Saturday, 19 May 2018

Citizen's Advice help to Untangle the Mess of the British Benefits System

I moved out in 2010. When I did, I was working with Social Services, attempting to get on DLA and Working Tax Credits, working with Housing Support (although they did nothing until my parents and I practically forced them to teach me how to unblock a sink), I was employed through the Work Choice scheme and was receiving advice from Ways to Work, a head injury charity. Some of this support was more helpful than other parts, but helpful or not, each one was bombarding me with paperwork. I was buying a lever-arch file a month and stuffing each one stupidly quickly.

After a few months, though, things started to settle and I'd managed to get a certain grip on problems with work, benefits, my flat and my memory. They were all still challenges, but they weren't as utterly chaotic as they were in the first year.

Recently, after my DLA was stopped and I had to fight to get PIP, and subsequently (and dubiously) lost my WTC, I have had to fight and fight to find out why I lost these benefits and why HMRC are demanding a three-figure sum from me. I'm currently working with Citizen's Advice and these issues are under review from the government.

This ongoing debacle hasn't, so far, resulted in a great deal other than a threat of a visit from bailiffs. I've been to visit Citizen's Advice, as mentioned, and the woman working with me on this has been so much more helpful than the last few people that I've worked with- most of whom have sent me out of the meetings empty-handed.

TJ, as we'll call her, contacted HMRC on my behalf. She managed to get more information out of them in one 15-minute phone call than I got in hours spent on the phone to them. Apparently HMRC sent me a TC818 letter that I didn't see, and if I'd responded to this my WTC would have been reinstated. At no point in the numerous phone calls I'd made to HMRC did anyone mention this form.

TJ asked for a transcript of all the calls I'd made to HMRC. (We're waiting on this.) This government department, she explained, had a duty of care to explain to me what was happening with my benefits. Suffice to say, they fell way below attaining that. We've decided to put in a complaint. While this is happening, the demand for £416 in on hold: this overpayment has now been handed over to a debt recovery company. So not only did I have to chase HMRC (who are still claiming the overpayment is 'correct'), I had to phone Advantis Debt Collection Centre to explain that my case is under review and that I have a future appointment with a Welfare Rights officer again, and that I needed the case to be put on hold.

Apparently it's the benefit recipient's responsibility to report changes 'within a month'- even if the change comes from within HMRC's own offices. I had no idea of this, which is essentially why my income has plummeted over the last year and why I'm being threatened with debt recovery. At the time of my DLA being stopped, I had no idea that it was the DLA that was making me eligible for WTC, so it would never have occurred to me to phone them to tell them that. Apparently their systems (DLA, PIP and WTC) 'don't talk to each other.'

Advantis have put my case on hold until 16th June. In the meantime I've talked to Early Help, the first team you deal with if you attempt to get Social Services support. EH have palmed me back off to Welfare Rights, who they say should be able to advocate for me. I'd rather Citizens Advice did, though, as TJ was a great help. When I'd been to WR they'd sent me out empty handed, telling me to get more hours work. EH have said they'll look into Work Choice, a scheme I used to be employed under. The company that were administering Work Choice under the coalition government was Pure Innovations, and they were superb. They helped me with all sorts- benefits, workplace issues, a negligent Social Worker and any other issue that got in the way of them doing their job. I've been trying to find out who's running this scheme, and covering Oldham, but nobody seems to know.

It's all well and good telling someone to get more work, but if their current employer won't give them more hours and they need flexibility, and the individual has short term memory difficulties and requires patience and understanding from an employer- not to mention hours that fit around the current job- it's easier said than done.

So yeah, that's where I'm up to. In a few years, I'm hoping, I'll look back on this post in amazement that the Tory government could be so callous to people who are willing to work hard for their own money, and are only asking for some basic assistance. This is 2018 in the UK.

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