Saturday, 31 March 2018

HMRC still want £416 off me

Over the last few Saturdays I've detailed my struggles with trying to get the government to grasp that I have brain damage, memory difficulties and depression, and that these are having certain lifelong effects on me.

HMRC have looked into last year's tax credits award and have decided that I owe them £416. After tax, this is about half my monthly wage. It's not a small sum to me. I've asked them to look into this again, and they are sticking to their story.

Added to this, I'm finding conflicting stories as to whether I'm eligible for tax credits at the moment. ATOS only awarded me the Mobility element of PIP and not the Daily Living component. I understand it's this latter element that would allow me to claim tax credits if I work less than 25 hours a week (I'm on 22.5).

After a meeting with my manager, and a look into the tax credits calculator, it appears like I should be eligible for a certain amount. By the 5th April, it appeared, I should have heard back from HMRC.

Well, I have. They still want the £416. Apparently I forgot to reply to a letter from 25th January last year, a 'TC818A' (I have no recollection of this, but hold in mind the condition that makes me eligible for benefits in the first place).

What a shocking state of affairs. I phoned HMRC numerous times and not once did they mention this form. I would have written it down and acted on it. So, I now have to pay this 3-figure sum back, at a time when I'm making my wage, plus the smaller mobility element of PIP. Before PIP was introduced and my DLA was stopped, I was on both elements of DLA, and WTC with the DLA element. I was eligible for free prescriptions and dental treatment. Now I'm not eligible for anything other than the element of PIP.

This is happening in 2018.

I think there may be other letters that I've misplaced or not acted upon, and this is an issue I've had my whole life. I can't keep up with the stream of formal letters that, largely, don't make any sense to me. I've applied for assistance from a few departments in relation to this, but I expect that because I work in local government and I speak well, and because I've never been arrested, that application has probably been ignored.

Things are up and down in work at the moment but on Tuesday I'll update my manager and see if he can make sense of this. If you think you can advise (layman's terms, please) tweet me.

Friday, 30 March 2018

No More Chocolate... Again. Result!


Back in February I promised to eat clean until either:
  1. I beat my horizontal dumbbell fly record
  2. I beat my dips record
  3. I beat my 10-minute run record
  4. I bring my weight down to under 80kg (I was at a horrendous 85.5kg)
  5. I beat my bench press record
By Maundy Thursday, before Good Friday and the Easter binge, I still hadn't eaten any chocolate or takeaway food. I'd been good. I managed to get to the gym early to get some endurance work in. I spent four and a half hours hammering the treadmill and the rest of the equipment for the above exercises. I walked into the gym weighing 80.4kg.

I did 5 10-minute runs, each one increasing in speed by increments of .1kmph. The last run was 10.1kmph.

My bench press record from around September 2014 was 103.75kgs, the total amount that was available on the seated chest press in my previous gym. The current gym's seated chest press only goes up to 90kg- I did this on the Maundy Thursday.

I used the Smith machine for the continuation of the bench press work. I couldn't find the record I had for this particular piece of equipment, but this time I got up to 57.5, way below my seated chest press record. I was gassed by this point, though.

My dips record was 70, from January this year. I managed to match it.

My horizontal dumbbell fly record I couldn't get anywhere near. I think when I beat this PB last time, in 2015, I was going into the gym before work while it was quiet, on numerous days, just to hammer this movement. The free weights and benches are the most popular part of the gym, so it's really hard to get on these, hence it being such an old PB.

After my final run I weighed in at 79.7kg. Then, logically, I went to The Ram's Head pub in Saddleworth with the family, and devoured an absolutely stacked cheeseburger and chunky chips, and washed it all down with two Southern Comfort and Cokes. So there's a good possibility I'll be above 80 again. Of course, I don't own any scales and the gym is closed for Easter, so who knows.

I've kinda got a taste for healthy food, though- let's hope it stays. I wouldn't mind seeing my abs again at some point in my life.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Milton Club Permanently Closes, Neighbourhood Temporarily So

What the hell is happening to Manchester nightlife?

First, Deansgate members bar The Milton Club closes down. It'll be missed, but a small club with a capacity of a couple of hundred can't get by if it's only busy on Saturday nights for 4 hours. Their one-off events were superb (singers and DJs who dropped out of the limelight making guest appearances are fond memories of mine), but their regular weekend nights were bland, with a lot of violence. Their drinks were stupidly overpriced, hence the poor turnout. It'll be missed.


