A confusing application process and the lack of available support has convinced Anoushka Alexander, that the Government is too quick to blame applicants for wrong decisions.
People on disability benefits are used to the government being in denial about the flaws in the way benefits are assessed. Faced with clear evidence that Atos really does make mistakes, the Employment Minister Mark Hoban, recently came up with a new way to shift the blame onto claimants. Interviewed on the BBC’s World at One, he was asked about a person with HIV who lost his employment and support allowance for nine months before having it reinstated after an appeal. Rather than accept that Atos was at fault, Hoban was quick to blame the lack of medical evidence provided by applicants which he said made it impossible to reach correct decisions.
Hoban’s argument takes no account of the problems claimants face before even reaching assessment stage. My own experience of reapplying for DLA is one which illustrates how the system can fall short when ample medical evidence is submitted.
I provided plenty of medical evidence with my application, including letters from my consultants and two pages describing how my condition affects me. This took me months of painstaking work to complete as I had to write a small amount whenever I could before returning to bed with exacerbated pain. Yet, none of it seemed to be taken into account, as despite my condition deteriorating since my last application, my rate was lowered.
The DWP told me I had one month to appeal in writing. On top of the effort of applying in the first place, this seemed an insurmountable hurdle; my condition means I only have a few days a month when I can do anything. I rang a local council-funded disability support group and spoke to an extremely helpful woman who told me that, because I am housebound, someone would visit to help prepare my appeal. Although she said she would be in touch in a fortnight, I never heard from her again.
I rang every few days, but was passed from person to person. They always promised to ring back but they never did. Eventually, only three days from the deadline, I spoke to someone who said that as time was running out, he would post me a GL24 form to sign and send to the DWP. He told me to worry about medical evidence later and to ask for a review first, then an appeal – the system seemed to be getting increasingly complicated.
The GL24 form turned out to be a form to challenge the DWP’s decision. When it came I noticed it nominated the support group as my representatives. I did not know what this would entail, but sent the form to the DWP anyway. Unsurprisingly, as I had not included new medical evidence, the original decision was upheld.
Unsure what to do, I tried to speak to my contact at the support group. But he was away. I spoke to someone else who said they’d ring back, but never did. I was increasingly worried as they were supposed to be representing me in the appeal which I assumed would be taking place. I really wanted to avoid a tribunal as I could not even guarantee my attendance due to my condition.
Eventually, I rang the DWP again. I had been wary of doing this, but did not know what else to do. They told me to send anything I could and that I had an indefinite amount of time to do so. More confused than ever, I sent some bullet points describing how my condition affects me and the original decision was overturned.
Despite my success, the whole process was extremely confusing with conflicting information from everyone I asked. All this on top of the physical difficulties I faced in preparing an appeal in an extremely short amount of time.
Citizens Advice suggests that this could all be fixed if the DWP gathered medical evidence themselves – after all, we already give our doctors’ contact details when we apply. The downside with this is that GPs do not always know how a condition affects a patient’s daily life. Face-to-face assessments would still be needed so the claimant could explain this. And while the government is so keen to shift the blame I have no faith in its ability to assess anything properly.