The DWP: Where incompetence is described as a ‘positive benefit outcome’

Good shot: Work and Pensions secretary Iain 'Returned to Unit' Smith takes delivery of the nation's verdict on his management of the benefits system. No wonder Britain is falling apart, if the entire Coalition government works on similar lines.

Good shot: Work and Pensions secretary Iain ‘Returned to Unit’ Smith takes delivery of the nation’s verdict on his management of the benefits system. No wonder Britain is falling apart, if the entire Coalition government works on similar lines.

The Department for Work and Pensions is now such a shambles it should be a national scandal.

Not only do its ministers try to deceive you about its purposes and successes (12,000 people did NOT sign off benefits because of the cap, for example, and they still won’t tell us how many people died in 2012 while going through the ESA assessment procedure), but ground-level workers are praised if inappropriate action on claims results in a sick or disabled person being refused benefit or their claim being shut down. This incompetence is described as a ‘positive benefit outcome’.

I write from experience – Mrs Mike appears to be one such ‘positive benefit outcome’, despite our best efforts to prevent this.

Let me tell you a tale. I shan’t go into all of Mrs M’s details as they’re not really necessary and some of them are disturbing; suffice it to say that she has multiple long-term conditions.

She was subjected to a Work Capability Assessment for ESA in July last year, and received notification dated July 17 that she had been put into the work-related activity group, commencing August 14. This meant she would have until August 13 this year to recover from conditions which have plagued her for more than a decade; a totally unrealistic target invented by people whose main aim is to sell bogus insurance policies (see previous articles on Unum).

Being in the WRAG means that you have to try to prepare for work, with guidance to help introduce you back into the job market. Mrs M waited very patiently to be contacted about this, and was eventually called in to the local Job Centre Plus in December last year – one-whole-third of the way through her claim period.

Arrangements were made for her to have a telephone interview with a representative from a company that provides help in getting people back to work, but there were more delays. When it finally happened, the lady on the line told me: “I’ve spoken to your partner and from what she tells me, we can’t do anything to help her. She’s not going to get better in the timeframe within which we work. I know people with fibromyalgia and that’s just not going to happen. I recommend that you appeal against the decision to put her in the work-related activity group… Ask for a review of the decision, with a view to going into the support group. Go back to her doctor and request reassessment.”

We sought advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau over the possibility of making an appeal, and it seemed that there were legitimate grounds for doing so – not just the word of the work programme provider (my understanding is that this is the occupation of the lady who phoned us) but also medical evidence that had come to light after the WCA. So, with CAB help, Mrs M put in her appeal in February. She has yet to receive a response from the Department for Work and Pensions.

In May, however, she did receive another claim form. I filled it out for her (writing for prolonged periods increases the pain) and we sent it off on May 17. There has been no acknowledgement of receipt and the DWP has never mentioned it since.

This is unsurprising as we have had no contact at all from the DWP, from the time we received that form until yesterday (August 19), when Mrs M telephoned the Job Centre to find out what’s going on. Inevitably, this led to the phone being handed to me. “Oh yes,” said the man on the end of the line. “This claim terminated on August 13.”

So it seems the DWP is now in the habit of closing claims without informing the claimants. (In fact this is the second time someone I know has experienced this impoliteness; it happened to someone else in March).

We are now unexpectedly having to deal with the loss from our household income of more than £110 per week – that’s nearly £6,000 per year. We had hoped to avoid the possibility of this happening by means of the appeal, but the gentleman at the Job Centre helped us out there as well: “Yes, an appeal has been logged.” I asked what we being done. “It doesn’t say.”

So nothing has been done, then.

This is a serious matter. Firstly, the decision after the WCA was incorrect – Mrs Mike should have been put in the support group but was put in the WRAG instead. This could be because assessors are on orders to put only around 12 or 13 per cent of claimants into the support group, whether their conditions demand it or not, on the orders of ministers at the DWP.

Then there’s the nonexistent handling of the appeal. The DWP seems to be pretending it hasn’t happened.

Then there’s the repeat ESA50 form in May. What happened to that?

