Monday, 28 September 2009

One Might Hang Oneself If Only One Had the Energy Left to do So

There is no short or simple way to write this...

In order to qualify for a free wig I need a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions confirming that I am in receipt of income related benefit (whatever that may mean). After many phone calls; being put on hold; being told different things by different people and waiting days for somebody to call me back I turned to the Macmillan benefits helpline for help. I spoke to Jo, a benefits advisor. Jo spoke to the DWP. A young man at the DWP promised Jo that he would send me a letter confirming that I am receiving income related benefit. I, in turn, promised to present that letter to the surgical supplies department at St Mary’s hospital to prove to them my entitlement to the wig that I have already had.

That last bit was about two weeks ago.

For those of you who have just joined this blog – don’t ask. You’ll never understand the benefits system in a million years. I don’t understand it. The advisors at the Macmillan benefits helpline don’t understand it. Even the people at the DWP don’t understand their own rules and cannot give one a straight answer about anything.

I call the Macmillan benefits helpline again. This time I speak to Min. She listens to my long tale. “What does it say in the original letter that they sent you?” asks Min. I riffle through a very long letter. On page 4 it says “... We call this contribution-based and income related Employment and Support allowance.”

“I think that means you are on contributions-based benefit,” says Min. “Howd’you figure that out?” I ask, perplexed. “It says ‘contribution based and income related...’ Does that mean I’m getting both?” “No,” says Min, “it probably means you are getting contributions-based allowance.” “You might think that’s what it means Min,” I reply, “it is not clear to me, neither is it clear to the chap at the DWP to whom your colleague Jo spoke a couple of weeks ago. That chap promised to send a letter confirming that I am in receipt of income-based benefits. I have been waiting for that letter because I need to take it to St Mary’s to prove to them that I am entitled to a free wig.

“If you’ve paid your stamps then you would be receiving the contributions based benefit,” Min opines. “Does that mean I can get a free wig?” I ask. “No.” says Min, “you have to be on income-based benefit for that.” “So, because I have paid my stamps I am not entitled to a wig?” I ask. “Yes,” says Min. “Whereas if I had not paid my stamps I would be entitled to one?” “That’s right,” confirms Min.

I can tell that both Min and I are doing our best not to sob out loud at this point.

“Well,” says Min, “I will send you some HC1 forms to fill in so that you can claim a wig on the basis of low income in case you are in fact receiving contributions based benefits. “But I don’t want to fill in any more forms Min,” I say in a hopeless tone. “Are you receiving any help with your housing costs?” “No,” I reply, “I haven’t filled in the forms for mortgage relief because I have a great fear that the Abbey will penalise me for claiming benefits by offering me less favourable mortgage terms in the future. The repayments are very low at the moment so I thought I would borrow some money from my sister and just tough it out.” “But you have to be receiving help with your housing costs in order to establish that you are on a low income.” “But I have already established that I am on a low income. The DWP asked me to send them six months worth of bank statements and financial records. They know I’ve got no money,” I wail. “Yes, but getting help with your housing costs is the trigger,” says Min. “Min,” I plead, “do we have to go through all this hoop-la again? They already admitted to your colleague Jo that I am receiving income based benefit. Now we just need to get them to do what they promised and put it in writing.”

“I will call them,” offers Min. “Thank you Min,” I sigh, untying the rope from the shower rail.


The telephone rings: “Hello Miss Lily, this is Min.” I’m holding my breath. “The DWP are going to send you a letter confirming that you are receiving income related benefit.” I exhale. “And they are already paying your mortgage,” says Min. “No they’re not Min,” say I, “I haven’t filled out the forms.” “Well they are paying £18.29 per week towards your mortgage interest.” “But Min,” I protest, “my mortgage interest is more than £18.29 per week.”

“I will call them,” says Min.


Min calls: “Hello, Miss Lily. The DWP confirm that they are paying £18.29 towards your housing costs. I can’t tell you exactly what it’s for. Best you fill out those forms. You need to claim all your benefits when you’ve got cancer." Min is right. I have a deep fear of filling in forms. My loathing for bureaucracy and my shame at having to claim at all conspire to keep me half out of the system. I’m not claiming what I am entitled to. “I will Min,” I say, contrite.

“They also confirm that you are receiving £25.50 a week because you are in the Work Related Activity Group.” “And what does that mean?” I ask. “It means that they expect you to get a job.” “But Min,” I reason, “I’m sick. I have told them so. My doctor has written to them and told them that I am undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.” “Did your doctor state that the chemotherapy was intravenous?” asks Min. “She didn’t specify that it is intravenous. But, as far as I’m aware, all chemotherapy for breast cancer is intravenous.” “Nonetheless, you’ll have to get a letter stating that your chemotherapy is intravenous then write in and make an appeal.”

I don’t even know what to say anymore.