Diary entries cover a variety of topics, some of which you may find triggering. These topics include self-harm, suicide and domestic violence.
20 May 2023
Q&A

Beverly W

What is your experience of switching benefits?

I recall having a disastrous experience of switching from legacy benefits to universal credit.

I received a telephone call from the DWP to tell me I hadn't scored any points during my ESA assessment. I remember the lady was very blunt and matter of fact about it. I felt she may have well simply accused me of being a bared faced liar about my health condition. I was in complete and utter shock. So much so, I started shouting at her down the phone can't remember what was said exactly but I felt very hurt angry and devastated. I definitely wasn't prepared for her news.

Still stunned I asked her what I was supposed to live on instead? There was barely enough as it was along with child benefit, child tax credit, and housing benefit to live on. My rent was a good deal higher than social housing rent too. She offered to put my call through to the Universal credit claim line. Still in total disbelief I agreed to this, with a vague idea that this was the end of my legacy benefits once and for all.

I had heard on the grapevine it wasn't advisable to claim UC, but when your backs against the wall, its either that or nothing. I knew I could and would appeal their decisions however, I simply couldn't wait the 12 to 18 months it might take to go through that process.

Still in shock, I tried to pay attention to what the call handler was explaining over the phone to me about a job centre appointment. I completely blanked out when he gave me an appointment to attend the jobcentre as I was by then just going through the motions of replying but not really registering what was being said to me.

Obviously as a consequence of this I totally messed up my actual appointment with staff a few days later. I had missed it altogether, turned up at the wrong time wrong day. Staff treated me with distain. I broke down on the spot by this point. Started hyperventilating, and having a panic attack in front of everyone, very humiliating.

Staff there did their best to assist me, they were able to offer me another appointment almost the next day I think. I remember a lady saw me as distressed as I was, must have been a bit for a scene to see, but she slipped a tiny piece of paper inconspicuously under my snivelling nose and streaming eyes. On it was written the words, "Work and Benefits". She discreetly gestured and spoke to me quietly, "you need them" then she slipped away again.

When your whole world caves in on you in one foul swoop, in the heat of the moment, you really have no reference point to know how to deal with things, whether emotional or practical. The whole situation felt more devastating to me because of the fact that this condition is difficult to wrap your head around as it is. I have had to shuffle around on my bottom at times, my son (about 8 years old at the time) would see me in tears and push up the corners of my mouth whilst laughing nervously because he wanted to help me through the ordeal so badly.

Coming to terms with the fact that continuous debilitating pain is not always seen by the untrained eye, has been a tough enough journey, I naively assumed qualified DWP "health professionals" could easily recognise how difficult things were for me. But assessments with the DWP don't work like that. Bad enough when my own doctors and specialists knowing next to nothing about it either. Even giving me the wrong advice.

Despite getting my initial claim for UC sorted out promptly - the appointment to sign on, provide all my details and evidence, we still had the misery of a 5 week wait for any payments to filter through. We had to use food banks to help us though till we were paid. Once I received the first payment I kept expecting there to be more in my bank each month. I believe we lost income of about £150 per month in the switch over from ESA to UC.

Once I eventually won my ESA appeal, about 9 months later there was no going back to it. Also had to challenge the DWP about the initial 3 months of my claim. Apparently they "forgot" to apply legislation stating I was eligible for back dated pay to reflect a continuous claim for LCWRA when I switched from ESA. "Forgot"? Yeh, whatever.

Cite this entry

Use Beverly W's words in your own research or editorial
Changing Realities (2023), Beverly W. https://changingrealities.org/e/K6aRy (20 May 2023)
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