And finally there’s the complete – and no doubt intentional – failure to notify Mrs M of the termination of her benefit, a termination that should not have taken place if the DWP had done its job properly.

Is this what happens when the government lays off more than 400,000 public sector workers – the system seizes up because nobody can do the job properly anymore?

Fortunately – and full credit to him for doing this – my Liberal Democrat MP tweeted me yesterday evening and offered to help, so I have provided him with the details and hopefully something will come from that. We have a little cash coming in and a few friends who can help, so we are not in dire financial straits yet.

What if we didn’t have these safety nets, though?

By now, all readers of this blog should be well aware of the widely-reported statistic claiming that, on average, 73 people die every week because of bad decisions by the DWP – they either become depressed and commit suicide or the strain of going through the process worsens their health problem, the problem the DWP considered too inconsequential to merit receipt of benefit, until it kills them.

That statistic comes from a DWP report released more than a year ago and is now out of date. I have been trying to secure the release of up-to-date numbers but ministers have done everything in their power to prevent this and the only reasonable conclusion is that the death toll is now far worse.

A Freedom of Information request earlier this year was refused on the grounds that it was ‘vexatious’ and a demand for an internal review has been met with stony silence for more than a month. Today I emailed ministers to ask when they were going to respond or if I should just proceed to the next stage, which is a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

So you see, the DWP is in a terrible, terrible mess of incompetence rewarded and extravagant claims that amount to poorly-executed attempts at distraction fraud.

What if this is a microcosm for the entire Coalition government? What will be the result?

A weakened Britain, that’s what.

This blog has said it before and will say it again: They would kill us and call it ‘help’.

26 thoughts on “The DWP: Where incompetence is described as a ‘positive benefit outcome’

  1. Big Bill

    These people are fighting for their political lives and, no doubt, with a view to becoming multi-multi-millionairs if the benefits system can be made useless and everyone turns to Unum to buy insurance. This is the coup I imagine they’ve been planning for years. They’ll fight tooth and nail to win and I doubt they care at all who lives and who dies so long as they come out of this extremely wealthy. It’s getting close to heads-on-poles time, it really is.

  2. Mike Sivier

    Brian Powell on Facebook asked the following pertinent question: “It used to be that when an appeal was under way, a persons benefit was left in place, still paid in other words, with the understanding that if it resulted in an overpayment of benefit, said overpayment was to be reclaimed from future benefit payments. When did this change, what part of the law/ regulation changes covers this?”

    Does anybody know the answer?

    1. Caroline Wynn

      Hi Mike,
      In the old days of Incapacity Benefit, if an appeal was in process then the benefit would continue to be paid until the appeal was seen through to conclusion.

      However, new rules apply for ESA, and the date stated on your award letter as to how long they will pay you until is it.

      That’s why it’s important to get an appeal in quickly if you feel you have been placed in the wrong group, and keep an eye on how things are going when it starts getting near the end date.

      If someone thinks they are in the right group by being in the WRAG, but still need ESA after the cut off date, you have to submit a new claim for ESA in order to continue being paid.
      I guess that’s so you can be ‘encouraged’ to apply for jobseekers allowance rather than ESA if this is possible.

      I had some wonderful help from my local MP. And would advise anyone to contact their MP if things start looking a bit tricky.
      More MPs need to know the extent of what is happening to people in their constituencies.
      Joining Disability Rights UK or at least having a look around on their website is helpful too.

      1. snadge

        just too add, also, now if your benefit is stopped due to a “Fit For Work” decision you can no longer ‘appeal’ immediately with standard rate payment until its heard, you now have to ask for a “reconsideration” and you receive NO MONEY and there is NO TIME LIMIT that this decision can be done in other than “as quick as they possibly can” and everyone both knows what that means and WHY they have done this…so people say to themselves “ahh stuff this its too much bother, i could go months with nothing or go and claim JSA and get something soon” which is exactly what the DWP wants, you cant appeal an ESA claim while claiming JSA as your in a legally binding contract that says you are fit for and looking for work…

  3. HomerJS

    I think the DWP has become so bad that a future (decent and honest) government would feel obliged to disband it and start again with something new.

