My fun with ESA and UC

Benefits are never a fun thing to try and sign up for.  First of all, it feels pretty naff having to say you can’t work anymore, especially when you’re only young and people expect you to be able to do far more than you’re capable of.  But on top of that, the entire system is literally rigged against you.  I’ve been trying to get help since august 2018, now it’s nearly 2019 and I’m no closer than I was when I started.  There is so much red tape around any form of support and they make it so much harder than it has to be, so a lot of people give up.  So far, I’ve managed to keep going but with all the stress and ridiculous demands I can easily see why some people don’t bother.

I’m going to tell you my wonderful benefit story now, in the hope that, if you are struggling to get through it all, you can see that it’s not just you and that if you stick at it, however horrible and stressful it gets, at least you can feel like you’ve beaten them by the end!

Up until august this year, I was working two jobs, one in a nursing home with elderly people and the other in a primary school with little kids.  A pretty big difference between them but you’d be surprised how similar kids and old people can be!  Anyway, I had been struggling with my mental health for some time now and things hadn’t been getting any better.  I worked some night shifts at the care home which very nearly killed me and it didn’t help that this coincided with a change of medication.  One night, I was so tired and felt so ill, I threw up, another night I fainted, totally just sprawled out on the floor.  So I had a chat with my manager and stopped doing the night shifts.  Although this did help, the day shifts weren’t any easier.  Imagine having such severe brain fog you can barely remember your full name and yet you still have to give out life threatening medications.  I can’t even tell you how scary that was and how many times I tried to get a colleague to do it for me.

That wasn’t the only problem; the work was very strenuous and did nothing to help the horrid back pain which seemed to be worsening.  At the time, I didn’t know I had fibromyalgia so I was feeling pretty annoyed at myself for being such a “weakling”, which didn’t help.  Finally, the last straw came when I fainted at work during a long and particularly stressful shift, my colleagues were unable to stir me and I was taken to hospital in an ambulance much to my eternal embarrassment.

After this whole fiasco, I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia and when things got worse, the doctors and my care coordinator suggested I take time off from work, until I hopefully learn to cope with my illness.  So, I did, I left the care home which was sad and after a few more months I had to also quit my job at the school.  Thankfully, my friends, mentioned in earlier blogs who had also gone through the benefits process themselves for fibromyalgia, were on hand to help and I can honestly say that without their support, I would have just given up.

So first of all, I applied for ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) and quickly after, PIP (Personal Independence Payment) which is the new version of DLA (disability living allowance.)  Thanks to the wonderful budget cuts and the crack down on people applying for benefits when they don’t need them, it’s now about as easy to claim benefits as it is to put a camel through a key whole.  First of all they send you bucket loads of forms and letters, all of which are in some unknown legal language that made me want to jump out of a window.

When I finally managed to decipher it and fill out the necessary forms, the real fun began.

My first problem was the ESA, I swear they hate me, I sent off a lovely form all filled out with my details and had a letter through asking me to call them.  I spent over an hour on hold and when I finally managed to speak to a human being, they said I had to sign up for Universal Credit, two words I would come to detest.

The person on the phone then patched me through to the job centre, where I waited on hold for a little bit longer until finally I was talking with someone.  They asked for some detail and when I gave them my Post Code, they came out with

“Oh, you’re not in a Universal Credit area.”

So back they sent me to the ESA where I again, sat on hold for so long I was beginning to memorise the little “your call is important to us” segments.  When I as again speaking to a human being they asked me,

“Well why haven’t you claimed for UC?”

So I had to explain that my address was outside of the area.  They clearly hadn’t covered this in training because they had no idea what to do with me now.  I was again patched through to “someone who will properly understand you claim” and had to wait some more.  Again I was asked why I hadn’t applied for UC so by this point, I was more than a little annoyed.  After explaining my situation AGAIN, this guy sent me an email with a form attached that I had to print out and fill in.  Only problem was, when I had completed this form, I realised the guy had never given me an address to send it to.  Usually the forms are sent in the post and come with a return envelope, but because I wanted it filled and sent ASAP they sent it to me over email.

