Yesterday I received a letter from JobCentre Plus in Plymouth requesting my attendance at a work-focused interview with a personal advisor which is mandatory, non-attendance would lead to sanctioning of my benefit. The appointment was for an early morning in Exeter which was just not do-able.
Due to my high level of disability from physical as well as well documented mental health conditions I did not expect to be put through this crap. However I’m not too surprised because even terminally ill people going through chemotherapy treatment who are supposed to be protected have been forced to appointments and had their benefits stopped for non attendance. Even so, I guess like all of us, I never thought it would happen to ‘me’. I feared it but never really expected it.
To get this letter having appealed this decision over 3-weeks ago incensed me.
I appealed the decision because their medical report totally misrepresented me by stating the complete opposite of what I wrote on the ESA form. It was full of inaccuracies and contradictions. Put plainly and simply the medical report was a fraud.
The only good thing on the medical report was that it did clearly state twice that a return to work is unlikely within at least two years and is extremely unlikely over the longer term. It was the most ridiculous thing I have read for a long time. So it is a complete travesty and a farce for me to be deemed fit for work. The report having outlined the reasons why I was fit for work then stated very clearly that I was not and probably will never be fit for work.
My protected level of benefit for severe disability is due to end today and I have not been notified how much my benefit will be going forward. Having been deemed fit for work I know that protection ends and I expect I will be dropped to the lower level of ESA. It is disgraceful that they have not had the decency to inform me what that amount will be. But then they regularly stop people’s benefits without telling them so I shouldn’t be too surprised that they couldn’t be bothered to tell me in advance what my reduced rate will be. It’s so good that I had the compensation when I did, it was so well timed given all this rubbish!!
I did assume that because I had appealed the decision I would be protected from all the other consequences of being deemed fit for work. That assumption was wrong.
When I received the letter I was extremely angry to be put in the position of regardless of the affect upon my physical and mental I have to attend an appointment which is all about putting together a plan to return me to work when I have no hope of ever being able to return to paid work.
So early yesterday afternoon I picked up the phone to JobCentre Plus and requested that the appointment be deferred pending the outcome of my appeal and stating that it would serve no useful purpose and be a complete waste of their time and my time given that I have no hope of ever returning to work and should never have been put in this position. The response I got was “oh I can’t make a decision about that, I have to speak to someone, you do realise these appointments are mandatory and we will stop your benefit if you refuse to attend?” I reminded the person that an appeal is in progress and exactly what the grounds for that appeal are. “Oh well I still can’t make a decision, someone will call you back some time.”
I didn’t expect a call back yesterday afternoon so it was a pleasant surprise when the phone rang just before 5pm and it was someone called Sarah from JobCentre Plus. Sarah is my designated personal advisor.
I explained to her exactly what the situation is and how pointless it is for me to be expected to attend this appointment. I told her I made it clear on my ESA form that I can only do things in afternoons and I’d been given an early morning appointment in Exeter. I also mentioned that I’ve not been into Exeter except for hospital appointments for about ten months because I cannot cope with the long trail in and out by bus and the level of stress it puts me under.
She explained that the appointment cannot be deferred because legally it has to be done and it has to be done within a certain timescale. She said the way ESA is set up to work they have to act as if I am totally fit for work regardless of whether the decision is being appealed. There is no protection for people who appeal. She did however say that given the situation she may consider not recalling me to any further work-focused interviews until the outcome of my appeal was decided.
She then totally surprised me by saying she considered it unreasonable to expect me to go into Exeter in the circumstances and suggested doing an afternoon telephone interview instead.
The telephone interview is arranged for 3.50pm on Wednesday 18th April. I do not await it with bated breath, I will not be mincing my words during that interview.