This will not be news to anybody who is familiar with the benefit system for the sick and disabled. All you others, take note.
On Monday, Mrs Mike received a letter from the DWP. It said:
“Notification of Customer Compliance Visit
“We will be calling at your home.
“A customer compliance officer … will be visiting you at your home on Thursday 3rd December 2015… It is essential that you are available for this visit and provide the documents requested in this letter. This interview has been arranged because your circumstances may have changed and we need to ensure your payments are correct.
“When you claimed benefit you agreed to tell us immediately if the circumstances relating to your benefit entitlement changed.
“What will happen if we do not hear from you?
“If you fail to be available for this visit and do not contact me, your entitlement to benefit may be in doubt and your payments will be stopped.
“If there has been an unreported change in your circumstances then any overpayment will have to be paid back. Further, you may be liable for financial penalties.”
And then there’s a list of documents the ‘customer compliance officer’ wanted to see – ID, bank/pensions/earnings details.
Mrs Mike was deeply distressed by this letter.
I came down from the office to find her in what one might describe as “a proper state”. She was on the verge of panic, in fact – terrified that this ‘customer compliance officer’ was being sent to find any excuse to say she was ‘fit for work’ and throw her off the benefit.
As her carer, it would be grossly understating the situation to say that I was extremely concerned for her mental well-being.
But it’s funny how events transpire – later in the day I saw a tweet from a friend in DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts): “Template letters for those in ESA Support Group harassed by Job Centres.” How interesting… I clicked the link.
“We’ve had increasing numbers of emails from those in the ESA support group facing constant harassment from local job centres,” the DPAC page begins.
“Harassment takes the form of letters and phone calls ‘inviting’ people to work focused interviews, chats with job coaches or other ‘helpers’. Another type of ‘invite’ suggests that the job centre need to check you’re getting the right amount of benefit. They advise you to take in bank statements and other documents.
“Often these letters and phone calls wrongly state that your benefits are at risk if you do not attend.
“All such interviews are voluntary according to the regulations, not mandatory. It sounds like a scam warning from some dodgy company doesnt it? But this is the DWP Job Centre, supposedly public servants, causing anxiety and misery.
“We have reproduced two template letters to use if these scams happen to you.”
The letters were directly below. They were written as if by the ESA recipient.
“The DWP is aware that I have been placed in the Support Group for Employment and Support Allowance and therefore exempt from activity of this nature,” the template letter relevant to Mrs Mike states. “The Welfare Reform Act 2012 makes no provision for people allocated to the Support Group to be summoned to attend random benefit interviews.
“On the .GOV website the DWP states:
“Y’ou’ll then be placed in 1 of 2 groups if you’re entitled to ESA:
“‘* work-related activity group, where you’ll have regular interviews with an adviser
“‘* support group, where you don’t have interviews’
“In fact the DWP has the Benefit Centre network that contains benefit integrity centres and performance measurement to undertake this type of review by appropriately qualified officers. Therefore, this interview appears to be incompatible with the DWP’s own processes.
“In respect of payments the DWP knows that I am in the Support Group and the amount of which I am in receipt. Therefore, it can easily determine if this amount is correct without recourse to a face to face review.
“To the best of my knowledge my circumstances have not changed. If the DWP has evidence to the contrary please address it to me in writing as I find the benefit system far too complex and distressing to deal with on the telephone or face to face. I also rely on extensive support from other people when dealing with the DWP.
“This letter has caused me considerable distress and has exacerbated my illness. Should the DWP persist in sending me further letters of a similar nature I can only conclude that it does so knowing that it will cause me alarm or distress. Such actions are a criminal offence under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and I retain the right to make a criminal complaint to the police.
“As the DWP is acting contrary to the Welfare Reform Act 2012, please regard this letter as notification to cease and desist all such activities immediately.
“I will not be accepting the customer compliance visit and in doing so I will not be placing my entitlement to ESA at risk. Any suggestion by the DWP to the contrary will be considered harassment.
“I remind the DWP that I will continue to comply with all lawful requirements in respect of my ongoing claim for ESA.”
Now, some of you might think it’s a bit dicey, sending what is effectively a “cease and desist” demand to a government department, and backing it up with the threat of criminal prosecution.
But those of you who are familiar with This Writer will also know that I love humiliating the DWP, and my natural inclination when offered a chance to do something, rather than sit by and let authority roll over me, is to take the plunge.
So the letter went off yesterday (Tuesday). I had to do a bit of detective work because the DWP correspondence had no return address (clearly they’re trying to make it as difficult as possible for people to shut them down).
I’ll let you know what happens.
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