…hello? Is anyone still out there?
The problem with being a chronic sick and disabled blogger is just that, you’re always feeling like death, never quite want to put it into words.
I went through some dark times and some lightness through the long silence. For a while I was doing permitted work and as much as that was great for the soul, it was sapping all of my energy.
Two weeks before the end of my 18 months of contracted permitted work for a local charity, the DWP decided to stop my benefits saying I had earned too much.
The rules are that if you are in the Support Group (ie have been signed off indefinitely by your doctors and ATOS or Capita think you’re not faking it) you can earn up to £101 per week. So the charity I was working for paid me this on a monthly basis through their payroll. If there were 4 working weeks in the month I earned £404 and if 5, £505 as you might expect.
Their calculation if you are paid monthly is to take 3 consecutive months pay (m1, m2, m3 say) and extrapolate your weekly earnings :
weekly = (m1 + m2 + m3) * 4 / 52
Now we know that there are 52 weeks and 12 months in a year, meaning the average month has 4.333 weeks in it. This would imply that the average 3 month period would have 13 weeks in it… Still with me? Well if you choose three months where two of them have 5 weeks (as DWP did in my case) you will earn 14 * £101 = £1414 instead of the expected £1313 and when they use their calculation it will imply you earned an average of £108 per week.
So this is what they did to me. I thought I could phone them, explain their mistake and fix it but no. I was told that they are legislated under law to use this calculation if your payments come in monthly. I offered them access to my bank statements and payslips for the full 18 months. I explained the maths above. They already had the past year’s worth of payment history through HMRC but I was told all I could do was go through the appeals process.
Step 1 is to ask for a Mandatory Reconsideration which I did…
…Computer says no
Step 2 apply for an appeal tribunal through the government tribunals system. This i did.
At the same time as all of this I had to start a new claim for ESA starting from the end of my contract. Although they decided to remain paying me the same amount as I am in the support group from my old claim, they require me to go through the whole process of filling in the Fitness to Work assessment forms for ATOS again. Not only is this a loooong form that requires a lot of information, some frankly very personal and humiliating, but it is usually followed by an even more horrendous interview assessment. Thankfully I avoided that last time thanks to a letter from my doctor, but this time I may not be so lucky and this has had me very stressed.
Just in time to reach the deadline I got the forms for both the tribunal and the ATOS assessment sent off.
Today (a few weeks on) I got a call from DWP who are no again reviewing my appeal. They wanted details of my August and September pay (both 4 weeks months), I assume to run the calculation across a set of three consecutive months where the sums will work in my favour. She said she hoped she could resolve the matter without a need for appeal. The cynic in me says this is not because they’ve had a revelation that I am right, but that the two weeks of backdated benefits I would win (~£200) is significantly less than the amount a tribunal and ATOS assessment would cost them.
Now the thing is, as much as I’d like them to reverse their decision and pay me the money without me having to go to ATOS and tribunal, I’m also annoyed. I wanted to take them to tribunal not so much for me but for those who are more vulnerable than me who would also suffer with this incorrect extrapolation calculation, who would not be able to fight for themselves.
I will keep you updated on the process but please do spread the word that this is happening, that it’s wrong, that the legislation needs changing and that those of us most vulnerable in society are being punished for trying our hardest to remain part of society and contribute.