Next up, Spinningfields bar Neighbourhood loses its licence after a scuffle on the door- the M.E.N write-up suggests the customer was at fault here. (It wouldn't surprise me.)

I guess Artisan will be a little busier over the next couple of weeks. It'll be a while before I get a chance to check, though, as my weekend's full and Spinningfields isn't on the cards. Easter weekend starts with a bang- or a beat drop, perhaps. Manchester Cool Bars is dropping into Impossible for Mic Check Karaoke- a hip hop open mic evening.


Do you fancy busting a rhyme or spitting some bars? Now's your chance, in one of Peter St's coolest venues. I know I'll be getting on stage, so if anything come watch me make a dick out of myself.

I have nothing for the Friday, but Saturday night will be one of the most explosive nights of the year when Britain's Anthony Joshua puts his IBF, WBA and IBO titles on the line. Also offering up a belt is New Zealand's WBO champ Joseph Parker. Prediction: Joshua by TKO, round 10. Both fighters are currently unbeaten. Both have their belts on the line.

Manchester Cool Bars are meeting in Genting Casino to watch this go down. Photo ID required.

Despite the closures, Manchester is still a great place to go and incidents like the aforementioned are still rare. Come out to the Meetups this weekend and you'll see what I mean.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Chipped in with Sport Relief... then spent the rest of the weekend drunk



Andy's Man Club Oldham helped out with Sport Relief on Saturday with a Spinathon. I jumped on the bike before and after a gym session. So close to my target weight now. It was also great to be involved in a worthy charity 'helping more than 50,000 people, in the UK, living with a mental health problem.' They also provide anti-malarial drugs and maternal, neonatal and child health funding to Africa.




Then I undid all the hard work by spending most of the weekend drinking cocktails.



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Credit to bars Stage and Radio, Lost in Tokyo, Hula Tiki, Favelas, Terrace and Impossible, which is possibly the only bar inManchester with a driveable bumper car.


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Saturday, 24 March 2018

Does Online Shopping Build Confidence?



Ebay. Amazon. ASOS. We're all familiar with the concept of online shops, be it the overarching aforementioned brand names or smaller niche shops that you stumble across when you're Googling a specific product. For example, I once bought MMA ear protectors (to stop the build-up of cauliflower ear during grappling) from an MMA shop specifically selling martial arts training gear. The rise of internet shopping might be a normal part of our lives now, but how would this build confidence?

There's two types of internet purchase. There's the type that you can get at any time. Want to do a Tesco shop? It's there for you, and if they usually have something (sweet potatoes, for example) they'll- more often than not- have some in supply. Then, there's the short-term offer. A store might have a supply of a certain signed book, or a fashion item of which they have 20 pieces. These will sell, and- importantly- they might not be restocked.

Let's say you go onto ASOS and you see a jacket you like. You can put it in your saved items, along with any other product you like the look of. Maybe you'll buy it later, you think. You carry on browsing, and then the rest of life- work, sleep, family- takes over and you forget to actually make the purchase. You come back the next day, and guess what? They've sold out. They've only got a couple in but they're two sizes up from yours. Why didn't you just buy it when you had the chance?

Because you didn't act.

Perhaps, like me, you're a hesitant, non-impulsive individual. You weigh things up a lot. You overthink, instead of acting immediately. For me, this is a confidence issue. I've noticed this with ASOS, but more recently I've discovered Depop. Depop is a mobile phone app that I would describe as being a mix of Amazon and Instagram. It's a platform for people to show off what they are selling, and a place for buyers to find mostly second-hand fashion items. I've been looking for Saucony trainers for a while, but every pair I've seen in store have been extortionate. Hence, why not buy a pair second-hand?

I started using the app to look for size 9 Men's Saucony trainers. I filtered the results to get exactly these specifics, and then I 'liked' a few of the results (there are 'like' and 'save' functions- as of yet I'm not sure the difference). Within days, a few of these showed up as 'sold,' with SOLD written across the picture for emphasis.

I spotted a pair of these Grid 9000 'Halloween Pack' running shoes. I've used this brand before and they were great for fitness, but I particularly like the colours on these.


Typically, though, I put them in my Liked list, and soon enough someone bought them. There are other size 9 Saucony shoes on the site, but none as cool as those.

