Flash Says…

DLA: just a form filling exercise? If only it was that easy!

Posted on: 2011-11-11

This blog is crossposted to Where’s the Benefit? where I am one of the team.

In the early hours of this morning, this is the appalling story with which the Daily Mail were leading. “Disabled benefit? Just fill in a form”.

They report that “Almost 200,000 people were granted a disability benefit last year without ever having a face-to-face assessment. A staggering 94 per cent of new claimants for Disability Living Allowance started receiving their payments after only filling out paperwork.”

The Mail goes on to explain that – shock horror – disabled people had completed DLA forms, and many of them had also provided evidence from their doctor. Yet because they had not had a physical assessment, there is apparently something wrong with this process. Another reason to erode disabled people and suggest that we are a drain on society. You can feel the implication that we are living on handouts because it’s easy, rather than because it’s essential.

How dare the Mail suggest that we “just” fill out a form! That form and notes comprise 55 pages – 38 of which have to be completed by the claimant. This involves a lot of writing, and having to be able to think straight and focus over a long period of time. It can require a huge effort, particularly if you have disabilities which affect communication, or your physical ability to write or type. Also, as the form focuses on activities which you can no longer manage, or need help to achieve, it is a depressing process – making you realise how disabled you really are. It can be soul destroying.

Perhaps the Mail ought to look at that form in more detail. That tiresome, frustrating, difficult form! Big, isn’t it? Detailed, isn’t it? Daunting, isn’t it?

As well as the form itself, there is the need for supporting evidence. It helps if you include letters from specialist doctors, and for my own application I also provided a diary of a week in my life, and statements from people who knew and lived with me, describing the help they have to give. I know my GP was also approached by the Department of Work and Pensions to confirm the information I provided. I had to not only explain the sort of help I needed, but provide independent evidence.

Fellow claimant Mary told me: “I have usually had to go for an interview but once got a 2 year award on “just” the DLA form. That form included sections to be filled out by all sorts of people involved in my care and treatment – GP, specialist consultant, main carer and so on – plus the instructions on the form required me to submit with it a copy of my (then) current repeat prescription and formal social services care plan. Perhaps that can be described as “just a form” but it’s hardly as if I got my DLA based purely on my own testimony.”

The form and supporting information provided will be detailed, and sometimes the decision makers will have a straightforward task – for example if someone is both deaf and blind. Often the information provided will be enough for the Department of Work and Pensions to make an award straight away. So yes, many people do get awarded DLA on the basis of “just” paperwork. But if somebody has significant impairments, sufficient to tick the boxes for the decision makers, and this is documented by their GP or other medical professionals, surely it would be a waste of time and money to haul them in for interview?

Form filling is exhausting, depressing, frustrating, and repetitive, but we force ourselves to jump through these hoops because we need the support. The money to cover taxi fares for someone who is unable to carry their shopping home on the bus. The money to pay for incontinence pads and other medical supplies. The money to buy a few hours’ time from a cleaner or assistant. We are certainly not doing it for an easy life!

And then there are the cases where people don’t get the award they are entitled to based solely on the paper application, and have to attend in person for a tribunal. In fact, most of the people of whom I know have applied for DLA actually had to appeal before they received the award they deserved. Take Robin – he has regular reviews of his DLA, and after having been found eligible for support twice based on the same information, he was then turned down in June this year. He is waiting to go to tribunal in December, and told me: “The DLA decision maker considered my regular loss of speech production or speech comprehension, and my struggle to safely cross roads because I can’t accurately judge distance or speed both non-issues. Well to me they are significant issues, and I regularly have significant difficulties because of communication problems, and I’ve nearly been run over more times than I can count.” Without the money provided by DLA, he is struggling to cover the additional costs caused by disability.

If you need more evidence of why DLA is so critical to the lives of disabled people, just read “the real difference made by DLA” or head over to twitter and see entries with the hashtag #myDLA to learn why this benefit is life changing.

