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Back in the benefits cycle

I got a brown envelope today, except it was white. The ‘Personal Independence Payment’ just showing in the address window gave the game away.

I’ve been expecting a brown envelope since 24th October, when I was told my PIP was being reassessed (51 weeks after being given a two year award). I got two brown envelopes before Christmas, one announcing the £10 I get because I’m disabled and it’s Christmas, and the other announcing… the £10 I get because I’m disabled and it’s Christmas. They didn’t help my nerves.

I wasn’t nervous about opening the white envelope, because as soon as I saw it I knew what it was. The fact it was white meant that it didn’t come from the DWP; the fact it didn’t come from the DWP but was about benefits meant it could only be a call for face-to-face assessment. I didn’t expect it to be so soon though – 5th January, less than one week away. The DWP/private provider gave themselves two months to contact me about whether I was to have a face-to-face or not; I get six days.

It’s weird being called for reassessment. Particularly on a day like today, the second in a row of constant headaches, nausea and feeling like I’m nearly blacking-out. A day when my family have gone to Chatsworth House to enjoy the Christmas lights, and I couldn’t go because I was too ill. After a week of, to be honest, mostly just sleeping, watching TV and playing board games with my family. As weeks go, it hasn’t been intense. I had, over the last few weeks, been feeling more content with my restricted life; I was basically happy with what I could do and able to relax about what I couldn’t. But today, the first time in a while, I have really felt unpleasantly ill and disabled. I’ve missed out on time with my family, and that’s hard, especially when I don’t get to see that much of my siblings.

So the letter has come on a bad day.

The letter also shows that the DWP don’t think they have enough evidence to confirm that I am as ill and disabled now as I was this time last year. They have reports from my two previous assessments, three first-tier tribunal panels, one upper-tier tribunal judge, three self-assessment forms and however many doctors’ letters to use. It ought to be clear, from the tribunal reports, how the evidence is to be interpreted in my case; I get that previous assessors didn’t give me the awards that the tribunals did, but the tribunal reports show where the original assessors went wrong. So a new assessor should be able to look at the whole case, the fact that I haven’t got better or worse, and find it easy to continue my current award. Surely? I’ve been ill for nearly seven years!

My fear is that, once at a face-to-face, all other evidence goes out of the window. The assessor looks at me and notes that my complexion is fine; I’m not rocking; I can converse; I have good grip and leg strength. The fact that my fibromyalgia affects my stamina and doesn’t affect my strength is ignored. The fact that my Postural Tachycardia affects my tolerance for activity in general without ruling out any one specific activity means it is likely to be ignored. Last time, my mum pushed my wheelchair and I was so tired during the assessment – sitting up makes me drowsy – that I leant my head against the head-rest of my wheelchair and closed my eyes whenever the assessor was busy typing; I still got assessed as able to walk.

I have no confidence in this system, yet it matters so much. If I lose my award, I lose my access to the disabled version of the Shared Ownership scheme; a scheme I’m relying on as the only financially viable route out of my parents’ home. Even if I retained eligibility – if the scheme providers were willing to use my past PIP award – I wouldn’t be able to afford to live out anyway, because I’d no longer be able to buy in the help I need. But most of my friends live half an hour’s drive away and, to be honest, I think they’re getting tired of the drive. I need to be able to move; to live near my church, my friends and public transport. If I lose my PIP, I lose my route to slightly more independence.

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