Here’s another example of the utter dysfunction of the benefits system, from its myriad useless angles. I think we can safely say that we’ve reached the point where hardly an aspect of this bureaucracy is fit for purpose (see other articles I’ve posted recently for plenty more on that. The whole thing is out of control. It doesn’t even make sense). I’m pretty sure that I could run a better system myself out of a garage, pissed. I reckon I get two or three calls and/or emails a week about the sort of monumental bureaucratic mess described below at the moment. These situations require endless phone calls (and ages spent on hold), letters, challenges, visits to welfare advisers (if anyone can find them) and appeals to MPs and councillors. It never, ever ends.

These sorts of situations are also almost impossible for one person to deal with. That point needs to be made loud and clear. The calls take hours, as do the letters, application forms and time needed to source support information. Calls go unanswered and letters and certificates go missing, or aren’t acknowledged for ages. There’s no way that people can sort out problems of this magnitude by themselves these days. Finding a welfare rights adviser with the time to help is often just not a starter. Those services have gone, or are so oversubscribed that people no longer bother to try. I know this, because I’ve queued myself at places like the CAB and found all appointments gone by 9am.


I’ve just been talking with a woman I know well. She is 22 years old and has a four-year-old daughter. This young woman has about £20 a week to live on at the moment. Here’s a list of the way things are going for her with benefit claims at the moment. This could be anybody’s story, too. God knows I hear plenty similar.

In the past month or so, this young woman has:

– Had her child tax credit stopped, purportedly because she has another person living with her. She has never heard of this person. In her life. You’ll will know, of course, that many other people are dealing with the same sort of situation and the collapse of this part of the system.

This begs a number of questions, one of which I would like answered as a matter of priority. Shouldn’t the DWP, HMRC, councils and their various useless provider companies be required to provide evidence of all this alleged cohabitation BEFORE accusations are made and benefits are actually withdrawn? What is this system where an accusation is made and money simply stopped? Why is the onus on people who receive such payments to prove that they’re innocent? In the last week or so, my phone really has been buzzing with calls and emails from people who are experiencing these sorts of problems. There’s a guy I’m working with in north west London at the moment who has been accused of sharing his home with some bloke he’s simply never heard of. His council says that the DWP has imparted this information and that it’s his responsibility to prove that the bureaucrats are wrong. If he doesn’t, his housing benefit will be cut. Wtf. Really. Homelessness lies at the end of that path.

I digress.

The young woman whose story I began this post with has also:

– struggled to sort out her Housing Benefit claim because she moved address this year under very stressful circumstances and had trouble sorting paperwork.

– been told by her jobcentre that the only way to sort out the Housing Benefit problem was to sign on for Universal Credit (and move to that benefit from Income Support)

– had her Income Support claim suspended while the Universal Credit claim was made (apparently, her jobcentre told her that was the way things went with a UC claim. God knows how many other people with small children are getting this line. Feel free to feed back on that). Apparently, the jobcentre and/or the DWP said later that this suspension was an error, but have also said that they can’t sort this part of things out until the Universal Credit claim is fixed/sort/whatever the hell it is.

– been told that her UC claim can’t go further until she brings in more paperwork (even though the jobcentre presumably has her paperwork from her Income Support claim). The jobcentre can’t meet with her to look at that paperwork until mid-October.

– been told that her Universal Credit claim won’t be paid for six to eight weeks after that.

– been instructed that she can apply for some sort of budgeting loan, but that she can expect that to take a couple of weeks to come through.

Meanwhile, she has nothing.

As I’ve said before, I could go on. I hear these stories time and time again. People send me the endless letters that they get. They simply can’t keep up with the paperwork and the demands. Every letter is a threat. Money simply stops. That puts people in a very bad place.

Seriously. Nothing here works. The system and accompanying instructions are actually impossible to follow a lot of the time. The mayhem is everywhere. Take the whole thing down and start again. Properly.


  1. Kate, perhaps you should have the title of this article painted on a large banner, and then crowdfund an aeroplane to tow it round and round over London until someone takes notice.

  2. This is probably a suggestion that will be howled down, but have you contacted the new, reinvigorated Labour Party under Corbyn?

    They’ve been making great play about how many people are in need of a change in the system, but have they really considered the increasing numbers suffering under the burden of this ridiculous level of bureaucracy?

