Disabled Benefit Cheats – A Tale of our Times

In 2004 Marianne Prior took ill.  This was a shock in itself as she had never suffered any significant illness during her 52 years.   She had started work at the age of fifteen, married at 23, raised two sons, and apart from a short spell when her children were infants, had worked all her life.  Now the manageress of a shoe shop, she commanded a good salary, and with her husband enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle.   She paid her taxes  and contributed fully to society.

Her doctors diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis, but Marianne continued to work at the shop and at home just as she had, making no allowance for her illness.

However, by 2009 the illness was taking its toll, and Marianne began to suffer to an almost intolerable degree from joint pain, fatigue, exhaustion and difficulty in walking, standing, lifting and carrying.  She was often in constant pain.

Marianne battled on, although by now her life consisted of working, eating and sleeping as she tried to retain sufficient energy to do her job.   Eventually, she gave in and went to see her GP.

Her GP immediately signed her off work, and very soon the certificates were for 12 weeks at a time.   Marianne’s company and area manager were very sympathetic and helped in every way possible, but eventually the company sick absence policy moved to dismissal and ill health retirement.

As part of that process Marianne was seen by a doctor who is an OHU specialist on behalf of the company.  His report confirmed that Marianne was unfit for work and that in his opinion no workplace adjustments could be made that would allow her to continue to work for the company.   A few months later Marianne was dismissed on grounds of ill health.

In the meantime, as her company sick pay and SSP had run out, Marianne applied for contributions based ESA.  She did this online, completing a comprehensive 25 page document.

A few days later, she received a telephone call and was subjected to a 55 minute telephone interview, covering all the points answered and certified as correct in the online form.

A short time later forms completed during the telephone interview arrived for checking and signature.  Marianne corrected several glaring errors.  The corrections were ignored and a short time later Marianne was informed that she was not eligible for ESA as her household income was too high.  It is worth noting that contributions based ESA for which Marianne is eligible is not means tested.

Marianne tried to point this out to DWP, but letters and telephone calls were ignored, and DWP insisted Marianne’s claim was income based as she had insufficient contributions despite working continuously since 1989 when she returned to work after having her family.

Marianne contacted the Citizens Advice Service, and after great difficulty they were able to convince DWP that Marianne was eligible to receive Contributions Based ESA based on facts available to DWP from Marianne’s initial online application.

Once ESA began to be paid, Marianne then entered the ESA system.  Guided by the Citizens Advice Service she completed the Health Assessment Form, and a few months later attended a Work Capability Assessment at Dumfries where she was seen by an ATOS doctor, a relatively recently qualified man who is on the GP register.   Marianne was accompanied by her husband.

The Assessment seemed to go well.  Marianne is a feisty lady who does not give in easily to adversity.  She answered the doctor’s questions and his physical examination seemed positive.

As part of the examination Marianne was asked if she could pick an object up off the floor.   With great difficulty she got down to the floor on both knees and was then able to lift the imaginary object, but was unable to get back up without considerable assistance from the doctor.

Marianne was asked to lie down on an examination couch.  To assist her getting onto this high couch, the doctor placed a set of two steps beside the couch. Marianne was able to scramble up onto the couch using the steps supporting herself on the couch as she did so.  Basically she crawled onto the couch.

The doctor then carried out some tests on her joints then walked away.  Marianne’s husband assisted her down from the couch as she could not get down from it unaided.

The examination then ended, which according to the doctor’s own records, had lasted 28 Minutes.

Marianne was amazed when a few days later she received a copy of the Medical Assessment which showed she had no work limitations, and despite being signed off by her GP, should immediately seek work.

What was worse, it seemed to Marianne that the doctor who examined her was either incompetent or dishonest.  In his report he showed he had observed Marianne sitting without discomfort for 30 minutes.   Yet the examination was logged as lasting 28 minutes, and for about 10 minutes Marianne was being examined by the doctor, not sitting on the chair.

The doctor recorded Marianne had been able to pick up an item from the floor.  He did not make any mention of the difficulty she had getting bdown on her knees to accomplish this task, or the fact he had to assist her to get back up.

The doctor reported that Marianne got onto the examination couch without difficulty.  He did not mention she needed assistance to get back down from the examination couch.

Needless to say, any faith Marianne had in the medical profession has now been completely destroyed.

Various documents arrived during the following days, all in the same vein, and DWP stopped her ESA payments.

On the advice of CAS, DWP staff and Jobcentre+ staff she is now appealing the decision, but is now very cynical about the whole process, which rather than weed out the fraudsters, seems deliberately targeted to discourage the genuine applicant who has a work ethic and a conscience.

Marianne is particularly shocked at the cynicism and dishonesty of the doctor who examined her on behalf of DWP.  She is however now aware of hundreds of complaints nationwide to DWP, ATOS and the General  Medical Council about the conduct of individual doctors during these examinations.   Her GP continues to sign her off as he tells her she is unfit to work.

Marianne can only now wait for her appeal.  She knows that 79% of appeals are successful, although one chairman has a near 100% record of supporting DWP decisions.

So next time you read or hear about Benefit Cheats, analyse the story and remember that most claimants fully qualify for their benefits.  Unfortunately, the fraudsters are harder to catch, so DWP concentrates on discouraging genuine applicants.

Names have been changed in this article to protect the innocent and the guilty.

Latest........

But this is a tale with a happy ending.   Earlier this week, six months after DWP decided Marianne was fit for work and should not receive ESA, her appeal was heard.

The evidence in support of Marianne's case was so overwhelming that the judge stopped the proceedings after five minutes and overuled the DWP decision.

Marianne will now receive full rate ESA, until DWP decide to pick on her again!

Breaking News.....

Exactly six months after her successful appeal, ATOS sent Marianne an ESA50 form to complete, starting once again the cycle of harrassment of a woman with an incurable condition which will never improve, but will deteriorate.

The ESA50 form clearly stated Marianne's disabilities, but she has nevertheless been given an appointment for another Workplace Capability Assessment (WCA).

About a month later Marianne attended her WCA.  This time she was examined by a nurse,

Wiser now, she handed the ATOS Nurse her hospital appointments and specialist reports before the examination.   The ATOS report gave Marianne enough 'points' so her ESA is safe for another year, although now she must attend work focussed interviews on a monthly basis, lest her condition miraculously improves.  To attend the interviews she must travel 16 miles although she does receive travel expenses.

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