Thursday, March 27, 2008

Well, that answers that question.

So much for wondering how I'm going to fill the hour or so per day that I've spent doing my DLA forms for the last few weeks.

This morning, as I was sat on the staircase putting my coat on in order to go to the Post Office and send my Enormous Wodge Of Paperwork, the postie arrived and shoved a brown envelope through my letterbox.

It's from HM Revenue and Customs, Tax Credit Office.

Click here for the previous episode.

The short version is:

2005 - 2006: I owe them £500, which I would happily pay, except I do not have it due to becoming ill, loss of job, going onto benefit, etc. They defer payment. They ask for this £500 every three months or so. I still do not have it. They defer payment. And again. And again.

At the end of 2006, they send me letters saying I don't owe them anything, £0.00, zero balance. Woohoo! I don't hear from them for the entirety of 2007. Huzzah! I figure my debt must have expired.

2008: they demand payment of £500, immediately, or else legal action. WTF? I ring them up. They send me a form for disputing overpayments. I write to them explaining that I don't deny that I did owe them £500, once, but that in 2006 they wrote to me telling me I don't owe it any more, and I think it's a bit nasty of them to suddenly change their minds and threaten me with legal action.

Today's letter was basically an explanation of how I came to owe them £500 in the first place.

I already knew that bit. I'm not disputing that bit. I'm disputing whether it's okay for them to go "You don't owe us any money any more. *pause* Whoops! actually, you DO owe us money, after all."

No mention is made of the letters (which I sent them copies of) that told me I owe nothing.

It just says that I owe them the money, and, direct quote here, "You cannot appeal against the decision to recover your overpayment."

So tomorrow, I must phone them and explain in great detail about how my income does not cover my essential living expenses (rent, electricity, water). I suspect that we will then enter the deferral cycle again.

Meanwhile, I enter into a written-correspondence argument with the "Customer Service and Support Group Officer" who was unlucky enough to sign this latest letter to me. Who thinks I should finish my letter with a demand for a copy of their complaints procedure?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ahead of schedule

The DLA claim is now complete. All pages have my name and NI number on, all signatures are in place, all documents are attached.

Steve and I got the bulk of the photocopying done on Tuesday morning. That was sort of fun. Obvously the Big Document, we had simply printed off two copies. But the supporting documents, like other people's statements and my repeat prescription and whatnot, needed actual photocopying, plus of course several pages of the form itself such as the front page, the signature and the sucklike. Anyway, we sauntered into the local library and asked the nice lady at the desk if we could do photocopying. She looked across at the photocopier (obviously a complicated piece of equipment requiring years of training) and answered "well, I can do photocopying for you."

I cannot describe how very intensely satisfying it was to cheerfully say "okay then!" and whump about 25 miscellaneous pieces of paper and a big, thick form onto her desk, none of which could be put into the autofeeder on the machine.

Then Steve and I sat down on some really quite comfortable chairs (the library's just had a bit of a re-fit) and quietly flicked through some magazines for half an hour, listening to the singing of the toddler's group which was taking place in a side room, while she got on with copying each. page. individually.

This was much easier than I had envisaged.

Today, I got the physical signed copy of the last of the statements from my friends. Steve and I don't have a photocopier, but we do have a scanner and a printer, so rather than another trip to the library we took care of that one at home.

I now have two large checked and double-checked piles of paperwork, one for them and one for me.

The pile of paperwork being sent to the DWP is over a centimetre thick. This will not fit into the standard A4 size envelope provided by the DWP for the return of the form. Also, the envelope provided is a Freepost one, and I don't want to send my precious documentation via Freepost. I want it guaranteed next-day delivery, recorded, tracked, traced and signed for. I'm wondering whether my best course of action is to (a) ask the people at the Post Office, or (b) call the Benefit Enquiry Line and ask them.

I'm so glad this is over. I will send it tomorrow and then I won't have to think about it at all until they contact me with their answer, which could well be several months.

A big, big, enormous thank you to everyone who has helped me - everyone who's written a statement, or helped with phrasing of things, or signposted me to useful resources, or listened to me sounding off when I got overstressed, or left a supportive blog comment. I could not have got this done without your help and support.

I do find myself at a bit of a loss, though. I'm sat here with the laptop and this overwhelming feeling that I'm supposed to be working on my Additional Information, like I have done with most of my spare time for the last few weeks. I'm not really sure what I'm meant to do instead. Suggestions for blog topics welcome.