I didn't act. I ummed and ahhed, and I lost them. This problem I have with internet shopping, and with my own ability- or inability- to act fast. My hesitancy is possibly the biggest problem in my life. I lose opportunities with jobs, with clothes, with women- pretty much every area of my life is tainted. It's time for me to be a little bit impulsive- to throw myself into things and figure them out as I go along.

In Arnold Schwarzenegger's autobiography, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, he ends the book by listing his rules for living a successful life. Quote:

2) Don't overthink. If you think all the time, the mind cannot relax. The key thing is to let the mind and the body float. And then when you need ot make a decision or hit a problem hard, you're ready with all of your energy... Back in 1980, when Al Ehringer and I wanted to develop a block at the end of Main Street in Santa Monica, the investors we were bidding against for the property let their worries hold them back... We didn't dwell on challenges but the rival bidders did... they dropped out while we raised our bid, and we got the property... Within 2 years we were able ot convert the lease into a purchase, and our gamble started to pay off; 3100 Main Street turned out to be a phenomenal investment... If you freeze, you lose.

Arnie and Al saw their opportunity and acted immediately, with the intention of sorting out any problems later on.

Let's say you spar in boxing or MMA. Step forward and throw the first punch. Be offensive, not defensive. Let's say you're in a bar and you spot someone you want to talk to. Do it. The worst that can happen is that they are an arsehole, and that's a reflection of them, not you. (Although, it's easier said than done.)

Acting quickly may result in problems, but hesitating ALWAYS will, so bear this in mind when you're facing a challenge- but at least take this route with internet shopping first.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Join us on this Northern Quarter bar crawl!


Manchester Cool Bars is braving the cold this Friday to head to the Northern Quarter to tour a few bars. Organiser Silvia has planned it out- I know it will be the Stevenson Square area which may mean dropping into the Spanish-style Flok bar (I recommend) and hopefully the 1920's style Fitzgerald (also a favourite). We're starting in Brazilian-style bar Favelas. It's supposed to be raining lightly with a breeze, which is a hell of a lot better than the weather we've just had. Don't let the elongated winter put you off!

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Progress with memory-related situation

I've been in the same job on the same wage with the same organisation, working the same hours, for a decade now. Recently, due to governmental reforms, I've seen my income plummet after DLA was scrapped and PIP implemented. As a result of this, for some complex reason, my Working Tax Credits were also stopped. I spent a long time on the phone to HMRC trying to find out why this was, to no avail, then I got some pretty clear answers from a Welfare Rights officer. Also, over the last two weeks I've met with my manager, visited Get Oldham Working, an organisation who 'can help you get the skills to secure the career you want,' and I've visited Positive Steps, an 'integrated support services for families, young people and adults.'

Everyone I've dealt with has been hugely helpful. Positive Steps have arranged another meeting with the Citizen's Advice Bureau- hopefully it'll be a day I can do, although in all honesty I'm not sure what I'd be talking about- not much has changed since my last CAB appointment.

Positive Steps also explained:
· Job centre advisors unfortunately only work with people who are unemployed.
· There is a careers fare at Oldham Library on 14 April 2018
· Get Oldham Working are running a Raise Programme which you can get in contact by email. employability@oldham.gov.uk (I've done this.)

In a separate meeting with my manager, we used an online benefits calculator that suggests I should be in receipt of over £200 a month in Tax Credits. After logging into my account it showed that HMRC couldn't deal with my claim online, but that they received something (it isn't clear what) in February. Something is being processed and I should receive more information by the 5th April. It's probably the letter I sent them asking about why my Working Tax Credits were stopped, and complaining about the horrendous procedure I've been thorough when asking for information.

That said, Citizen's Advice told me that my letter has probably been ignored as it isn't on a 'dispute form,' something NOBODY told me anything about- certainly not anyone at HMRC.

I guess I'll find out after the 5th. I'm meeting Get Oldham Working again next week.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Neon PT Launch Health Kitchen in Wilmslow


I've just got back from another launch, again ran by Steph Ledigo at Ledigo PR. This time, Steph and her team were organising the opening of Neon Health Kitchen, a new restaurant on Wilmslow's Water Lane. The promo Email explains that 'Neon are well known in the area for providing quality service at their 5* PT studios in both Alderely Edge & Hale,' and have now branched out into the world of food.

