Tuesday, January 19, 2010

DLA exam

This morning I had my medical examination for my DLA renewal.

A big thank you to everyone who left such supportive and encouraging comments on my last post - it really helped me to stay calm about the whole thing.

The doctor arrived on time and stayed for just under an hour, which is good as the examination is supposed to take between 20 and 60 minutes. He came across as a pleasant and professional man. He was patient when I was struggling with things and gave the impression of listening to what I was saying. He took an awful lot of notes and appeared to be trying to understand, although of course he also made several efforts to catch me out. He did seem a little perplexed about why he was being asked to examine me for a renewal rather than a new claim.

I don't know if he believed a word I said and I have no idea what he wrote down. But on the whole I am happy with how the examination went. My PA was also present and she felt it had gone well - that I had presented openly and honestly and that I had made my difficulties clear without exaggerating.

And now I can stop worrying until the next letter turns up.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Procrastination... and breathe

Ok, I am admitting right now to all of you that I am procrastinating on the self-employment front.

I will do it and I am making progress. I'm most of the way through my online business course; I have a Marketing Plan and about three-quarters of a Business Plan; I've written a lot of the text for my website. But I'm having to really push myself over every step.

It's not the work involved. The work is not a problem. The trouble is that I have my self-image, my little mental picture of me... and then I have a little mental picture of A Self-Employed Businesswoman... and there's no way I can manage to superimpose the two. I'm not a shoulder-pads kind of girl, you know? That's part of why I'm setting up as an assistant... I keep wondering who exactly I am trying to kid by calling myself a business.

Anyway, there was a major panic this afternoon when my new Business Advisor asked me about my planned start date and told me that the "HMRC definition is once you have set up your website or have got anything with your name on it – i.e. business card, letterhead, leaflet, etc you are in the eyes of HMRC starting to trade," and I went AWOOOGA! because I've been getting ready piece by piece and have, for instance, set up a business banking account and a PO Box weeks ago, but I don't yet have several other important things like insurance or a tax reference number.

Thankfully I decided that if something is causing me that amount of upset, I should seek a second opinion, and HMRC's self-employment helpline allows me to go straight to source. Turns out it runs from when you have the ability to provide your goods or service and are "open for business". So in my case, since I would currently be telling a potential customer "sorry, I'm not quite ready yet," I have not started to trade, no matter how much of the setup I've got in place.


However, it has given me a bit of a kick up the bum about the whole thing. As a result of which, I am eagerly awaiting some insurance quotes and doing my best to remember that all I have to do as a first stage is meet the legal minimum requirements - nobody expects me to become SuperBusinessWoman overnight and the shoulder pads are truly optional.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Medical Examination

So, Disability Living Allowance, also known as DLA and a great source of both help and stress. To recap, this is the money given to disabled people regardless of income or work status, to help meet some of the unavoidable extra costs associated with disability, from wheelchairs to incontinence pads to home delivery fees to Meals On Wheels. It's split into Care and Mobility components, awarded at different levels depending on the extent of difficulty you have with each of these aspects.

Now, a quick timeline. I applied for DLA again in February 2008. I was turned down and asked for an appeal. This took until October 2008 to arrange. I won and a backdated award was made, for two years starting from February 2008 when I had first applied. So the award expires in February 2010.

As such, I got a renewal pack in October 2009 - they give you plenty of time so that you have a chance to access support from the Citizen's Advice Bureau or similar organisations. In November I sent off the completed renewal pack, including:
  • Their 40-page form, completed with the basic and general answers.

  • A typed 26-page document giving the more detailed answers they ask you to provide to their questions, including information about good and bad days, equipment I use and how I use it, support I receive and so on, because these answers just don't fit into answer-spaces the size of a credit card on the form.

  • A copy of my current medication and equipment prescriptions.

  • A copy of my Social Services care plan and contact details for my social worker, occupational therapist, GP, Access to Work adviser and everyone else associated with my disability needs.

  • A statement from Steve as someone who lives with me.

  • A statement from my PA as a person who is paid to look after me.

  • A medical report from the ME/CFS specialist who formally assessed and diagnosed me.

In addition they will have written to my GP for her opinion, and she will have written back in support of my application, just like she did last time.

But they say that they "do not have enough information."

They want me to be examined by a doctor from ATOS healthcare next week.

I'm not entirely sure what that doctor is supposed to discover in his 20-60 minute session that has not already been provided in my own testimony and corroborated by several different types of person associated with my care. Especially considering that there are no easy or visible diagnostic criteria for ME/CFS. It's not like counting the limbs of someone who claimed on their form to have had two legs amputated and going "yep, looks like you are right after all". Variable and invisible conditions are a little more complicated.

He will be coming to my house, so I have a glimmer of hope that he just wants to check that I do have the assistive devices I claimed to use and that they're not covered in dust, that my to-do list doesn't include renewing my subscription to Hill Walker Weekly, and that I say "ow" often enough.

But even though I tell myself this... even though I know I successfully appealed once and can do it again if I have to... even though I know I have not lied on my forms... even though I know the doctor will get paid regardless of what he says about me... I've known a few too many people with a few too many horror stories about medical examinations for benefits purposes, up to and including doctors getting a claimant's condition wrong, writing down things they had not asked about and could not possibly have observed, bullying claimants into signing blank forms, and in one memorable instance, ticking the wrong gender box.