  4. Mike Sivier

    I just had a response to my query about the internal review. They said I had sent it to the wrong email address – this being [email protected], the address I had used to make the FOI request in the first place. Because I had sent it to this address, they said they had not received it.

    Now, if you were in a large organisation and you received an email that had gone to you by mistake, you’d just forward it on to the right people, wouldn’t you? I would.

    In fact, that’s clearly what has happened to my query, because I sent that to the ‘ministers’ address as well!

    So I’ve written back to them, pointing this out and saying I consider this poor performance to be obstructive behaviour.

  5. ladybirdathome

    I have chronic fibromyalgia too. About 50% of my life I am so sick I can hardy function, that includes walking, or anything really. I left the country in may this year to be a volunteer, and I am terrified of coming back, but I have an elderly Mum who will need me. I am very scared of the mess the benefits system is in and of course I have a completely invisible illness, one that is considered by Unum to be psychosocial. Well they should try a dose of peeing your own pants because flare after flare after flare has left you so weak, you can’t control your bladder any more! So I am torn between my Mum’s needs, and my need to stay out of the brutal welfare system, in case I add to those statistics of people who top themselves because they cannot stand its brutality…. I am please there are people like you who have the energy to fight these beasts.

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    1. Mike Sivier

      I’m trying not to consider that as paranoia is a form of madness.

      All right. It had occurred to me, and I do think they’d stoop to that sort of thing, but I also think they’d do this anyway, whether she was with me or not.

  7. Charlotte Mulliner

    Everyone who’s claiming disability benefits needs to get properly informed and advised, because this will be a constant fight at least until the change of govt – and honestly, Labour probably won’t change the system much. I’m in a similar situation, with ME/CFS. If you don’t have relevant legal experience then *always* get help with the forms – try DIAL to find a specialist service in your area (other services vary from ok to useless) and start early because they’re all horribly overstretched. Expect reassessments every 3 months – 2 years, you’ll go through this over and over so it’s worth learning the rules. Send everything signed-for (they ‘lost’ one of my forms too) and check regularly that they’re actually making payments – I’ve been cut off a couple of times, they never notify you or explain. In my case it was because I’d sent in the right paperwork, so they suspended my income while they processed it.

    For many people with chronic illnesses the descriptors aren’t appropriate, or it’s really hard to prove that they’re appropriate. If you’re sick you can still qualify for the WRAG pretty easily using regulation 29, the condition that being found fit to work would seriously damage your health. Unfortunately, because ‘work-related activity’ isn’t properly defined, it’s very HARD for a person to argue that they should be put into the support group because WRA would damage their health – so if you don’t satisfy the descriptors, you’re in trouble. In practice the job centre don’t seem to give people too much hassle if they’ve been ill a long time – this is just anecdotal, I don’t have statistics – but I guess since you have other income you’ll be on income-related ESA and have a big drop in income.

    I’m going to see my MP about this at weekend. I think what’s needed most urgently is a clear definition of what the WRAG is for – currently a lot of the people in it don’t qualify for the support group, but have a miniscule chance of recovering enough to work by the time their award ends, which seems to contradict the declared purpose of the group. My argument is that they need to either say that the WRAG is for people who are recovering from short-term conditions, and redefine the criteria so that everyone else gets put into the support group, or they need to say that the support group is for people who have no work-related ability at all and the WRAG is for everyone else – in which case they need to amend the rules for the WRAG so that, for instance, you’re allowed to work a few hours a week on a permanent basis and not just for a year, and changing the income-related limits so that disabled people aren’t left permanently living off family members. Ideally a lot more needs to change, of course – but this is the area that I think it’s realistic and urgent to address. Is there any possibility of making this into a more organised action?

  8. Nathanael

    I know it’s no consolation Mike, but I know exactly where you are coming from. I also know that you and I won’t be the last to experience this treatment, however.

    I really hope your situation gets resolved as quickly as possible, though. I also hope your MP manages to delve into what is going on. It can be amazing how quickly some things get sorted, when an MP becomes involved!

