In which The Author submits evidence to a parliamentary inquiry
With consummate timing, the House of Commons announced yesterday that there is to be an inquiry into the whole system of Employment Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments. You see, I should have had my money today, as I sent my last doctor’s paper to the DWP a fortnight ago today. However, the Circumlocution Office have struck again. Rather than rehearse the whole chain of events here, I’ll simply reproduce the submission which I sent to the House of Commons a few minutes ago. They asked for the text to be in numbered paragraphs, so here it is in full:
I have been claiming ESA for mental health problems since July 2013 and have not yet been called for a WCA. I take regular medication and attend an outpatients’ clinic at my local hospital.
Medical certificates have been issued by my GP on a monthly basis since then, except over the Christmas and New Year holiday when a two-month certificate was issued.
My medical certificates were previously sent to Caerphilly Benefit Centre at an address in Penarth Road, Cardiff.
I would receive a text message, normally the next day or the day after, acknowledging receipt and advising me that payment would be made as usual.
My most recent certificate was issued on Friday, January 24, 2014.
I noticed that the accompanying letter reminding me that a renewed certificate was due, and the pre-paid envelope, still referred to ‘CaerphillyBenefits Centre’, but that the address was now in Wolverhampton.
I posted the certificate on Friday, January 24, after leaving the surgery in the afternoon. (This was about 5.00 p.m.) It is possible, though unlikely, that I missed the evening collection.
Throughout the following week (w/e January 31) I did not receive a text message acknowledging receipt of my certificate.
On Saturday, February 1, I received a second reminder letter, dated January 28.
On Monday, February 3, I telephoned my GP’s surgery and explained that I would need a copy of the original certificate, as it appeared to have gone astray. The receptionist said, ‘Oh, they’re always doing this!’
I visited Aberdare Jobcentre that same morning, and was told by a very unhelpful clerk that they no longer have telephones which the public can use to contact the DWP.
I was given a pre-printed sheet of telephone numbers, most of which were 0845 numbers. I told the clerk that I didn’t wish to call an 0845 number, as they are expensive to call from mobile phones and payphones. The clerk replied, ‘It’s charged at local rate.’ This information is inaccurate, as a BT payphone charges considerably more than local rate for a call to an 0845 number.
When I asked the clerk for an email address which I could contact, I was told that I needed to make a telephone call. The same clerk then suggested, ‘Or you can write to them,’ and gave me a pre-paid envelope, addressed to ‘Mitcham Benefits Centre.’
I collected the duplicate certificate from the surgery immediately after leaving Aberdare Jobcentre and posted it in the town centre at approximately 10.15 a.m., in good time for the lunchtime collection on February 3.
Throughout the whole of this week ending February 7, I have not received any communication from the DWP – not even the text message acknowledging receipt of my certificate.
This morning, (February 7), the day when my payment would normally be received, I was unsurprised to find that the money had not been credited to my account.
I called to my GP’s surgery at approximately 9.45 and explained what had happened. The receptionist immediately telephoned the DWP to ask what had happened to the two certificates which had been issued. After a couple of minutes, she told me, ‘They hung up on me.’
She then telephoned the DWP again, and let me speak to someone named Jill (or possibly Gill.) She advised me that my certificate covering the period up to February 23 had been received yesterday (February 6). She told me that my payment had been processed, but would take three working days to be credited. I could therefore expect to receive my money on Tuesday – February 11.
I replied that I found this delay unacceptable, and the receptionist (who was privy to our conversation) suggested sending a copy of the certificate by fax, in order that I might receive payment today (February 7.)
Jill said that she would email the ESA team and ask whether this would be possible. She took my mobile telephone number and said that I could expect a phone call ‘by 4.30’. I checked the clock in the surgery and it was then 9,45 a.m. I pointed this fact out, and was told, ‘That’s how the system works.’
I currently have five pounds and some change in my wallet. My electricity meter is set to run out of credit this morning, which means that I will need to use the emergency credit at some stage. I will almost certainly need to borrow money from a friend this weekend, as I currently have a choice between heating or eating.
I have spoken to friends who have similar exciting adventures at the hands of the DWP, one of whom had to wait a full six weeks before receiving payment.
I trust that I do not need to point out that the abiding principle of National Insurance (a system into which I have paid for over twenty years) is that benefits are paid to those in need when they cannot work. In the same way as a car driver or property owner expects his insurers to pay out promptly and without undue fuss when a claim is made, I expect the same treatment from the administrators of my National Insurance payments.
Furthermore, I would highlight the many obstacles placed in the way of the public who wish to contact the DWP, whether they be financial or technological. It is the year 2014. Facsimile transmission was commercially available in 1861 (a decade or more before the telephone), and the first email was sent over forty years ago. At the very least, I would expect a free phone number to be made available in the absence of public telephones in Jobcentres.
Finally, it is unacceptable that a letter posted on a Monday should arrive on a Thursday. Regardless of the cost to myself, I will be sending all further correspondence to the DWP by First Class mail, Recorded Delivery. That will enable me to track its progress and pin down its arrival at Wolverhampton – or wherever its next port of call may be.