Tag Archives: Department for Work and Pensions

Here We Go Again

In which The Author obeys the Law of Gravity

On Thursday, in between the Library and karaoke in the Lighthouse, I posted the following status on Facebook:
I’ve definitely got my writing mojo back, I’m pleased to say. Loads of blogging activity this week, and two new projects on the go. Also, if anyone in London fancies a fairly housetrained guest over the Easter weekend, I’ve pencilled in a visit to the London Book Fair to tout my proofreading skills around the place.
I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be in this happy place if not for the love and support you all showed me when things took a nosedive a couple of months ago. I can’t repay your kindness individually, as that would take the rest of my natural life, but I can thank you all publicly here. You can have no idea how much it means to me to know that you’re all out there, watching out for me and making sure I’m okay.
The trouble is, of course, that what goes up must come down.
I proved that at just after 10.00 this morning, when a brown envelope thudded onto the doormat.
Inside was a letter from Caerphilly Benefits Centre in South Wales (with a return address in Belfast, Northern Ireland – go figure…) I won’t copy the whole thing out, but the gist of it was ‘We’ve stopped your money.’ There was no explanation, but they thoughtfully included a non-geographical phone number which I can ring if I want to query their decision
Well, no shit, Sherlock, of course I’ll be querying the fucking decision! In fact, I’m going to wait outside their office Monday morning until they open up. I want to be the first through the doors and I won’t leave until I get a full explanation and/or a Mandatory Reconsideration into gear.
As far as I’m aware, I haven’t done anything which would merit a sanction, apart from not being able to provide my mortgage statement back at the end of November (see Journey’s End?) and the subsequent entry. This is entirely the fault of Santander. I requested a copy the day after my visit to the Mental Health Crisis Team. I’ve called into the branch in Aberdare four times to chase it up since then. I actually received a text from Santander on 29 December stating that my ‘request (ref 4354293) is complete.’ Nearly three weeks have elapsed, and I’m still waiting for it to arrive.
I know there was an extended Xmas and New Year break, and some people were lucky enough to get as many as three whole days off during the fortnight. However, the banks were trading pretty normally throughout. Santander’s estimate of ‘ten working days’ ran out a while ago. I’ve kept the Jobcentre up to date with the bank’s lack of progress. As far as I’m concerned it’s a waiting game.
I can’t think of any other reason why I might have incurred a sanction. I’ve played their game decently, and since the ‘S’ word doesn’t appear in the letter I assume that I haven’t fallen into one of the many traps they lay for the unwary.
It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it’s a mistake. I was due to sign on last Friday (9 January). The previous week I’d had a phone call from someone named Lesley in Aberdare Jobcentre, telling me that my signing had been cancelled because there was a big department meeting that afternoon. Instead, they’d see me as normal the following week (i.e. yesterday.)
In the event, I signed on yesterday. My file was on the desk in front of my ‘coach’ (they don’t call themselves ‘advisers’ any more, apparently.) In the space where I would have given them my autograph last week, someone had written the word ‘Excused.’ My coach didn’t mention anything about my money being stopped. Presumably my details were all on her computer screen, and I’d imagine that anything that important would have been flagged up.
By coincidence, the letter states that they won’t be paying me Jobseekers Allowance from 10 January. Yes, that’s right  the very day after I didn’t sign on last week. Interestingly, the letter was dated 13 January, and took four days to arrive. To my rational mind, that’s easy to explain: a perfectly normal second class postal service, combined with a perfectly normal second-rate Government department service.
To the paranoid part of my mind, this sounds like a deliberate policy, designed to make sure that claimants suffer undue stress during the 48-hour period between receiving the notification and being able to do anything about the contents.
Earlier in the week, I told my Facebook friends about my plan to write a book about the Cynon Valley music scene. Wayne B., an old friend of mine who’s been in several bands over the years, has offered to give me his old digital recorder. It’ll come in handy for recording interviews with the musicians, and then transcribing the good bits later on.
It’ll also come in very handy for recording my visit to the Jobcentre on Monday morning. If anyone else wants to make notes, you’ll be more than welcome to join me.
Needless to say, the results of Monday’s visit will be posted here and elsewhere. If I can pull the audio off, I’ll even be uploading it to my old YouTube account, so that everyone can hear my mellow Welsh tones and marvel at the fluency with which I can string the ancient Anglo-Saxon words together.
I’ll also be bringing the number of the Mental Health Crisis Team with me, as well as an unopened box of prescription strength Co-codamol. The game’s afoot…