Monday, March 24, 2008


First, some good knitting news: Following on from last week's trauma, I have now knitted and measured (and measured, and measured, and got Steve to measure too) the 14 inches of jumper and have made a start on the armhole decreases. There's still a way to go, but at least I know it'll be right.

Also, some Pip and Littlun news: They built a snowman at the park with some other dads and kids from their street. I saw the pics. The Boy is still cute. He starts at the nursery class at the local school next week, just mornings and no uniform for now, although there's still a sense of "no! how can he be going to the school! he's a baby!". Fingers crossed for them, although I'm sure they'll be fine.

And, the form. Oh boy, the form.

Since the tick boxes on the new DLA form are a bit 'one size fits no one'; and since the 'Additional Information' boxes are tiny; and since even if they were bigger, I don't do so well with the handwriting (that comes under question 47, 'Communication', if you're interested); and since Steve's handwriting is terrible; we just typed all my answers into a big document to print out and attach. The idea was that in and across the little boxes, we could simply write "see Additional Information, page X" making things easier all round.

Today, I printed out the document of 'Additional Information' so that I could start writing the correct page references into the little boxes on the form.

The total was 48, yes, forty-eight pages. The word-count was 26,019. That's twenty-six thousand and nineteen words. That's more than the entirety of my GCSE English Language and Literature courseworks.

Two of them are me covering my back with things like a list of the supporting evidence I am sending with the form, and an extra reiteration of the Declaration ("I declare that the information I have given is correct blah blah") just in case. The remaining 46 are all providing as clear a picture as I can of what problems I have and what help I need.

It defies stapling. We ended up with Steve hole-punching them all a few pages at a time, and me tying them together with spare yarn. It is a measure of how far I have progressed in the last year, that instead of just thinking "I'll grab whatever bit of wool is handy," I gave serious thought to the issue. I didn't want anything that would break, anything fluffy or fuzzy, or anything pink. After a moment's consideration, I instructed Steve to go downstairs to my Stash and fetch the pale blue Rowan All Seasons cotton. It is a measure of how far Steve has progressed, that he came back with not only the All Seasons cotton, but also the green Rowan Handknit Cotton as well, in case I'd prefer that, which I did. It's worked well, although we decided against listing it as a project on Ravelry.

In addition to this monster statement, and the standard DLA additional paperwork such as a list of repeat prescriptions and a report from a specialist, I am lucky enough to also be able to provide statements from:
- my mother
- my boyfriend, who I live with
- my co-worker who works with me for four hours a day
- two of my oldest friends. Uh, that's oldest as in, known me for years, not that they're old, I mean, uh...

I did ask my mum about the idea of providing a statement from the family dog too ("when Mary is on the floor, I lick her hand until she gives me a fuss, upon which I am satisfied that all is well and stand guard over her, in silence. They told me about some pup called Lassie who would have jumped about all over the place fetching people and barking, but I figured, no, some peace and quiet is what she'll want, that and an unpleasantly moist hand...") but she felt this might be over-egging the pudding somewhat.

Anyway, tomorrow I'll finish writing the Additional Information page references onto the form itself, and once that's done, I can sign and date it. Then on Wednesday, I need to find somewhere that does photocopying, because we Do Not send things to the DWP without keeping a copy, which means that hopefully I can get it posted (registered recorded whoopdedoo) by Friday, neatly inside the deadline. And I can stop fretting about it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Things are picking up again

A couple of nights ago I realised that I have now been knitting for a whole year.

While this is something I'm actually quite happy about, it did put the cherry on the top when I did some measurements on the jumper I am working on last night and realised: I Have Made A Mistake.

To make matters worse, the Mistake was some five or six inches back. I can pinpoint the mistake - I made it on the 8th of March, because it was the day before Simon and Tony ran a half-marathon dressed as a camel. So that's almost two weeks' knitting. The Mistake I made was that I mis-measured the length from the cast-on to the armhole decrease. It's meant to be 14 inches. The back piece, already completed, has a perfect 14 inches. The front piece, for some reason, has a perfect 13 inches. I suspect that I looked at the tape measure with my brainfog on and misread the number or got the alignment wrong. It's not a huge difference but it's enough to show.