Surely these stories make the point that, where possible, making a decision on a DLA award based “just” on paperwork is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. And where more evidence is needed, or the claimant appeals the decision, a face-to-face interview will be held.

Well, Daily Mail? What’s so unreasonable about that?

It is hard enough to get a DLA award as it is. Please, don’t say we’ve got it easy.

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4 Responses to "DLA: just a form filling exercise? If only it was that easy!"

Well said, Flash. I have to fill in the DLA forms for my severely autistic daughter, and it is the most soul destroying thing I have ever had to endure. Every day we work on the positives, think positive, see her achieve to the best of her ability, then those forms turn up an I have to tear her to shreds. I have to compare her to an average 15 year old when she has the learning ability of a toddler. I have to describe in detail every aspect of her life, including her most intimate care, such as toileting, bathing and her periods, for a complete stranger to read and scrutinise. I have to focus on her behavioural difficulties and describe her most negative traits. Then I need to seek out proof that I’m not lying about any of it from her doctors, teachers and carers, just in case I made it all up.

This latest agenda of whipping up hatred against the disabled makes me so angry, and downright scared of what might happen as a result of it.

Yes, those forms are totally soul destroying. I find it hard to admit to myself that I am disabled let alone write it down!

In 2008 I had a form to fill in to reapply for my DLA and had kept putting it off until eventually I was told that if I didn’t return it soon they would stop my money.

I decided (wrongly) that if I took it and a pen to the train station with me it would force me fill it in and post it while I was out. I waved my daughter off on the train (she is in the army) and was understandably very upset, but still filled out the form. I was also uncomfortable and in a lot of pain but had to complete the form before I would allow myself to go home.

I was not entirely in the right frame of mind to deal with this form and just wanted to get it in the post. My answers to the questions turned out as complete nonsense. I put things like ‘it takes me 1 minute to put my socks on’ when the reality is I NEVER wear socks because I can’t put them on and I had just estimated how long it would take to put them on if I could. Yes OK I know how stupid that was now, but at the time I was in a bad state of mind, not to mention the side effects of the drugs.

Since then I have spent the last 4 years appealing against them taking my DLA off me. The previous form was filled out by social services who did comment that they filled out the form for me as they thought I would not be able to and my handwriting on this one was worse than usual indicating I was not in a good place.

How do I prove that I just filled the form in wrong?

If it was me I would tell them your condition has worsened, and apply anew. I know that means you lose any backdated DLA but at least this way you have a chance of getting *some*. But that’s just me; others might suggest you ask for a face to face tribunal so you can give them the facts – have you done that?

I did have a tribunal 3 years ago and even though I produced evidence from my GP and consultant which backed up my claim they ignored it and concentrated on an EMP report.

The EMP report contained inconsistances, he didn’t seem to understand my medication by saying one of my tablets for pain was for depression when that is actually one of the side effects. Also he stated my back had only 30 degree flexion but I could bend to go into my oven. I am sure that they couldn’t read his writing so just looked at all the boxes he ticked which said I could do everything!

However my doctor and consultant wrote to say I needed help and they have known me and my medical condition for 12 years.

After I was turned down I did put in a fresh claim as my condition had actually got significantly worse a month before the tribunal (I did not put in a claim at the time because I wanted to wait for the outcome of the appeal) They rejected this fresh claim on the grounds that they had turned me down at the previous tribunal which I have been told they are not allowed to do.

At the moment I am waiting for a higher tier appeal against the first tribunal (2009) and am appealing (lower tier) against the decision on my claim (2009). It has taken so long because the DWP lost my file including my application and one tribunal was adjourned for my medical records. Then the tribunal service lost my file and have had to get a copy from the DWP (even though they lost theirs in the begining). So in all it is 4 years since I filled the form out wrong.

It is all such a mess and I feel that they will turn me down now just because if I succeed they will have to give me so much in back dated payments.

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