Tag: tax credits

Constant anticipation of the next error – and consequential disaster: Part #1

I try hard to look for good things to appreciate. I’m trying to counteract my anxiety and overwhelming emotions by looking for the positive, hopeful things that can come from a situation. (It’s something of a DBT technique which I’ll elaborate on in another post.) I’m told I’m not yet very good at finding positive things about myself. I think gradually I’m getting better at seeing positive things in the outside world.

However in some areas it’s hard not to not only feel overwhelmed by both emotions and external negative events and also to expect them.

Benefits is a case in point right now and it has been for years, every single time I’ve needed to claim a Benefit when I haven’t been able to work / haven’t been able to work full time, because of my health.

Today, I received a letter from the Tax Credit Office about an error made in my tax credits earlier this year, when I was working at the department store. I was aware of that mistake. They had incorrectly recorded the income figures I had given them and given me only partial information about eligibility. Consequently they paid me tax credits I wasn’t entitled to. The letter I received today was rather confusing but essentially confirmed that. So far, that wasn’t too bad – I will have to pay back the overpaid money when they ask for it but I already knew that.

Next, I opened two letters from the Housing Benefit Department. The first contained two award notices both almost the same but with completely confusing dates, entitlement and income figures. What’s that about, I wondered. One of them was marked “change in personal circumstances”. What change in circumstances? I haven’t had a change recently. I opened the second letter from Housing Benefits, with a certain sense of foreboding!

Yup, disaster again. The letter told me that the Housing Benefit Department had been informed by the tax office that I am in receipt of working tax credit, therefore I am working and my housing benefit has been suspended until I give them details of my new job and current income.

Oh my days. I assume they have received a copy of the letter I got from Tax Credits. If they took time to actually read the letter, they would have seen it was saying that I am not entitled to tax credits. If they had looked at the dates in the letter (not to mention previous documentation I’ve supplied them and previous discussions I’ve had with them about my receipt of tax credits) they would have seen that it referred to a period earlier this year, not to now. They also know that I am not working – I have given them proof that I am currently in receipt of Employment Support Allowance because I am not working because of my health.

So, my housing benefit has been stopped. I will have to contact my landlord on Monday to explain why the benefits payments have stopped. I will have to contact Housing Benefits and try to prove to them that I am not working. This will probably involve chasing around the tax office and the other oxus involved in my employment support allowance. I have to make a written statement and gather together copy documents from my employment support allowance claim and tax credits. Quite probably I will have to take this in to the housing office, queue for a long time to see someone, which physically I cannot cope with at the moment as I can walk so little. My anxiety has skyrocketed because of the financial problems this suspension in my housing benefit will cause. Worse, from my past experience, once one benefit gets stopped, all the other benefits get stopped too. I am anticipating that I’ll be contacted by the employment support allowance office next week saying they’ve received information I’m working so my benefit has been stopped. Then I’ll have nothing coming in.

This may sound like an exaggeration but it has happened to me and to friends of mine before. And it could all so, so easily have been avoided. How easily the housing benefit office could have seen that the correspondence referred to months ago. How easily they could have checked with the tax office to see if I was working. How easily they could have made a quick phonecall to me or my support worker, if something wasn’t clear or they needed a particular piece of evidence. Wouldn’t this have cost them less, as well as me? The situation would have been resolved in minutes. Instead they have sent out a letter, required a statement, someone has to take copies of this, take copies of documentation, probably see me for an appointment, restart everything, set up payments to my landlord again (God willing!). Even without counting the cost and distress and anxiety caused to me, it is a hive waste of resources and confusion for nothing.