The clean and trendy-looking venue supplied guests with Chilli prawns and pastry canapés straight from the venue's kitchen, and they were snapped up by the guests who included Key 103's Darren Procter and Real Housewives of Cheshire's Leanne Brown. Also making an appearance- Love Island's Jess Rose.







 

Looks like a great new venue. It's a little out of my way but I'm sure it'll do well. When I got to the venue it was heaving, so it's safe to say the event went down a treat.

The Daily Mail beat me to the writeup.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Casa Loca in Impossible

Every time I go out with this one particular friend she somehow works her charms and blags VIP for the group, and I end up not going home until 7am. Last night was one of those nights. (I ended up drunk alone in a casino watching Scott Quigg get beat.)

We started in Dirty Martini and made our way over to Impossible for the Casa Loca party. The stunningly-lit venue plays home to a retro circus act, but one featuring a man hammering a nail into his own face and a skinny bloke in striped pyjamas sword-swallowing and juggling at the same time.



Eyebrow-raising, stomach-churning entertainment. Not for everyone, but I loved it. Apparently, Wayne and Coleen Rooney were there. I didn't notice. But I was drunk.




I'll return.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Well, the Tory government have kicked me in the teeth.

This week I met with a Welfare Rights officer to try to get to the bottom of why my Working Tax Credits were stopped. It took a bit of explaining on my part, but the officer, we'll call him SA, described clearly enough what had happened and what the situation is.

Until the end of 2016 I was on both elements of DLA, WTC and the DLA element to WTC. My DLA was stopped and I was asked to apply for PIP. I applied, was offered an interview, was assessed, and was flat-out refused. I applied for Mandatory Reconsideration, with the help of SA and his colleagues (and my parents, and Independence and Prevention Officers), and I was awarded one element of PIP- the Mobility element at £20 a week.

Not long after this, my WTC were stopped. This was, according to the HMRC letter, due to 'a change in my circumstances informed to us by a third party.' I inquired. It turned out my WTC were 'under review,' and that I should phone back in a month. I did. I got the same message. I waited another month, and got the same message again. Eventually I got a letter saying that I'D informed THEM of a change, and that my WTC (which had already been stopped) would be 'stopped.'

I sent a letter of complaint to HMRC asking why this was. Of course, the letter did not garner a response.

After meeting with SA this week, I've found out why all this happened, and it's something that HMRC could very easily have told me if they wanted.

Some people were moved automatically from DLA to PIP. I was not. Because there was a break between these two benefits, that break notified HMRC of a change, and hence my WTC were looked into. I had been on both elements of DLA- Care and Mobility. The Care element was the part that allowed me to receive WTC, despite working fewer hours than would normally be allowed. (30 hours is standard; I work 22.5.) As ATOS only awarded me the Mobility element, I don't qualify for WTC any more. If I worked 30 hours, I could apply for WTC at the normal rate (dependant on my income). I would not qualify as a 'disability claimant' though, despite being on PIP, because the Mobility payment doesn't cover that.

I'm one of thousands of people who were moved from DLA to PIP. DLA was the least-abused benefit of all of them, and it's been well-documented that there was no need to scrap it other than cost-cutting. Therefore it's fair to assume that there will also be thousands of people who also lost that Care component, and can now no longer claim WTC. This will save the government millions. As many news outlets have covered, including The Independent, nearly half of all claimants- including myself- saw their income reduced or stopped altogether. That's how you know this isn't about 'updating a failing system,' or 'making the benefits system more appropriate for the individual,' or whatever Newspeak the Tories want to reel off- it's about cost-cutting, plain and simple.

I now need to look for another job. I either need a second job that fits around my current, part time one, or another job with more hours. Either that, or my current employer needs to offer me more hours. I just wish someone would have told me this earlier.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Symposium Cheshire Katz Club Open Mic Jam Session

Did you ever think, when you woke up this morning, that you'd be watching Scott Thomas (Love Island, brother of Emmerdale's Adam and Corrie's Ryan, as was) performing The Prince of Bel Air?

I didn't expect to witness this impromptu karaoke performance either, but when I dropped into the open mic night at Wilmslow's cosy but tidy Symposium last night I wasn't sure what to expect- partly because I'd lost the email invitation from the talented Steph at Ledigo PR and I couldn't remember what it said.

Scott also busted out some Biggy Smalls and BB King, and to follow this, Nicole Barber-Lane (Myra McQueen in Hollyoaks) duetted with Duncan James from boy band Blue for a rendition of Mustang Sally.





