It is with regret, that I am forced to write this letter of complaint.
My husband Adrian was diagnosed with cancer in August 2010. He was given a sick note from his GP starting in September 2010 until March 27th 2011. During this time, he had surgery to remove the tumour. As he had open surgery, his recovery took a few months and we therefore claimed ESA.
The staff I spoke to were very helpful and as we are both self employed and I had to take a cut in hours to care for him, we were advised that our claim should be an income related joint one. We did this over the phone. In March, though my husband was still clearly unwell, he felt so uncomfortable about claiming benefits, that he returned to work as he wanted to provide for his family. I was told that Adrian was entitled to the ‘back to work benefit’. The chap I spoke to told me that if we were entitled to it, then we would get a letter. I heard nothing more, so assumed we were not entitled. I since find out that actually, we were!
In June 2011, Adrian was diagnosed with another, different cancer. Completely unrelated to his colon cancer. He managed to keep working until 15th August 2011 when he was forced to stop.
I phoned the benefits office on the 0845 number and was told that I could not do the claim on the phone again because our old claim was still on the computer system, but not to worry, we could do a ‘rapid reclaim’. It was explained to me that if you are claiming ESA within six months of your last claim, then you can do the ‘rapid reclaim’. The man I spoke to was sending me the forms.
The forms arrived in the post, and they were the usual ESA forms. I expected something like ‘Rapid Reclaim’ written on them .
I phoned the 0800 number to check I had the correct forms. I was told again that we could do a rapid reclaim and the reason we had the same form was because we are self employed. The lady suggested that I wrote ‘Rapid Reclaim’ on the front of the form, which if you have a look, I did. I even wrote in one of the boxes on the form asking if this was correct!
Adrian was admitted to hospital for surgery on September 14th and we had heard nothing from the benefits office.
I phoned and asked how things were progressing. I was told that they had received the form and were dealing with it and to phone back in a couple of days. I did and was told the same thing, and then again.
I then phoned a lady one morning who was particularly rude, especially when she asked “Well why did he go back to work in March then”...I remember her exact words and tone. I explained that he didn’t have cancer then, but has since been diagnosed with another one which is why we are claiming again.
I rang later in the afternoon to see if I could get someone a little more helpful, which I did. She explained to me that I had not been given the correct information and that we were not on a rapid reclaim at all. She told me that we could only do that if we were claiming within 12 weeks of our last claim. The six months bit is for those who have been turned down for ESA, they can’t claim again for six months.
Can you imagine my dismay and frustration at being told that? Not only was I having to look after my husband and his incontinence, my two children, hold the family together and try and work myself, I had to deal with being given totally the wrong information and rude uncaring staff!
I was then sent a letter asking for a set of accounts of my trading for last year. Why? You already have that on your computer system! Even one of the staff I had spoken to thought it odd.
I thought I would be helpful and send an up to date, relevant set of accounts from the last six months. I even calculated the percentages of each expense for personal and business use and put the figures down for you.
I sent this on 11th October. Why has it taken over six weeks for the decision makers to decide?
I have phoned the 0845 number every other day to try and get answers which no one seemed to know. All I had been told is that it is with the decision makers, but it’s OK Mrs ******, you can apply for a crisis loan.
Why, oh why, would I want a crisis loan to get myself and my family further into debt because of the slowness of staff? Being self employed, it would have to go to decision makers again. No thanks!
All I have been offered is for someone to call back within three hours every time I make a slight fuss and where does that get me? Absolutely nowhere!
Did you know, I have been getting call back weekly for the last eight weeks?
This has been going on for OVER THREE MONTHS!
Even though I have felt like screaming out my frustration down the phone to staff at times, I have remained calm and polite with EVERY call. It is a shame some of the staff cannot afford me the same courtesy.
I understand that they have to listen to peoples woes every day, and I understand that to some of them, it doesn’t matter if my husband has stubbed his toe nor has cancer. Well it does matter to me!
It has cost me a fortune in phone calls over the last three months.
The stress this has caused is huge. Adrian has suffered hugely and has become quite depressed over it. His recovery has been completely hampered because of the worry and anxiety this has caused him. He has been in tears over it...a grown man!!
Instead of my being able to look after him and the children, I have had to spend my time on the phone, battling away through misinformation and rudeness.
It has taken on average 30 minutes to get through on the phone each time, and each time, I am phoning an 0845 number!
Last Tuesday 21st November, I phoned yet again after not even getting through the day before. I was promised yet another call back and this time, I asked to speak to a manager. Well, guess what, not only was my call back over 4 hours so I had to ring again to ask why I had not had a call back, when I did eventually get the long awaited call back, it wasn’t a manager. Did you not want to speak to me?
Luckily, the gentleman who rang was very polite and apologetic at the three month delay and my lack of call back.
I am told that the decision makers made their decision on 21st November. Today is 29th November, over a week later and it is STILL sitting on some ones desk waiting to be put into the computer. How long will that take? Your failure to deal adequately with this claim has resulted in our being unable to claim our mortgage interest payments. This is simply outrageous
I have been considering going to my local press with this whole debacle, but I will await your reply and course of action first.
Regardless of your reply, I will be writing to David Cameron and his associates to suggest that he stops making staff redundant and trains the staff he has left, on the finer points of the benefits system.
The system is supposed to be there as a safety net for those in need, and the one and only time we have needed it, it has failed us miserably, while those who are career claimants, appear to sail through the system with money and help being thrown at them from all directions.
I feel that as a hard working, self employed, married couple, bringing up our children in a secure environment, we are being actively discriminated against by the benefits office. My husband has two unrelated cancers. This is not a lifestyle choice for him – anything but.
Therefore I am requesting your immediate response on the decision regarding our claim and secondly compensation for the delay in dealing with our claim, compensation for the expense I have incurred in phoning and writing to you, which a call every two or three days over the last three months and sometimes twice daily, I estimate is likely to be in excess of five hours, and compensation for the distress your maladministration has caused.
I await your immediate reply.
Mrs Emma ******.
Cc. My MP