Since I first had to claim Benefits in something like January 2015, I reckon I have been paid the correct amount I was entitled to for a maximum of one month at a time, before the next error or mess-up has occurred and at least one of my Benefits has been cut, stopped or refused incorrectly – and completely avoidably. Last year when I rented as a lodger in a private landlord’s family home, this array of errors left me so very close to being on the street; if it were not for an extremely generous friend who paid my rent one month, I would have been out with nowhere to go. It is hugely fortunate that I now live in a housing association flat where I will not be thrown out immediately if there is a problem with my housing benefit. It is hugely fortunate I have the expertise of my support worker who will help me get this resolved as fast as possible and stop me going to pieces in the meantime. Most people don’t have those two blessings.

I don’t want to complain and whinge and expect money for nothing. I don’t think I deserve other people’s constant support. I could very well have nothing. I need to try to become independent and able to support myself. Support doesn’t come for nothing and I should expect to take responsibility, not have everything handed to me.

I think one thing that makes it so hard is when you have been through every process as well as you can, given all the information asked of you, taken all the steps you can, and despite this everything still crumbles. My experiences over the years tell me as soon as there’s any stability, it gets taken away again through error or miscommunication, despite all your best efforts. And the error seems to have an effect like tumbling dominoes on all the other areas of your life there is any stability. Losing stability has immediate big consequences when you have very little to live on. It also drains all your energy, time and emotional resources, which go into trying to correct the error before disaster point (losing your home, no money for food, etc) rather than leaving you any strength to recover, contribute something to your community in your day to day life, benefit from opportunities that might make your situation better (and even maybe less dependent on social and state support, not that needing it is a bad thing). When you are constantly using all your resources fighting the next mistake and next disaster, trying to ensure that you have the basics you need to get by, in a state of anticipation of the next disaster so you can try to minimise or allow for its impact; when you feel as if you’re being knocked back, kept vulnerable, denied any security, despite your hardest work to set things right; then there is no way you can do more than just get by, in a constant state of strain.

So, I’m wondering what I can change. It seems I cannot change the fact that mistakes constantly occur, despite me trying my hardest to do the best I can for my part and to take steps to pre-empt the problems. I don’t want to feel so spent, trapped, angry, vulnerable and at risk as I do at the moment as a result of the repeated cycle of mistakes.

So, what can I change?

[Part 2 to follow, not that I have any answers yet! Thoughts are most greatly welcome, as ever.]

Ginny xxx

 

A much bigger loss than they realise

When I signed up to the programme of treatment I am in at the moment, it was to include weekly group MBT therapy, fortnightly individual therapy, monthly care coordination and support available from a duty team.

With no warning, monthly care coordination has been stopped and changed to quarterly. Having expected to see my care coordinator yesterday as we’d previously booked, this was cancelled and my next care coordination is not to be until the end of September, which will be about 4 months since my last appointment.

I could write a lot about how badly the actual communication of this decision has been handled. Actually I did but I deleted it. It probably doesn’t do anyone any good, not me or the service or anyone else, to shoot off into an angry tirade. I’ve been trying to process this through since we (ie all of us in the therapy programme) got letters telling us a few days ago. My emotions are pretty out of control and shooting to extremes at the moment independent of this which is making things harder – ironically, partly because there is so much going on all across my life and I can’t hold it all together; I could have really done with some help from my care coordinator. I’m trying not to just rant in anger here. However, I do think that some of my feelings are shared by other people in the programme and I do think this reduction in appointments is a much greater loss than the hospital realise. There is a huge gap in care here and it’s getting wider.

We weren’t involved in the decision. We were informed afterwards in an impersonal letter. We were informed that this would be best for us. There was nothing personal about the decision. Surely everyone’s needs in terms of care co-ordination may be different, at different times in their therapy, according to what’s going on in therapy, their health across the board, and all areas of their life? The approach being taken isn’t responsive. It’s just a blanket decision.

My views are certainly being influenced by what I observed and experienced when I worked in mental health services in the same mental health trust in which I’m now treated, but I wonder if the source of this reduction in appointments is actually largely to do with funding cuts and staff shortages? Conversations I’ve had with my care coordinator have given me more than an inkling that my suspicion is correct. If this is so, it would have hurt a lot less if this explanation had been given plainly, rather than it being couched in claims that the service think it’s better for us to have less coordination of our care.

