Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Tale of Two Claims.

This week marks the end of a fight with the Department for Work and Pensions, nee Benefits Agency. I wish I could say the war was done, but still we fight the DWP's decision regarding our daughter's care needs.

Her tribunal is in the next week...

Last year, on-top of my IBS and ME/CFS, I developed a rather nasty case of pompholyx - "hand eczema". I didn't know it was eczema at the time - a small cut got infected, and my hands started blistering. This prevents me from cooking or washing, and can sometimes make walking even harder (I also get it on my feet). It doesn't go away; I've had only around two periods of less than a week where I had no blistering or weeping in the last year. This put even more strain on my gorgeous partner and carer, Twitter's @dombed. We were filing a claim for DLA for our daughter (whole other story!) when we noticed that I also qualify. So I applied in September 2010 believing I should receive the Lower Rate Care component.

Having read other peoples' experiences and advice on the internet, I didn't expect it to go smoothly, and sure-enough, it didn't. At this time I was still undiagnosed, and my GP believed it to be contact dermatitis. He also wasn't fully aware of the severity, as I'd been attending the Nurse Practitioner owing to her increased accessibility, so his report wasn't particularly supportive. I, of course, requested a reconsideration and the DWP duly dispatched an ATOS Origin Dr to my house to investigate my claim. He came along, was quite pleasant & thorough, did his report and left. I didn't think there was any way that the reconsideration could go anything but my way after he'd seen my hands.

But again, things didn't go smoothly. The DWP simply ignored chunks of his report. He said my hands suffered "substantial impairment" in the report, but the DWP decision stated I suffered "slight impairment". He said I can't cook. The DWP said I can. I got confirmation of a pompholyx diagnosis, but the DWP didn't care. Off to tribunal went the case, then.

This was when the DWP decided now would be a good time to make life that bit more stressful, and perform a migration on my claim from Incapacity Benefit to Employment & Support Allowance (ESA). Great timing, DWP!

They didn't even make this simple; scheduling problems resulting in ATOS making threats of benefit cuts while the DWP tried to help find a workaround for us.

My ESA Work Capability Assessment went well. The GP seemed to understand my problems, and it went pretty smoothly for me.

Not-so-smoothly for the poor elderly lady sat in an empty waiting-room, while the staff were on lunch, having been sat there for 3hrs after being told to wait.

I hate waiting, so phoned the DWP to get the result of my ESA migration. I was told that I'd been placed in the Support Group, which I think made the call-handler confused when I then asked for a copy of the ATOS report. I planned on submitting it to the DLA tribunal.

Wednesday came, and off to Norwich we went for my Tribunal hearing.

Clerks were great - friendly and informative. The actual tribunal didn't seem to go very well.

It was held in an office-room, with a table separating the two chairs for the appelant from the three chairs of the Tribunal members. It was much closer quarters than I had expected. A male consultant surgeon to my left provided the medical advice; he was pleasant, understanding and helped cut through some confusion from the Chair. To the right was a Disabilities Advisor, who was there to provide life-impact advise to the Chair. She was also pleasant, but very quiet. She hardly said anything. The Chair herself was quite stand-offish and slightly intimidating. I felt like I was probably wasting her time.

The surgeon asked questions, then the advisor did, followed by the Chair who then said they'd decide that day and write with the decision.

I really hate waiting. When you're sick and/or disabled, you often have a lot of time on your hands with little or nothing that you can do.

This makes you think about things more than you would otherwise. Being told to wait for the post is like being sentenced to up to a week of stressing.

So Friday morning I rung the Tribunal Service, hoping they'd tell me what the result was. Turns out they're not allowed, so I tried the DWP. A nice lady at their call-centre said that the system only stated "appeal allowed" and didn't know what that meant. She said they'd sent me a form, but would ask me the questions and send an email to the department to hurry things up. She then asked if my bank details were correct, and if I'd been in hospital overnight since the appeal.

The post came - a brown DWP-ish envelope, creating hope that it was the decision. It wasn't. It was that ESA ATOS report. Only two days too late to be useful.

Did I mention I very much hate waiting? Friday afternoon I tried again, figuring they may have updated their systems. I was right - another nice DWP call handler explained that I had won my appeal and was being granted a 3yr award of Lower Rate Care, starting last year!

Irony upon ironies, while sorting the notes for this, the postman came.

With a Tribunals decision notice. Did you know that the Tribunal Service has no enforcement power..? Meaning the DWP can just ignore them if they really wanted?

So this case, which really wasn't that complicated because it only takes one look at my hands to realise the difficulties I face, took over a year to come to it's conclusion, and only did so correctly because my partner and I were willing to fight. I've no idea how much extra money this all cost, the lawyers, the decision makers, the Tribunal staff, but it shouldn't have cost it. I do know how much stress it's caused to myself, my partner, our family, but it shouldn't really have cost it either.

But this fight is done. For now.