As a carer sooner or later the minefield of benefits has to be crossed. You may have recently seen figures in the press putting benefit fraud at around £5bn a year so if there's that much fraud it must be easy to get them. Well you'd have thought so...
Firstly that £5bn figure. It's a distortion at best and a lie at worst. Something like £1.5bn of that was actual fraud, the rest being genuine mistakes made by both claimants and by the officials involved. But there's another figure of around £16bn that got little publicity – that is the amount of unclaimed benefits per year. Why so much? Well that's down to the ridiculous system and maybe our current situation goes a little way to explaining that.
Around 6 months ago I applied for carers benefit. My son was on full DLA (Disabled Living Allowance) so I was fully entitled, and frankly the money would be handy (little as it is). I applied and after various delays with them wanting more paperwork from me and other things a few weeks ago I got a 'judgement'. I wasn't entitled to it from the date I applied as it was now too late (!) but it would be backdated three months. Then the shock – I wasn't entitled to anything for that period as my son didn't get a 'qualifying benefit'. What? Two hours, and countless phone calls to different (frankly indifferent) departments later, I found out his benefit had been changed last November (to incapacity benefit) without us being told at all – and no one could explain why. Worse than that the incapacity benefit had been stopped a few weeks earlier as we hadn't replied to a letter we never received. Yup, with our 100% reliable postal system not replying to one letter is enough to stop a handicapped person's benefits. So, rather than finding out what I was going to get I was told that not only was I not going to get anything but also that my son's benefits had been stopped.
OK. Calm down. Breathe.
The local Mental Health department has a benefits helpline so not really having much of a clue about benefits I gave them a call to find out exactly what we should claim. Now you'd thing a helpline connected to a Mental Health department would have a clue, wouldn't you? I made that mistake as well.
Firstly he kept talking about making the claim over the phone. I explained that because of my son's phobias he can't talk on the phone. I was told that he only had to confirm basics and that I could do the rest. I explained that because of my son's phobias he can't talk on the phone. He then told me that was fine as he would only have to confirm his name/address. I explained that because of my son's phobias he can't talk on the phone. But he doesn't have to talk much was his reply. I explained that because of my son's phobias he can't talk on the phone. I also put another head sized dent in the wall.
Eventually he seemed to understand that because of my son's phobias he can't talk on the phone. As there were two different benefits to apply for this meant having to phone and deal with two completely different departments and he gave me both numbers. Ok, getting somewhere.
Knowing what benefits my son could get the next question was what could I get. I was told the only thing I could apply for (until my son's benefits were sorted) was Job Seekers Allowance. I pointed out that surely as that depended on me actually seeking a job what was the point? He said there must be some time I can work as my son didn't need 24/7 care – and this was without him having a clue as to Jr's condition. I pointed out that he did need that level of support so what could I do? Apply for Job Seekers Allowance was the answer again, so again I pointed out that there was no point as I wouldn't qualify. He then started getting stroppy with phrases like 'How can I help you if you don't do what I say?'. I politely asked what was the point of wasting time applying for something that I couldn't get and was told I had to because that was all he knew.
Oh dear. Rather gave up on him.
I phoned the numbers for my son's forms and waited for them to arrive. I've run businesses before so how hard could a little form be?
I'll tell you next post.