    My story started when I was put into the WRAG in May 2012 – without a Work Capability Assessment – due to my medical treatment (Dialysis for Renal Failure), exempting me from the WCA process. I, and the Renal Welfare officer who was assisting me, appealed the decision, and I had an appeal date set for March time, 2013.

    The appeal day arrived, but unfortunately the weather was too bad to travel, so the Tribunal looked at the extra evidence we sent to them. The following day, a letter popped through the door saying that I was entitled to ESA Support Group, because ESA Regulations 29 & 35 still applied to my health conditions/treatment, despite the fact I hadn’t scored enough points to go straight into the Support Group. So, now I had the Tribunal’s decision that I should be placed into the Support Group.

    Two month’s later, and a letter arrived from the DWP saying my time in the WRAG was coming to an end, and my benefit would be stopped as of May. Now, I thought to myself, “What’s the betting my benefit gets stopped, despite the tribunals decision?”

    The end date of my WRAG entitlement came and “Hey presto!” – I checked my bank account – my benefit had been stopped. This went on for about six weeks, three fortnightly payments in total. Now thankfully I got my benefit reinstated and back-dated, but only after writing a letter to the DWP explaining my situation and the Appeal decision, along with sending a copy of the Tribunal’s decision to them, so they had that in Black and White. Thankfully I had some savings to rely on during that time, and used them to pay off my credit card (as I was using that to buy things with), until my benefits were reinstated. But, by the time my money was reinstated, I was close to having nothing in the bank. I received no apology from the DWP for the mistake.

    I can only imagine the DWP is under mountains of paperwork with all the benefit reforms, and this perhaps goes some way to explain why everything is moving so slowly, and why the mistakes happen?

  9. anon

    A recent Guardian article discussed the latest findings about fibromyagia.
    http://guardianlv.com/2013/06/fibromyalgia-mystery-finally-solved

    The new research makes it absolutely clear that it is a serious neurological disorder.

    It is not imaginary, or due to ‘over-sensitivity’, and it seems that any effective treatment will be in the far distant future.

    How long will it take for the DWP and Atos to get themselves up to speed with this, and accept that FMS sufferers will not be making any miraculous recoveries or ‘snapping out of’ it under endless DWP bullying.

    There again, they probably DO know. Just as they also know the inevitable outcome of inflicting chronic severe stress on people who are already in fragile health.

    1. Nightingale

      Not wanting to get off topic here, but the article in the Guardian is rather over simplistic and triumphal.The ME/CFS Association site has a weekly digest of scientific papers on these issues. (like Ms Mike I have multiple health issues that include Fibromyalgia). Journos often want to make a good story, and may contribute unwittingly to the headline perception that the cause is known, so QED, the complaint is treatable. This is a very slippery slope with the DWP and their use the “hypothetical wheelchair / drug/ etc. ” to deny benefit.

      In fact there are many in the medical profession who refuse to acknowledge CFS/ME/FMS medical research, and this cabal have a home in the DWP. I can’t find the link but I am sure I saw one ex-ATOS Dr saying they relished the opportunity to “put and end to the FMS/CFS” malingering.

      The DWP /ATOS WCA process is designed to deny disability endured by FMS (and most chronic illnesses) as a matter of fact. The utter exhaustion/depression of FMS is pushed and stretched by the WCA to breaking point. (It has just taken me 3 weeks to fill out the ESA50.) This is a cruel system, honed by a combination of the robber barons and their odd-job side kick – the pathological liar IDS.

      Mike, thank you, as through this blog you have given us a nexus, and a glimpse of the possibility of organising and resisting, linking to the wider community of activists. Thank you.

      1. Mike Sivier

        You’re welcome, but I think you’re overstating what I’m doing!

        (Mind you, it is kind of hard for me to accept any kind of praise at the moment, since the cessation of Lin’s benefit has toppled us out of the frying pan and into the fire, metaphorically speaking.)

