After two years of fighting to have my disability recognised by the DWP, having been rejected several times for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) in the past I was elated when I eventually won my case. This was following a Mandatory Reconsideration, when the DWP decided to award me the extra point I needed in order to qualify for the standard amount of PIP (you need a minimum of 8 points to be awarded the basic amount).
However, my joy was short lived, because, one of the conditions that you have to adhere to when you're awarded PIP, is that you have to inform the DWP about any changes of your circumstances regarding your health conditions should they occur during the course of your award.
After just 3 months of me winning my case, there was a slight change to my health conditions, and one of my medications had changed as a result of it. I immediately reported this to the DWP, thinking that they would just update the information on my records, and perhaps adjust my payments too, if needed, but this was not to be the case.
Instead, as a result of me reporting this change to the DWP, they stopped my claim and payments completely, and a new PIP application form was sent to me in the post, and I had to apply for my PIP claim to be reinstated all over again. This also meant that I had to fight from scratch all over again too, for my 8 points to be reinstated.
When I re-applied for PIP this time round, the DWP gave me just 6 points, which meant that I had to obtain a further 2 points in order for my payments to be reinstated. It was a very stressful process for me, because I had to go through writing up yet another report, and provide further evidence to them for yet another Mandatory Reconsideration to be considered all over again by them, and in such a short space of time. This situation also put me in financial difficulties because (as mentioned earlier) my payments had stopped too.
The Universal Credit (UC) side of things was no better either, because I also had to inform them about the health conditions that I have which I felt restricted me from doing certain types of work, and in order for them to recognise that I had what they call a ‘Limited Capacity to Work’ (LCW) I attended two very lengthy health assessments with their Doctors in order to be considered with having this.
Having Universal Credit award a claimant with having a LCW gives you a layer of protection, because it then means that you are taken out of what they call the 'intensive work group' - (where you have to prove that you have spent 35 hours or more a week looking for work, and if you cannot demonstrate this, your payments would be sanctioned) - into a slightly 'gentler' work group, which they call 'Work Prep'. This work group is less harsh in that all the claimant needs to demonstrate in order to receive their payments is to make steps to prepare for work, such as prepare a CV, etc. A claimants work commitments are less harsh, and they CANNOT be sanctioned under this particular workgroup.
It took UC two years to finally award me with having a LCW, and I was quite fortunate that I had a very good, understanding Doctor, who was more than happy to provide me with ‘Fit Notes’ for the two years that I was waiting for UC to make a decision on my claim for it. It is so important that we as claimants put these ‘Fit Notes’ onto our UC accounts, because if we didn't, the Jobcentre would just put us forward for any type of work, and if we refused it, we could get sanctioned for doing so. For me, this was really nerve-wracking, sometimes made me feel vulnerable, and often wonder how I would have coped with the situation if I didn't have such a supportive Doctor.
The DWP's seemingly endless conditionality they have on every benefit they provide also came into effect regarding the Fit Notes that I was providing too, because they are only accepted onto our UC accounts at the discretion of our Work Coaches, even though they are written and signed off by our Doctors!
Once I was awarded with having a LCW, I still had to attend fortnightly appointments at the Job Centre with my Work Coach in order to look for work! Which, to me, seemed like a total contradiction, because on the one hand they are acknowledging that I have a LCW (Limited Capacity to Work) but yet my physical interaction with them still hasn't changed.
Having to do this, and after having waited for such a long time for my decision to come through, it felt like nothing had really changed, and that the two years that I was striving to gain the ‘Limited Capacity to Work’ letter from Universal Credit was just a waste of time, because I was still being treated like a fit able-bodied person - which I’m currently not.
In addition, and in relation to the issue of conditionality and my PIP, which I mentioned earlier, once my PIP was reinstated, I learned that I could also apply for ‘Carers Allowance’ on behalf of someone providing me with care for 35 hours a week or more, due to my disability.
My teenage daughter (who was 16 at the time, and providing me with this level of care) was nominated to be my main carer by myself, as I began to fill out the application form. After having completed quite a large portion of the form, however, I came up against yet another barrier surrounding benefits. The condition was that because my daughter was still in full-time education of 35 hours or more a week, and not in ‘Work’ of 35 hours or more per week, I couldn’t progress my application any further, and I ultimately scrapped it.
What I couldn’t understand, in terms of the condition regarding applying for Carers Allowance for a 'younger' carer, is that, just because my teenage daughter was in full time education rather than full time work, did not mean that she was/still is providing me with 35 hours or more of care per week.
Yet, the DWP would rather pay a ‘Carer’ from a Care company to provide me with the same level of care that my daughter still provides me with, and she gets nothing for it, just because she is in full-time education. This doesn’t make sense to me, as I would much rather my daughter provide me with care than a complete stranger - the mind boggles!
In sum, given the various experiences that I have outlined above, to me it seems that a lot of the DWP's conditions placed upon applying for their benefits can be counter-productive, because they cause the claimant a lot of stress, and makes them/us jump through many hoops just to prove that we are worthy and qualify to receive it.
In the past, the conditions around applying and obtaining basic benefits to survive were never this harsh, but I feel that over the past few years, the conditions that the DWP have set, in order to obtain most of them, has become more and more harsh and punitive, not to mention, the increase in bureaucracy that I'm sure it creates for the DWP too. Infact, I fear for the next generation and feel that something needs to be done to correct the current situation as soon as possible, because it currently isn't working, but is instead stressing a lot of people out.