With a heavy heart and a lot of swearing, I started to frog. This was made complicated because with the Colinette Cadenza yarn I'm using, you're supposed to use two balls at once to avoid pooling. You do a knit and a purl row of Ball A, then a knit and a purl row of Ball B, then a knit and a purl row of Ball A again. Result: huge tangle of wiggly wool.

Steve was bright enough to realise that this was NOT the moment to go "hang on, I'll get my camera" but to offer support and assistance.

Once I'd ripped back far enough, I started to painstakingly pick up 120 stitches from the remaining knitting. I'd picked up about 115 of them before realising that because of the yarn-changeovers, the 5 at the end had unravelled themselves two rows back.

Further cursing as attempted to remember how to put in a safety line. I got some bright orange acrylic and started to stitch it in, four or five rows back. I got Steve to count my stitches while I did some stretching. Then it was back on the floor for more frogging, and a big sigh of relief when the line held.

While I began to thread the stitches on the orange line onto my circular needle, Steve wound his first centre-pull ball of yarn. It was great, except that as soon as I started to knit, we discovered respective cockups: I had threaded all 120 stitches onto my needle in the right order, but twisted the wrong way round, and Steve had wound the ball of yarn so tightly it wouldn't actually pull from the centre.

Still, by this point, we had a great sense of having got past the worst of it. I started to knit again, carefully turning each stitch around before knitting it, and Steve unwound his yarn and began to wind again, a little looser this time. He was so satisfied, that he checked his colour balancing before getting camera-happy at it, with the result that this picture is not only a nice picture of his second attempt, it's also pretty much exactly true colour.

I feel a bit funny about having wasted an evening - I should have been working on my form, he should have been studying - but there was something very nice about working together to get it sorted out. Plus, I now have a boyfriend who can wind centre-pulls, and that is a serious asset.

As far as the form goes, well, I just need to write about my night-time care needs, the precis of which is "I'm pretty much sorted if I'm safe and sound in bed, however, if I need to get out of bed, I need the same help as I would in the day, with additional consideration for me being even more badly co-ordinated because I'm sleepy because, you know, it's the middle of the damn night." I'm continuing with my approach of typing all the information into a document and then, on the form, just writing in which page of the document they should refer to. There are currently about 37 pages, covering about 30 major questions.

Oh, it's also worth saying, I saw the new GP, Dr H, about a week ago. I told her I was applying for DLA and about what happened last time. She told me there were in fact notes in my records about what happened last time, so I guess Dr W must have typed up a bit extra the last time I saw her before sending my notes here. Dr H confirmed a few bits and bobs from the screen ("yes, we've got stuff here about how you have trouble walking, can't walk without pain, about faints and dizzy spells, all that sort of thing") and then, the confirmation I really needed to hear:

"Yes, for the bit that asks about your GP, just put my name and the address of this surgery, they'll send us a form, and we will back you up. We will support your claim.".


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Still going...

... but struggling a little bit right now. It is very difficult to maintain a positive mental attitude, and use relaxation and pain-management techniques, when thinking and writing in detail about how painful/difficult/physically impossible any number of normal daily tasks are.

So far I am about half-way through the DLA form and have typed 21 standard A4 pages of 12-point Times New Roman about the physical and cognitive difficulties I have with various things. It's not fun reading.

On Thursday I was sent home sick from work. Went back in on Monday, not fully recovered but not sick enough to warrant being at home. On Tuesday my co-worker went off sick with what sounds like the same thing.

Adding to this not-nice-ness, we are in the middle of an unforseen cashflow crisis that we do not have the means to deal with (and have been since the beginning of the year, in case you hadn't guessed that was what was going on) as my earnings only cover half of our joint essential expenses. It's not immediately dire - both Steve and myself have the capacity to get loans and the suchlike when it becomes really necessary - and it will probably be sorted out in a few months once Steve has passed his exams and gets a job again. It's just distinctly unpleasant At The Moment. Neither of us have been in debt before.

To make matters worse, I suspect that I shall run out of yarny before this cashflow crisis resolves itself. I have a horrible vision of a scarf made of end-of-ball bits from the stash, just so that I have something to do with my hands to relax.

On the plus side, though, my wardrobe will be up by one pair of handknit socks and one soft and snuggly jumper.

Also, I have found out that in October, I will get a pay-rise.

Predictably, this is not based on my skills, but on an increase in the National Minimum Wage. Still, it counts...