Leaving this aside, nobody actually discussed the matter with us whilst deciding what would be best for us. We didn’t get to give any input about why care coordination is important for us, the help we need, the effect this withdrawal of support would have, what our needs are and how they might best be met. We committed to the therapy programme expecting one thing and now this has been changed. We’re expected to stick with the programme and commit to it but they are free to change it how they choose. This is by no means the first time this has happened and what we have trusted in has been changed or taken away. Support we desperately needed, which was insufficient anyway, has now been withdrawn further.

All these things combine to make us feel hurt and powerless and unheard by those we should be able to trust and undeserving of support. I posted yesterday about how when I discussed the changes on the phone with my care coordinator (after I’d chased several times for any explanation of how the decision was made and what’s happening in practice with my appointments going forward) he told me the service thinks this is the best way to challenge us to be more independent, and how much this hurt and how little the service we should be able to trust actually appreciate what we are facing.

Separate from the emotions this brought up, the withdrawal of these appointments doesn’t just affect the appointments themselves; by the very nature of what care coordination is meant to do, it will have an impact on our wellbeing across the board and I think this is where the proverbial baby well and truly has been thrown out with the bath water. It seems the clinicians who have made this decision do not realise what a loss this will incur.

First, on an immediate practical note, it will have a knock on effect on our therapy appointments. We have been told that the clinicians have decided it is most appropriate for us to get help in therapy appointments rather than care coordination. The focus of a care coordination appointment is utterly different from a mentalisation-based therapy appointment . Therapy appointments focus on emotions and interpersonal situations, looking in depth at particular relationships and specific interactions, our emotions and thoughts and our understanding of what is in our own and each others’ minds. It’s not so much about events and information and our circumstances as focussing in depth on our emotional experience and thought patterns. This is totally different from what is covered in care coordination – such as building a care plan, reviewing mental and physical health, looking at input that may be needed from other health professionals or support workers, looking at social and financial problems and stability, monitoring risk and safety issues, communicating with the range of professionals and others involved in someone’s care… the list goes on. If this is now to be squashed into the therapy appointments, either the time for therapeutic work will be greatly reduced or the problems we needed care coordination for won’t be addressed.

This is all the more important since the length of time for which one can be seen in the service is now strictly limited. The service was set up to be a lifelong service, recognising the fact that we may likely need help outside of particular therapy programmes across many years. Now this has been stopped and after we have completed a particular therapy course we are discharged whether or not we are coping or safe or recovered. When time is limited and so soon we will find ourselves alone again or at least without specialist support, whatever state we are in, it’s all the more important that whilst we are with the service we can get help pulled together across all the areas of our life that our mental health affects and that affect our mental health.

And these areas are broad.  Several of us in my therapy group, myself included, have multiple mental and physical health diagnoses. Most of us have many unmet needs at any one time.  Some of this is because of rules that you can only be seen in one service at one time. I’ve posted before on how unfair that can feel – for me one thing this rule means is I’m not allowed any help with my PTSD and trauma following the abuse I’ve been through, because I’m being seen in the PD Service. I know other people who were forced to choose between being treated for their life threatening eating disorder or their personality disorder. Multiple mental health diagnoses are often closely related but I, and I’m sure many others, have had big difficulties trying to find the way through the care and treatments they need and I’m regularly promised help that is then the next minute taken away. Someone needs to pull all this together and make sure communication happens and that help promised is actually delivered. It is too hard to do this on your own when you’re seriously ill and all too often you are bounced between different services, each telling you that another service is meeting your needs when actually nobody is.

