This ought to tell you something about the criminal waste of time and money that is our disability assessment system:
As readers of this site will know, I’ve been following the benefit assessment experiences of Sean (name changed), a 53-year-old man who has Asperger’s and severe depression and anxiety.
I’ve listed below some of the benefit assessments and reassessments – and associated DWP blunders and screwups, which is in many ways the real list – that Sean and his partner (who has a schizophrenia diagnosis) have experienced in recent times. They’re still in the middle of this non-stop assessment, of course. There literally is never a time when they’re not in the middle of one benefit assessment or another. They’re always filling in forms, waiting to be called to assessment, being called to assessment, going to assessment, waiting for assessment outcomes, appealing assessment outcomes, or being told to fill in a new set of forms.
But here’s the point I really want to make. There really isn’t any sort of service around that might change or improve their circumstances in any way. Quite the reverse. All of this couple’s support has been removed in the last few years. They had a social worker a few years ago, but lost that service because council funding was cut. The two used to attend a community mental health service (that’s where they met), but had to stop going there, because services were cut. They used a local welfare advice centre for some support with filling in application forms, but just received a letter saying that social security support at that service will end, because the housing association that funded part of it is pulling out. They are at the point where there is literally nobody around to help or to accompany them to face-to-face assessments. We get all this waffle from the DWP and government about getting people back to work and blah blah blah. At the same time, all familiar, useful and complex support is removed.
Still, the DWP assesses and assesses and assesses these people. I don’t know why the department expects things to have changed from one assessment to the next. A torrent of mail and paperwork pours through this couple’s door from the DWP and the council and their housing association. Some of the letters and processes don’t even make sense, as you’ll see below.
A brief(ish) list, then:
In the last few years, Sean has:
– been called to three (now four – he just got another call) ESA face-to-face assessments. I attended two of these assessments. Sean says he was called to more ESA assessments, in the couple of years before we met.
– had to fill in the complex application papers, source the relevant medical information (although that medical information never changes and his GP’s surgery charges for medical information) and taken and made no end of phone calls with Atos and Maximus about attending face-to-face assessments.
– been told to apply for ESA and attend another face-to-face assessment before he’d heard about the outcome of a previous assessment. No decision was ever sent through for that earlier assessment.
– just been called to yet another ESA assessment, although he’s still not heard about the outcome of the assessment before last. He had to fill more forms in and then he got a phone call asking if he could attend a face-to-face assessment that coming Saturday. He couldn’t, because he had nobody to accompany him or drive him to the meeting.
There is also the fact that Sean continues to be called to these face-to-face ESA assessments despite his struggles to attend face-to-face assessments because of his Asperger’s. There should be a record of that fact somewhere at the DWP, because earlier this year, a Capita PIP assessor stopped Sean’s face-to-face assessment for Personal Independence Payment, because he was too upset and anxious to handle it. Still, he is rung to see if he can attend face-to-face assessments. He’s called at very short notice, too.
Then, there’s the Personal Independence Payment.
This year, Sean has:
– Received letters which informed him that his Disability Living Allowance was ending and that he needed to apply for the new Personal Independence Payment (Sean’s partner also received those letters. She’s been called to face-to-face assessment. She cancelled one appointment, because she was so worried about it and had nobody to accompany her. She’s got another appointment. She wanted to ask for a home visit or a paper-based assessment, but was worried about the cost of the GP medical information that she needed to support those applications).
After the first letter, Sean:
– received another letter a fortnight later warning him to apply, because his DLA would stop if he didn’t
– received a phone call asking him to attend a PIP face-to-face assessment the very next day
– spent time on the phone trying to sort out another day for the face-to-face assessment, to give him time to arrange for someone to drive him to the meeting and to accompany him.
– attended a face-to-face assessment which the assessor stopped, because Sean was very stressed and upset and clearly could not handle the meeting. Mention was made at this assessment of setting up a home visit.
– made numerous calls to the DWP and Capita to ask if a home visit for his PIP assessment would be set up, because of his obvious problems with face-to-face testing (I made some of those calls myself).
– found out that Capita would not organise a home assessment for him – he’d need to do this himself with his GP. So much for reasonable adjustment.
– found out that his DLA was stopped anyway – at least six weeks before he was informed about the outcome of his PIP application
– made as many phone calls as he and his partner could stand to try and find out why his DLA had stopped
– received a letter several weeks later saying that the DWP had turned his PIP application down, because he failed to comply at the face-to-face assessment that was cut short because of his anxiety.
– had to apply for a Mandatory Reconsideration to challenge the decision to turn down his PIP application. Rang his GP about getting medical information to support his Mandatory Reconsideration and his request for a home assessment. Found out that a letter would cost £15.
– got a letter from the DWP which said that the department had already done his Mandatory Reconsideration – BEFORE he’d asked for it and months before the decision about his PIP application was even made (the letter upheld the DWP’s decision to deny Sean PIP).
– wrote to the DWP asking the department to set that rogue Mandatory Reconsideration aside and to start again with a proper Mandatory Reconsideration that he could contribute to.
– received a letter in response which said No, the rogue Mandatory Reconsideration and decision to deny PIP would stand.
– produced a letter under real pressure to request an appeal of that decision at tribunal. Sean only had a couple of days to do this, because the DWP said he had to meet the application deadlines set out in the rogue Mandatory Reconsideration letter he had received several weeks earlier.
This couple has also:
– Received letters and phone demands for the bedroom tax (the couple must pay the bedroom tax on their one small “spare” room.
– Received demands and reminders for council tax because the couple’s council tax benefit has been cut
I could go on. I really COULD go on.
The bedroom tax and council tax payments still go out. Sean is waiting to hear about his next ESA assessment date and a date for his PIP appeal. His partner is about to attend her PIP face-to-face assessment and hoping she can find someone to go with her.
You see my point. These people are at the mercy of a runaway bureaucracy that never relents and is often just nonsensical. You may not have any sympathy for these two as people – such is the cold age we live in – but you ought to have some sympathy for yourself if you’re a taxpayer. Your money is being squandered on this recursive rubbish.
And I make the key point again. There really isn’t any support around for these people. There is plenty of money in the system for endless benefit assessments and the private companies that run them, but there isn’t any for the complex support services that might add to people’s lives.
God only knows how many thousands of times this sort of story is replicated across the country.