is an increase of genuine visitors. I would love to hear from anyone genuine, say hello, post a comment, send me a message or contact me through twitter @my_fibromyalgia I don’t really mind how, it’s entirely up to you!

Keep well and best wishes

Similar conditions section now up

I have completed the section on similar conditions now. However I am open to suggestions from anyone if there is another condition that you think I should include. I think the site is getting to the stage where it would benefit from suggestions and comments from the people who read this site and find it useful. I know how much information I have absorbed over the last few years so I can only imagine how much information there is out there. I will develop this site over time to fit around the users, if we get a lot of comments and discussions then I will perhaps add a forum, if I get industry or medical professionals providing content then I could set them up on a section of this site etc etc

So, YOUR opinions matter here and the site will hopefully grow with and around it’s readers!

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