Physical and mental ill health tend to cause disturbance and instability to a lot more than health. Just a few examples from my own experience – and all these are shared by other members of my therapy group – are losing your job, being made homeless or having to move from your secure home, having nowhere stable to live, having no money to meet essential expenses of food and rent and bills, falling into debt, trying to navigate the system to claim sickness benefits or help with housing costs whilst working part time – and being met by mistakes and delays at every turn and waiting weeks on end to receive any money, consequent trouble with utility companies, landlords, over or under payment of tax and Benefits, filling out form after form, having less and less contact with friends and having no resources (financial, or in terms of emotional strength) to keep in touch with the little positive things that can keep you well, relationship breakdowns, addiction, crises, losing control and ending up in trouble with the police or other involvement from emergency services… I could go on and on.

It just isn’t possible to sort out all of these things on your own especially when you’re struggling with the daily pain of the BPD itself. You desperately need someone to get you access to help and guidance, to be familiar at least to some extent with the systems you’re struggling through and to know what help is available and refer you there. This help has never come, for me, from the PD Service, and with so little care coordinator input going forward, it’ll be even scarcer.

Yes, a lot of these things are parts of everyday adult life but the fact is by the time most of us eventually get seen in a specialist service like mine, we have struggled without the help we need for years upon years and are very near the end of the road. (Potentially, very near ending our lives, or already having reached that point because there is nothing but pain, dark, utterly spent, utterly trapped, self disgust, I could go on…) Yes, we have to be able to function independently. But we are silently screaming how right now we can’t. We need help. We desperately need to be heard that we need help. Every time we have tried the very hardest we can and there’s yet another loss, obstacle, more and more piled on us, our risk increases and we are less and less able to be independent and more and more locked into our compulsions to overdose and self harm and try to numb and control the utter desperation and silence the painful scream for help inside us. If someone hears us, guides us, gets an understanding of what is happening across our lives, pulls the pieces together and gives some continuity, as our care coordinator could, then we can start to gain strength and start to find some kind of stability that might eventually allow us to heal.

I am incredibly fortunate that I have a support worker (from a local social service, not from the NHS) who is helping me with so many things that I’d have hoped my care coordinator and/or support workers from the PD Service would have done. The response from the PD Service was to brush me off saying everyone has to deal with these things and I did not qualify for any help and one appointment with a care worker who did not know anything about most of the areas in which I needed help. Thanks to my current support worker, I have not been evicted by my landlord, I have been helped to fill in the complex application forms for disability benefits, I have had support to go to assessment appointments, I have had help learning to budget, I have been able to access the correct advice and information from all the services involved (housing benefits, the council, the Jobcentre, disability services etc), I have someone on my side who understands the difficulty I’m going through at the moment in the police investigation into my abuser, and I have some social support which will help me use my time constructively to keep getting better and eventually learn how to get back into work.

In no way did the lack of recognition, lack of coordination and lack of support I received from the PD Service make me better or more able to function. In no way has having a support worker made me less independent or worse. I am now self harming much less and have not overdosed for weeks. I’m able gradually to do a little bit more and then more, because I have some sense of stability and safety and someone who believes me. With his support I’m not alone going through the things that distressed me to the extent that I couldn’t cope and could only hurt myself.

This support is desperately needed. It is very sad that it is so hard to find. Given that the therapy programme is so good, and I know it is such a privilege to be able to undertake it, it is sad that the support towards staying safe and being well and stable, is so lacking. It is much harder to grow and make use of the therapy from a place where you don’t feel safe or heard.

Perhaps I’m overreacting. Perhaps I’ve had an unusually bad experience with my care coordinator or when I’ve been in crisis. Perhaps I’m incredibly dependent. (Well, I think I definitely am.) Probably I should focus more on the fact I have the support I do. I know many services have much less support available. It just seems to me like a big and widening gap and that things could so easily be different.

If I recover enough to ever work or volunteer in this field, I’d like to work on trying to bring together patients’ access to the support that’s out there and bridge the gap of all the unmet needs that are stopping us from having a stable life whilst we’re working through our therapy programmes. I’m sure this would increase people’s security in their recovery.