So, once again, I had to sit on hold to ask for an address.  The first person who spoke to me had no idea and patched me through to someone else.  So yay, more time on hold.  When someone else finally spoke to me, I realised they had patched me through to the Universal Credit people, who said I needed to go online and apply for UC.  AGAIN, I explained I was out of the UC area and all I wanted was an address to send this form to.  They had no idea where I was supposed to send it and so they sent me, yes you guessed it; right back to the people I had just come from.

I swear, you couldn’t make this up, it’s so ridiculous.

So, now I was talking to a woman who seemed to almost know what she was doing and she managed after some time to find an address for me, so I was able to send this form off.  A few days later, I had a letter through saying that I wasn’t eligible for any benefits, which was absolute rubbish so I rang them back with a friend of mine present who knew a bit more about legal stuff.  When we finally got to the bottom of it all, it turns out the form I filled out was for contribution based benefits which basically means that they take your benefits from all the national insurance and taxes you have paid over the years.  Well at the time I was 19, I had only been working in a steady job for two years and it was on a 0 hour’s contract basis, so all the tax they had taken from me, came back because I wasn’t earning enough.  So of course I wasn’t eligible for that type of benefit, I had never paid enough tax to earn it.

So this lady said there was a different form I had to fill out that I could either pick up from the job centre or they could send one in the post.  Thankfully, my friend went round to the job centre for me and picked up the form which I filled out and sent off.

Two days later I had a text message come through from the DWP saying I had to call them urgently regarding my claim.  So, I did and I was on hold for some time before I managed to speak to someone.  I explained the message and they said,

“Ah yes, so what you need to do is apply for Universal credit.”

I swear I almost threw the phone across the room.

I explained as calmly as possible that I had been told I am not in a Universal Credit area so I can’t apply for it.  Then came the icing on the cake, the lady said,

“Yes, you weren’t, but you are now, it’s moved around, so the form you sent us is useless now and you need to fill out the online forms to start your claim.”

At this point there wasn’t a lot I could do besides laugh (if I didn’t I would’ve screamed) and jot down the information she was giving me.

I then had to go onto the GOV website to sign up and man was that like pulling teeth.  There was so much to fill out and they wanted so much information that it honestly felt like they were trying to steal my identity.  Halfway through filling it out, it said it needed to confirm my identity.  It made me download an app on my phone so as to take pictures of my driver’s licence and any other forms of identity.  It also wanted me to take a picture of myself, head on and profile, like I was a prisoner or something.  At the time I was still in my pyjamas, hadn’t brushed my hair or done anything really to improve my look but by this point I didn’t care.

Finally it confirmed my identity and just when I thought I was done it was like “please continue filling out your details” and I still had to spend like another hour filling stuff out.  When I got to the end, I had to call again to arrange an appointment at the job centre, so more time on hold, yay.

Finally it was more or less sorted and yesterday, I had my appointment at the job centre.  I had to take three forms of ID including a letter from HMRC with my national insurance number, so I took those details with me.  I also had to take my sick notes from the doctor with me but when I gave them to the lady she said

“Oh we need the originals.”

How ridiculous is that?  I’ve had the ESA sending me letters every week saying to send them sick notes so I’ve just been constantly copying them and sending them all over the place.  I also had to give some to my employers, send others off to PIP and who knows where else, I had no idea where the originals were.  The lady at the job centre said,

“Well I can’t sign you on till I have the originals so you’ll have to ask the doctor to issue duplicate copies.”

So yay, more work to do.

Now I have to pick up these duplicate copies of my doctors notes today because I have to go back to the job centre tomorrow.  Part of me wants to cancel the appointment but the other part of me just wants to get it over with before the weekend.

And I haven’t even started talking about PIP yet!

Now I know this all seems pretty negative and all, because trying to get benefits is a nightmare, but really I just want to show you guys that, if you’re having trouble, it’s not just you.  Everyone has trouble getting through this and I won’t pretend like it’s some simple airy fairy thing that magically happens overnight, it’s not, it’s awful.

But stick at it, don’t let them beat you, get yourself some great people to help you out, either family members, medical professionals, like a doctor or psychiatrist, or even just some good friends.  It’s hard getting this stuff done, its emotional, frustrating and can make you feel so unbelievably angry, but don’t give up, that’s what they want you to do, because if you give up, they don’t have to give you any money.

Keep trying and keep fighting and eventually you’ll get there.

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