Read me first. It’s important.
March 3 2010 Just thought I’d share this with you http://wp.me/peDjy-15W
I’m hearing tales of peoples’ dismal experience with DLA claims, so I thought I’d offer some advice based on my own experience. I’ve also thrown ESA into the mix, as some things are applicable no matter what the benefit.
The first thing I’d say is that, beyond asking for a claim pack, stay off the phone. You don’t need to do even that much, as you can actually download a DLA claim form, to complete on your computer from http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/FinancialSupport/DG_10011925
The form you want is headed “Download a claim form to complete on your computer” and the one you want is the first listed under that heading. It’s an editable PDF form, so you need Adobe’s Acrobat Reader to use it, but virtually all computers have a version installed when new anyway, though you may need to update it if you haven’t used it much. It’s free, by the way.
Downloading the form is an excellent idea as you can tinker with the it until you get it right, and you’ll have copy for your own records, too.
The claim process should go like this (more or less):-
Application – Medical exam (not always) – acceptance or rejection. If the latter then that’s followed by appeal and tribunal. At no point should it be necessary to contact the DWP by phone. In 23 years on disability benefits, I reckon I’ve had very few phone conversations, and these have just been routine stuff, not discussing claims. And DLA is never so urgent that you must phone (for Incapacity Benefit you may occasionally need to phone, if something goes wrong, ditto ESA, which they much prefer to process entirely by phone – don’t get sucked in**).
I’m seeing reports, too, that DLA office staff are telling people their claim has no merit, as they’re under-medicated for the degree of illness they’re describing – the clear implication is that they’re lying. This is totally unacceptable. Clerical Officers – the people at the sharp end of anything to do with benefits – simply do not have the medical knowledge to be able to make such an assessment and, anyway, people are infinitely variable, and a medication regime which suits say, me (16 different drugs daily), may not suit you, and vice versa. It’s become clear to me that some people actually are under-medicated, but that’s a matter for them and their doctors, it’s bugger all to do with some desk-jockey at the DWP.
However, unacceptable or not, it’s become a fact of life, so before applying it might be worthwhile asking your GP for a medication review – tell them why, too.
**You can, by the way, get an ESA claim form here
The one you want is headed “Downloading a claim form” and you want the saveable, interactive form, plus the guidance notes. As above, you need Acrobat Reader.
I’ve always done everything by letter (faxed or mailed). Faxing is my first choice, because Windows XP has its own little fax applet and, as long as your PC has a modem, you just connect it to the phone line and you’re in business. Far more convenient than having to go out to post letters in the rain, and/or queue for stamps at the Post Office.
If you don’t know about the fax applet, get back to me – it’s easy. And the DWP doesn’t release fax numbers by default, so you may have to call and ask for one. Do NOT get drawn into a conversation other than to say you want it to send them a letter, as you find it difficult to get out to mail one – or whatever suits your situation. If they get pushy, don’t be afraid to say that you won’t discuss it by phone, as you want a written record of everything that passes between you, as is your right.
These days, if you talk to benefits people, not only will your phone call be recorded (though if you record it at your end, you’ll be breaking the law – don’t let that stop you if you know how, though), your voice may also be analysed by computer, which monitors stress in your voice and decides if you’re lying or not. And who, discussing a benefit claim that will dramatically affect their life, would NOT be stressed? I work on the assumption that this system has been rolled out across the benefits system; better safe than sorry, even if I’m wrong.
So it’s in your best interests not to phone if you can possibly avoid it, and never to ask “Where’s my claim, then?” – this will not endear you to someone with a 2-foot stack of claims on their desk. Benefits office staff are under a lot of pressure, and if you’re their 20th phone call, they probably won’t be at their best. It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that they’re not on your side. They shouldn’t be against you either – they should be 100% neutral but, increasingly, I’m hearing that staff are often unhelpful, even hostile, so it’s best not to get involved lest you are provoked into saying something you’ll later regret.
When you fill in the form, focus on the bad stuff, as that’s what’s screwing up your life – if there is any good stuff, forget it. The gold standard for DLA is your inability to walk, so don’t guess at this. Once question asks how far you can walk in one minute. I would have guessed at 40-50 metres, but I put a stop-watch on myself, and it turned out to be less than 40 metres, and had I stuck with my guess I’d have talked myself out of benefit. The first question in that section asks how far you can walk without feeling severe discomfort. If, like me, you can’t stand without pain (or, with respiratory illness, without wheezing and being short of breath), then the answer is Not at all. Don’t be tempted to flannel, just say what is.
Like me, you may find the form is inadequate, so if you have to give a long answer that won’t fit in the box. type your answer on a separate sheet of A4. In fact, I did that for almost the entire form for both DLA (Mobility Allowance when I got mine), and Incapacity Benefit. They’re perfectly happy with this, you just need to put your name and NI number at the top of each sheet, and index the answers to the questions.
Basic rule of DLA and probably ESA too – don’t explain too much. If it enhances your apparent disability, explain. If it makes you look better, don’t. For example, the Lower Care payment depends on one question – if provided with the ingredients, can you cook a meal? If in your case, the answer is No, just say No. Don’t say, for example, No, but if someone helps me, I can, because that will count as Yes. As will, for example, Mostly no, but occasionally I can. It shouldn’t, but it does. So don’t explain, just say No to that one, if no is appropriate.
The same logic applies to most other questions. If, by any chance, you have occasional good days, keep them to yourself. That’s not dishonest, you’re not claiming because you occasionally feel a little better, you’re claiming because you mostly feel like shit, and are disabled. Good days, if they happen, just cloud the issue, so forget them.
The rest is just common sense. If you’ve downloaded an application form – and even if you haven’t (though you should, if for no other reason than you’ll have a copy for yourself), this isn’t something you should rush into. Take your time, and get it right. Of course, with the downloaded form you can rewrite it as often as you feel necessary.
I would also recommend talking to your GP and any consultants or others that you see on a regular basis, and make sure they know about your claim, and that they’re on board. You don’t want them coming down against you in a fit of pique because you didn’t keep them in the loop.
Finally, if for any reason you still insist on a paper form, once you’ve completed it, get a friend with a computer to scan it for you, or get it photocopied. It’s essential that you have a copy so you can remember exactly what you said. And never, ever, lie. If you feel you have to lie, then your claim probably isn’t justified anyway. If you’re tempted to lie just to enhance a perfectly good claim, don’t, because if you’re found out it’ll trash your claim. It’s an offence, too, and you may get a hefty fine, to boot. And, of course, you’ll just reinforce the Daily Mail’s belief that claimants are a bunch of chisellers. So don’t bloody do it, OK!