    I’ve not been keeping that much of an eye out just recently, so maybe I’ve missed it, but as far as I can see they’ve remained remarkably silent about the plight of the most needy in society, (apart from reading something about them ‘considering’ a universal basic income). An analogy from first aid should suffice, in an emergency situation, you initially ignore those screaming and injured and first tend to those both injured and silent – and it is those who are most affected, suffering most under this ludicrous regime that are the most silent, and the most in need of changes.

    Though a full-scale reappraisal of the system would be justified, revising the benefit levels paid to something approaching a realistic level to sustain life, the removal of the apparent inanities of the system would be a good start – oh, and bring back people, who are renowned to be very good at dealing with other people face-to-face, instead of computers and IT systems and dismembered voices in call centres many miles away from the people who are having the problems, (who might not be the most articulate in the world, and who may be better showing someone their problem, rather than trying to explain it to someone over the phone).3

    Bureaucratic messes aren’t anything new with the benefits system, but until the relatively recent past these issues were pretty easily solved by going and seeing someone and getting it sorted out there and then.

  3. I’ve been following false accusations of cohabiting for about a year now via the forums on Moneysaving Expert. Anyone wanting to report further on it can find copious examples there. Hundreds, probably thousands, of people being asked to prove a negative. It’s outrageous.

  4. That is really just the start of it: the rot in the benefits system covers every single benefit you can think of.
    Carers Allowance (CA) is not means tested, so that someone who has retired early on an occupational pension of, say, £1000 a month, to be a carer, can legitimately claim CA, However there is an earnings limit of £110 after deductions, so that someone else who is earning a mere £110 a week after deductions for such things as tax and NI, will immediately lose their £62 a week CA.
    Should that person be well advised, they will find out that if they pay a mere £2 into a pension plan each week, they will not lose their CA at all, because 50% of pension contributions are discounted. They might also do well to join a Trades Union: subs can also be discounted.
    However, how many people actually know these simple rules? Both of them are hidden in the small print, meaning that many Carers do not claim at all.
    It is actually possible to earn over £16,000 a year and still claim CA if you can take advantage of all the complex earnings and deduction rules, but in practice, vast numbers of people on low earnings do not claim at all.

    Another example:
    I cared for an elderly gentleman – a widower – with complex disabilities who received both a substantial disabled war pension and also a significant industrial injuries compensation payment each month. He had other income, including an occupational pension, State Pension and, constant attendance allowance. His total income was substantially more than £2000 per month. Fair enough.
    However, if he had died early, and his wife survived, even if she had had identical care needs and dependency, the situation would have been radically different. Despite her own Wartime service making fighter planes for the RAF, her benefits and pensions would have been a pittance. Furthermore, if she had become disabled before State Retirement Age, her entitlement would be significantly better in some respects than if she had become disabled just after retirement. Why?

    My point is this: the benefits available bear no relation to the absolute need of the disabled person, they are an almost arbitrary lottery, a mish-mash of entitlements. Nobody appears to have looked at this Gordian knot and tried to untangle it.

    Carers and people with disabilities need enough to live on. Any one of us could become a carer, or disabled, overnight. All it would take is an unexpected stroke, or a car crash. So at what point do we scrap the whole system of carers and disability benefits and start to look at the needs of an individual for decent care and a reasonable income to sustain the same quality of life as the average citizen?

  5. Has your client approached her/his local Councillor & MP ? I would suggest that when visiting one tape records the interview so that forthcoming letters can quote exactly what is said. This encompasses a weekly visit. Also getting a letter from your GP. Other medical documentation will be useful . And as this ‘Gordian knot’ can cause anxiety & depression -this is another aspect to be considered.. Also your religious leader that can write. A ‘CV’ of the case must be made and many copies made. Once all is in order, & if the relevant authorities are not acting responsibility, then go public. Local authorities do not like bad PR & the more fuss that is made the more embarrassing it will be !
    I showed up every day at the Job centre looking for a job. 9am when they opened and right when they camew back from lunch. Every single day till they found me a job. With benefits due, I would write and go to the office, chase up all info pending and always have copies ready when they stated they had not received them. I would deal with the person on the desk then ask for their manager and then their manager etc. The if the local authority had a ‘PR’ event in the borough, I would go to the meeting and raise the issue again !
    It is a fight and one should not have to fight for a right but that is how it is but they donot like the bad ‘PR’ when you can say ‘ I spoke with DHSS officer Mrs Smith & she said”……..”; I spoke with my local councillor & she/he said “….” ; I spoke with my Doctor & he said : this is what my MP said etc. Contact central government Ministers & backbenchers also. As it is all true you can publish in the local paper exactly what they have said & ask for help from anyone who can untangle this mess ! Best wishes & good luck. I had to do all of the above to sort things out for myself and my children & yes it is 24/7 but worth it in the end. Why oh why are they such heartless bastards…..?