    2. vomsters

      If that article is talking about the “discovery” of small fibre neuropathy being linked to FMS – the “trial/study” consisted of 30 FMS patients. about half of which showed symptoms of small fibre neuropathy. A biopsy was taken from ONE patient that showed the SFN. A really tiny trial with a sample that is statistically insignificant, and even more statistically broken evidence from 1 out of the 15 of so who showed positive signs, with only 50% showing the result they were looking for is NOT conclusive.

      Every time a “cause/cure of FMS/CFS/ME discovered” article appears the first question you have to ask is “where is a peer review of the trial?” and the second (when a cure is being trumpeted, especially) is “if it’s that simple, nobody should be suffering any more… so why the flying f*ck am I still sick?!?”

      I get so fed up with the sideshow medicine peddlers touting the latest wonder elixir and causing my friends and family to start bombarding me with links and suggestions.

      Re DWP… always take copies; always ask for a receipt that states clearly what you handed over; always use recorded delivery; always, always assume that they are NOT on your side; never fill in the forms yourself, always get help from someone else (filling in your own forms demonstrates that you can work according to ATOS! Didn’t you know that?); never attend an ATOS or DWP review on your own, always take a witness/carer; never take pride in your appearance (ironed clothes/styled hair/make-up all demonstrate an ability to work); If you win an appeal always send, by recorded delivery a copy of your copy of the appeal decision to the DWP with a request that they reverse their actions immediately.

      For what it’s worth, there are reports constantly to pretty much all online disability activist/support groups regarding the DWP claiming to have lost the paperwork, or to never have received the claim in the first place. It is a delaying tactic. If they’ve not received the paperwork, you have to send it all in again (this is why you keep copies of everything (and why you should always have a receipt ready for them to sign – with a blue ink biro!) Expect it to get worse now that DLA recipients are being assessed for PIP.

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  11. John Walker

    It’s just a thought,but with all the needless deaths attributed to The DWP benefit changes is it even possible for the families of the victims to mount a prosecution of IDS on a charge of corporate manslaughter / murder. After all in my book, they have all got blood on their hands

  12. John Keen

    They are NOT displaying incompetence, They are just sticking to the rules (which were modified to allow none payment for any spurious reason they could imagine)
    Interpreted in such a way as to mean EVERY claimant is a liar and a cheat therefore wether they get a payout or not is totally irrelevent bar the DWPs’ desire NOT to pay anyone (justifiable from their point of view as all claimants are cheats).
    Remember the figures quoted in the past included pretty much everyone on benefits of any sort as “scroungers”.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Failure to act on an appeal; failure to act on receipt of a claim form; failure to respond to a request for an internal review of an FOI request – those are all examples of incompetence that are not related to whether a claimant is a liar or not. In the first two instances, no matter what their preconceptions, they must examine the appeal and the claim before reaching any conclusion; the last does not relate to a claim.
      It has now been well-established that only a tiny fraction of claimants are ‘scroungers’ of any sort, so the new approach is ‘softly softly’, it seems.
      None of the above is to say that your assessment is inaccurate – just that their interpretation of the rules is going to get them in a lot of trouble (if there’s any justice in the world).

      1. John Keen

        Agreed but i have had them say “we haven’t recieved your letter” so often i now pay the extra post to let me know not only the day but the exact time it was delivered.. Although the post is not as reliable as it once was i find it hard to believe that they could be loseing THAT many letters. Thus i tend towards it not being incompetence but willful negligence, just the first simple barrier hopeing that many will just give up, how can you fight an entity that cannot actually be sued without a LOT of expense which ofcourse you cannot afford… if you had that sort of cash you wouldn’t need to claim.
        That said we do need to shout louder and more often, even if you have little confidence in your local MP badger them untill they respond.

        Silence is a form of consent and the people of this country have been silent for many years thinking “what’s the point?”… Well MP’s are often seen as self serving, Wether this is true or not they WILL go with the majority/popular vote in order to keep or improve their position so we need more people nagging their MPs’ rather than complaining to the television or radio…

        Getting off my soapbox now sorry if i went a little off subject…..

  13. Jon

    photo-copy all forms, send everything ‘signed for’ keep a record of everything said and get as much as possible in writing

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