Coming Back to Life

In which The Author is back from the brink

As you can probably tell, I didn’t go home on Wednesday and swallow a shedload of Co-codamol. I was very sorely tempted, mind you, but a barrage of texts and messages on Facebook told me that my friends were really worried by my state of mind.
I went to bed, didn’t get much sleep (as I hadn’t for the previous few days), and first thing in the morning I rang the GP again. Dr Jones was busy with her morning surgery, of course, but the receptionist said she’d pass a message on. Then I gathered my paperwork (except the bits I couldn’t find), tucked a box of painkillers into my bag – just in case – and headed for Aberdare. I had some time to kill, so I called into Servini’s for a hot chocolate. While I was in there, an old friend of mine came in. She came straight over to me and gave me a hug. We sat for a while and chatted about her own experiences of depression. It surprised me, but it turned out over the course of the day that she wasn’t alone. After she’d gone, I drank up and made my way to the Jobcentre.
To my surprise, it didn’t go as badly as I’d expected. I’ve got some leeway to get a new mortgage statement. Otherwise, it went quite smoothly. I even made the lady on the other side of the desk laugh a couple of times, which can’t have been easy.
While I was waiting to be seen, Dr Jones rang me back to see how I was feeling. I told her that I was dreading the meeting, and that I’d ring the Crisis Team whatever happened. I simply couldn’t bottle up the stress any longer. Indeed, as soon as I left the Jobcentre I made that call. Fifteen minutes later I was on the bus to Merthyr.
I don’t know what the highways department has done to the town since the roadworks finished. They’ve built a new bus lane which funnels every single service southwards out of the station. The northbound buses have to loop around at the bottom of town, run up past the college, and then rejoin the main road system at exactly the same point where they did six months ago – after a detour of half a mile or so. I’m sure it makes sense to someone in town planning, but it makes no bloody sense to me.
After that, the No 27 service took us on a magical mystery tour around the huge Gurnos estate before arriving (eventually) at Prince Charles Hospital. The whole journey – ten miles (if that) as the crow flies – takes about fifteen minutes in a car, or the best part of an hour and a half by public transport. I’d hate to have to do it every day, or even once every so often.
I arrived a minute or so before my appointment, but when I’d spoken to a chap named Barry on the phone, he’d explained that things might crop up unexpectedly. They’re not called the Crisis Team for nothing, after all. By the time I got there, Barry had finished his shift, and I was met a few minutes later by a very pleasant chap named Jason. It’s a truism that you know you’re getting old when policemen and doctors start looking younger than you. He was probably in his mid-thirties, and it’s quite possible that I’d sold him a textbook or two in my previous incarnation. He led me through a maze of corridors to a comfortable room with armchairs and settees, and asked to wait while he had a word with his colleague. He returned a few minutes later, and we chatted for ages about all sorts of things. Jason made copious notes, and after a little while we were joined by his colleague, an even younger doctor named Laura. She didn’t say so, but I guessed she might have been on her rotation.
We talked for ages about my school days, my experiences of bullying, my abortive university career, my time in the book trade, and my current situation. They asked me about my general state of health (both physical and mental), and suggested that I might be a suitable case for referral to the Primary Care Team.
There was a leaflet for New Horizons on the table in front of me. It’s a charity which runs a drop-in centre in Aberdare, and I’ve met a number of their clients over the years. I’m sure the organisers mean well, but I was a bit dismissive of them, frankly. I explained that I knew someone who’d helped set it up, and she felt that it was now very far removed from its original intentions. Jason agreed that I was probably too ‘high functioning’ for their activities anyway. He said he could imagine me leading a discussion group of some sort, rather than sitting passively while someone else did the talking. I wonder what gave him that impression, eh?
It was an incredible relief to sit down and talk about my feelings with people who were sympathetic and caring, and (most importantly) who knew what options were open to me. Jason suggested that Citizens’ Advice might be able to help me with my financial situation, so I’m going to follow that up. He’s also going to write back to my GP with his opinion, and we’ll see how things go from there. At least I’m talking to the right people now.
At the end of the consultation, Jason refunded my bus fare. That was an unexpected surprise. I got to the bus stop just as the 27 pulled in, and the return journey was much quicker than the outward leg. I got back to Aberdare just after five o’clock, and almost immediately Dr Jones rang me to see how my appointment had gone. It was nice to be able to give her some positive feedback, a massive contrast to our chat the previous day.
I know it’ll be a long road ahead, but at least I’m not alone any more. In particular, I’ve been overwhelmed by kind messages (and kind words, too) from my friends, all of whom have been amazingly supportive and helpful. Also, it’s been a surprise to find out how many other people have been in a similar position over the years. I won’t breach confidences here, but several old friends have shocked me by relating their own experiences of depression, stress, or burnout. It seems that we’ve all put on brave faces for as long as we can, but sooner or later it takes its toll.
It’s hardly surprising, is it, when there are so many external pressures on us all. I think the situation will get worse before it gets any better as the Nineteenth Century grows closer, instead of more distant, with each passing day and bizarre whim of the Powers That Be. For the time being, though, I’m glad to report that the painkillers are back in the drawer, where they belong.