Providing the acoustics, and a few covers of their own, were The Mad Hatters. Great manic music, including a high-speed indie version of Sisquo's Thong Song.



Duncan James

Nicole Barber-Lane screen left- I forgot who the girl on screen right is! Any ideas?

Scott Thomas

A great evening, with friendly guests. I found it easy to chat to people, male and female, verified and unverified, after rolling in solo. I would have jumped on the karaoke myself, only they had no screen for lyrics. That was the only thing missing. Get in touch with Ledigo PR to keep up with their next events!

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Go Away, Snow.

Social life: on hold. The only interesting thing I've done is drop into Club LIV for a Couture Clothing sale. The club opened up on Friday morning selling men's and women's sportswear. Great gear, including my purchases: a fluffy zipped hoodie and a bomber jacket. Was hoping for a full tracksuit- maybe next time!

The Sonique Night didn't happen- the weather put people off, and getting people to come to a dance music night is hard these days. RnB has got way too popular and has pushed out a lot of house music events and clubs. Plus the house music people are, more often than not, having babies.

Also, one inevitability has happened: swanky nightclub Suburbia has closed. It might have looked all posh, but I had the place sussed out early- the John Dalton St venue was full of plastic gangsters, and played the same RnB music as most other places. I got a bad vibe whenever I went there. Too many dickheads fighting.


Online, celeb gossip email system Popbitch included my 'Muggy' Mike Thalassitis gossip. Awesome.

Things are quiet at the mo- I'll have more to say when the snow fucks off.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Typical Challenges Facing Those with Memory Difficulties


One of the reasons I started blogging in late 2006 was that I couldn't keep track to what was happening in my life. I was forgetting what I had done, and what I needed to do, and there were problems I was facing that I felt sure others would be dealing with too. I wasn't particularly confident enough to properly describe them online, though, that being part of the problem. Eventually, though, my parents encouraged me to write about these issues, seeing as after years of NHS treatment, I was a fair bit more capable than I used to be.

Rather than complain about the problems I'm facing, I'd prefer to explain them and describe the situation, and possible routes forward, or lack thereof. A day at a time, I'm jotting down these concerns when they come to me, using Omninotes, an app on the Google play store. I can put all these ideas in one bullet- point-listed note titled Psychology Saturdays, whenever they come to me, wherever I am. Every Saturday I look at my calendar and see what has happened, and what will happen, to come up with ideas for a post. If there's nothing that relates to events at this particular time (e.g. depression support group Andy's Man Club taking over a Parkrun, something I've covered a couple of times) then I can fall back on stockpiled ideas saved in the app.

On the issue of OmniNotes- there is one problem I've found with the incorporation of multimedia. With Microsoft's OneNote, I could drag pictures into the middle of a block of text, or to the end. With OmniNotes, any picture I add to a text note gets slammed in right at the top. This means I I want to write something about that particular picture, and then perhaps include another picture with a different paragraph of accompanying text, they get separated.

This week there are a few small points to make. I managed to get another NHS fine refunded on the grounds of memory difficulties. I appreciate their understanding and their acceptance that I wasn't trying to rip them off. I was getting confused between PIP, which doesn't cover prescriptions or dental treatment, and Working Tax Credits, which were stopped. There has been no explanation for this stoppage.

In fact, I've filed a complaint against HMRC over the way they have handled my case. I've waited over a year to find out why my WTC were stopped- I've received no explanation. Is it to do with my hours of work, which haven't changed? Is it the fact that I was allocated PIP, which would have been a change in my circumstances, albeit one that came from HMRC's own office? Is it some other thing I'm completely forgetting about? Nobody knows. HMRC won't tell me.

I've made numerous calls to the HMRC helpline, which has frequently been engaged- no ability to queue, no recorded message- just an engaged tone, as if there's one handset receiving all the calls from the UK. When I have got through, I've been told my case is 'under review'- but eventually they sent me a letter saying that I'd 'informed them of a change,' so they were 'stopping' my WTC. What was this change THIS time? And did they not know they'd stopped it already? Do they not realise how insulting that is to some one who has already told them their disability stops them understanding formal documentation anyway?

What a joke. I have a Welfare Rights appointment on Thursday- I hope I can explain my situation properly to him, and I hope I understand what the officer advises me to do.