  6. As one such target, I have long felt the draining impact of being ‘under siege for being poor’ even in the times that I have not been targeted by inappropriate allegations.

    Yet it’s great being well-networked, so that I can turn my experience and education into personal testimony toward social transformation. I’m a Quaker, and though most Quakers are comparatively affluent, I do know other Quakers who have experienced the frustrations of ESA retesting through family members.

    And Quakers traditionally do not use ‘Yours sincerely’ because it infers a double standard on the truth. Yet today to my council’s anonymously labelled ‘Private Claims Team’ as my accusers, I signed off as

    “Yours faithfully to my Quaker belief that there is something of God in every person, even you.”

    Maybe atheists on the ‘Private Claims Team’ might consider that a case of me ramming my religious faith down their throats, but I would argue that they might prefer it to being described as ‘scum’ as some people would call them.

    I also signed off the one page letter that had 5 numbered points with a PS: “How do you monitor your service delivery to vulnerable adults” before launching into “Copies of this letter together with [six page] detailed appendix to local MP and cllr” to help alert them to the fact that I am placing them under investigation.

    Yet maybe it would be a good idea to approach ‘personal injury’ law firms and — pardon the ‘unQuakerly language’ — screw them for every penny we can get from them?

  7. The problem comes down to one very simple fact. The people in charge and those who voted them in do not feel it is their responsibility to support people who need help. They don’t see it as their responsibility to care at all. The simplest and fastest way to absolve themselves of guilt for this neglect is to paint ever single person in need as someone who does not deserve help for whatever reason best makes sense to them. For ordinary people it may have roots in their own struggle for survival in a cutthroat society and this government has every reason to keep these people on the edge, to prevent them for caring and keeping them voting for more cuts for other people.

    Hence we get a society in denial, from the politicians and government institutions who bare faced lie about what is going on (see every single statement the DWP has ever put out) to the average voter who claims very story is over dramatised in order to sell papers (or that the people involved are just lying about that letter they say they sent). Everyone in denial, everyone comfortable in their denial.

    What terrifies me is we know exactly where this is going, all we have to do is look across the Atlantic – to a society so deep in denial that they think that a social health care system is ‘evil’. We have a long way to go before we hit the bottom of this.

    • I’m not sure it is as simple, so black and white, as that. Many right-wingers and centrists are still stuck on the concept of the worthy poor and the unworthy poor: quick to lavish praise on the selfless, ‘hard-working’ professional parent/carers of a cute child with cerebral palsy, but swift in their condemnation of a person who has descended into the hell that is depression or alcoholism.
      They will pat the head of a child with Downs Syndrome, whilst privately plotting to subject all pregnant women to heavy pressure to permit invasive in-utero testing with the implicit assumption that any parent who permits a child with a disability to be born is somehow letting the side down.
      Yes, eugenicists still stalk many a hospital doctors common room. And their attitudes, like those of the benefits staff, midwives, politicians and even teachers (“we can’t have an incontinent child in our mainstream classroom, health and safety you know!” – creep into their subconscious and judgemental middle class values.

  8. Pingback: Bullying benefit claimants because you can | Kate Belgrave

  9. Pingback: You’re on benefits. How dare you enjoy a hamburger, a cigarette, a drink or a life? | Kate Belgrave

  10. I have recently tried to claim unemployment benefits and have nothing but problems , my claim has been denied twice within the past 4 weeks because they felt i had not met their demands on time ? or lost my ID verification details, ive now been told i got to reapply Again and will lose the 4 weeks benefit money as ive started a new claim ? which i had not ?
    I feel cheated , let down and dissapointed in this new uncaring conservative system. designed to avoid caring for society .

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