I think it's like when people are pregnant, and everyone comes forward with the stories of six weeks of labour, of a hundred stitches inside and out, of the midwife being busy and the cleaner having to do an emergency C-section using only a biro... and even though you know it probably won't happen to you, it preys on your mind. What I could do with right now, if anyone has the time, is a few comments saying "I had an ATOS medical examination, it wasn't a problem, the doctor was on time, he was nice, he listened to what I said before writing it down, let me take my time, and a few weeks later I was given an indefinite award at what I feel was the correct level."


Friday, January 08, 2010

Winter Heating

As some of you may have noticed, it's been rather chilly in the UK lately. At the risk of stating the obvious, this has an impact on people who can't keep themselves warm properly. There are all sorts of reasons why a person might have trouble keeping warm, but the main ones are connected to age or illness. For instance, there are conditions and medications that play havoc with your 'internal thermostat', there's the issue of poor circulation, there's the issue of being unable to move about enough to adequately boost your circulation, and of course there's the issue of poverty, which disproportionately affects elderly and disabled people.

Never fear, the BBC reassured us:
... the government said it would be making cold winter payments because temperatures had been low enough for vulnerable people to qualify... ...Minister Helen Goodman said: "The payments are automatic so everyone entitled will get them and should not worry about turning up their heating."

But who is entitled?

Well, there's two different payments. The first is the Winter Fuel Allowance. This is for all UK residents over the age of 60 and is made every winter. It is automatically paid for anyone on a state pension or pension credit, other people who are old enough can apply for it separately regardless of wealth. The payment is between £125 and £400 per person depending on your exact age and how many people are in your household, and has an effective minimum of £250 per household.

The second is the Cold Weather Payment. This is more complicated. More people can get it. There's the pensioners (again, and on top of the Winter Fuel Allowance already recieved). Then there's people on Income Support, Jobseekers' Allowance or ESA who also have a child under five, or a pension or disability premium added to their basic eligibility.

However instead of being paid every winter, it is only paid when there has been a "period of extreme cold weather", defined as seven consecutive days on which the average daily temperature at your postcode's weather station was zero or below. If this happens, a payment of £25 is added to your benefit for each seven-day period.

If there are six days where the temperature is below freezing, and then one day where it creeps up to one or two degrees above, and then another six days of freezing - no payment. You do not need extra heating in this circumstance.

If your child over five is sent home from school, and you have to heat the house during the day for their sake - no payment. You do not need extra heating in this circumstance.

If you are disabled in a way that affects your body's ability to keep warm, but instead of being at home and claiming benefit, you are working from home (either permanently, or because you cannot get into your workplace in the snow) - no payment. You do not need extra heating in this circumstance.

Today Helen Goodman, the Minister for Work and Pensions, was supposed to answer questions in a No 10 webchat. This was keenly followed over on Ouch! and Twitter and unsurprisingly we were all left disappointed. Polite, well-typed and specific policy questions like "What is the specific reason for Winter Fuel Payments not being available to the most vulnerable disabled people as well as pensioners, please?" were ignored in favour of the type of questions that are already very easily answered with a quick search of DirectGov, the type of questions that allowed the Minister to promote the Warm Front Scheme, or questions about individual circumstances such as this gem:
hi this Cold Weather Payment is it for everyone as on the directgov web page its as if u have kids under 5 in witch i have 2 kids under 5 so would that mean i get the Cold Weather Payment x

Helen replies:
If you are on Income Support and you have a child under 5 years old, you will get a Cold Weather Payment. The same applies if you are on income based Jobseekers Allowance, with a child under 5.

Quite how people like "melita" have the capacity to find out about, submit questions to, and watch a government webcast, yet were unable to contact their local Jobcentres to check their specific eligibility, is beyond me.

Disabled people were told that they already get Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to pay for increased heating costs. It's quite astounding the amount of shortfall that DLA is meant to cover. As Lisy put it:
We're only granted DLA for "care" and "mobility". There's no "heating component" of DLA or an "any other costs" component of DLA. Please explain how we're supposed to pay for heating if all our Mobility component is taken by Motability and all our care component is taken by Social Services?

Another question there that, unsurprisingly, the Minister chose to not answer.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A little treat

So, there's this service I sometimes use called e-resistible. They enable online ordering for takeaways who would not otherwise offer an online ordering service. The menus are all collected on their website. You just type in your postcode and you get a list of outlets that will deliver to you, plus their opening times and current estimated delivery time. My postcode currently offers two Chinese, three Indian, one Thai, one Pizza, and one general burger/kebab/etc vendor.

You choose a takeaway, their menu is presented to you, you assemble your order and submit it along with your address and preferred delivery time. You can choose to pay by cash or by credit card (useful when you can't always get to an ATM). I also like using it when trying to order a takeaway for several people. Having a neat and tidy list on the left of the screen of what is on the order, with itemised prices and a running total as things get added and taken away, makes life SO much easier than the back-of-an-envelope version which is more akin to herding cats.

I mentioned e-resistible on another website I frequent, during a discussion about what to do if the people who help you with things like cooking are incapacitated by 'flu or similar. They noticed the clickthroughs and they gave me a little Christmas present - a multi-use discount code, to share with my friends, that will take 10% off the total cost of an order.

The code is: MARY123 and you type it into the 'discount code' box on the payment screen.

Unfortunately it will only work with orders paid for by card, but it's valid for use as many times as we like until 31st January 2010. I tried it out and it works. Happy eating!