Ginny xxx

Hitting when you’re already down…

I really don’t want to talk as if I think the state or the world owes me something. It owes me nothing. However it does hurt when it seems that the systems that are supposed to help you actually hit you down hardest when you most need help.  On its own it shouldn’t be a big thing but when it seems to be the norm it gets too much on top of being ill already.

Recently I claimed for tax credits (for readers from abroad or who otherwise don’t know, this is a small benefit paid to those who are working but on a low income, have children, or have disabilities).

I had first claimed in Spring last year and my claim was rejected before they had even gathered all the information needed. I was so ill at the time I just let it go. I claimed again since starting my new job in November, because I am working part time on a very low salary. The first step is to fill out a form online to request a claim form, then to wait up to 2 weeks to receive the actual claim form.

Monday, I received an email saying that I am already in receipt of tax credits and if I believe this is not true, call this (expensive) number. I called this number and asked to be called back as the call was so expensive for me since I had no landline (can’t afford more bills) so had to call from a mobile. They refused and said they have no facility in the building to make outgoing calls, which I found very hard to believe.

I explained that I am not in receipt of tax credits. I was told that I do have a tax credits award and the award is nil. Right, so I’m not in receipt of tax credits. Yes, you have a tax credits award and the award is nil. Sigh….this could go on for a while. .. eventually I persuaded them to take the details of my change in circumstances. Then the operator’s computer froze so he transferred me to another operator without explaining any of the background and I had to repeat the entire process again. By this time I’d been on the call for about 30 minutes.  They repeatedly asked the same questions and did not listen to my answers. I repeatedly told them I couldn’t afford this call and needed to be called back. I have a few pounds a day to live on and the call had taken just about all my food money for the week. The operator actually told me that because my phone bill does not arrive for a week or two they hadn’t cost me anything! At this point even I could not quite believe their determination to prove they had no responsibility for anything.

Then came to trying to claim for the disability element of tax credits.  I was told that I wasn’t entitled unless I was already in receipt of PIP. I knew this was wrong – that is only one of the qualifying conditions. Online and paper documentation I had when I made my claim made this clear. The operator refused to budge. I insisted to speak to a manager. 5 minutes on hold. …

The manager immediately contradicted what the previous operator had said. But still insisted they would not consider the disability element unless I was in receipt of PIP. I pointed out that he, his colleague, the online and paper documentation each said something totally different, so I needed to know which was the case. He threatened to terminate the call and told me I was making things very difficult.

I suspect I was making it very difficult for him to continue reading from his script without listening to what I was actually asking…. :/ 😦

Then I had to insist that he give me a straightforward answer – was it essential to be in receipt of PIP as he was saying, or was the written information around having a disability which puts you at a substantial disadvantage getting work, correct?  He refused to answer and put me on hold. When he came back on the line he read a lengthy script about the qualifying conditions which confirmed that all the information I’d been given up to that point was wrong. Had I not insisted to this point, I would have been assessed incorrectly for the benefit. I still believe I will be assessed incorrectly because when I tried to tell him the reasons I qualified for the disability element and to ask what proof they needed of this, he talked and shouted over me and forbade me to speak otherwise he would terminate the call. 

By the end of this process I had been on the phone 55 minutes to a cost to me of £25. I still had not been able to get an answer as to how to submit the documentation that would support my claim (and that would have supported the claim I had been rejected for last year, had I only been given the opportunity to provide it). I had been given different information about eligibility from each person I spoke to and from all the written information I had.

By the end of the call I was so distressed, panicked, angry, for seeing yet more financial problems …. this was the very last straw this week and I couldn’t cope anymore. I went home, cut and took a handful of pills, not enough to try to end it, though that was what I wanted at that time, but in order to make it stop and knock me out. All through the next day I didn’t leave the sofa and took more pills to sleep.

Stupid and childish not to be able to cope I know but there really comes a point you can’t go anymore and when you meet obstruction even where you should be able to get help you’re entitled to, sometimes you just crumble.

Ginny xx