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I have recently fallen under the scrutiny of the DWP and fully expect my benefits to be stopped at any moment. So to set the ball rolling, here is my story.
My story began when I found out by accident that I may be entitled to something called Incapacity Benefit (I.B.) A friend of mine who works part time for the CAB drew my attention to this fact and advised me to contact my local Jobcentre. I did, completed the necessary paperwork over the telephone, waited best part of 2 weeks for the hard copy to arrive, then promptly signed and returned it by hand (they have an awful habit of going astray in the post) to my local Jobcentre. Within 6 weeks I had received my first payment and to my surprise was able backdate my claim by 3 months.
Within 2 weeks of this I was then asked to attend a “Pathways to work interview” where I would be advised of any other benefits I could claim, training I could access and would be offered guidance and assistance in searching for work.
My first interview was a very uncomfortable one hour long during which I was clearly nothing but a number/statistic to the person who was allegedly my advisor. My advisors sole aim was to have me off his/her books, and the sooner the better. No matter what I said I was contradicted, even when I suggested I may be able to return to full time work sooner than he/she thought? I realised within five minutes I wasn’t going to win so I stopped trying and reduced my replies to monosyllable answers wherever I could. This was where I found out I may be required to attend a medical examination, it was expertly slipped into the conversation and was followed up with a reassuring “but I’ve never heard of any of my clients losing their benefits”. Is this just unprofessional or did my advisor feel the need to say this to avoid any awkward questions the subject of a medical, or loss of benefits might raise in the clients mind?
Sure enough, the next week (week 8 from the first day of my claim) I received the not unexpected IB50 form and accompanying letter threatening me with loss of benefits if I failed to complete and return it by a specified date. I duly completed the form and whilst waiting until 5 working days before the deadline to post it, I received a reminder containing the obligatory threat of lost benefits, note, I had 20 days to complete the form, hadn’t even posted it and they were threatening me? I couldn’t believe it. So I rang them (on the premium rate number they gave me) and explained that I would be posting it shortly and well within their recommended time scale. I was advised that the letter I received was a “courteous reminder” aimed at reducing the danger of a client losing their benefits! A likely story.
I had made the fatal mistake of giving my home telephone number on my application and received a call one Saturday morning to inform me that an appointment had been made for my medical examination which would take place 3 weeks from the time of the call. A letter confirming this would be sent out by way of official confirmation.
This is a breakdown of the events on that day
Access to the building
My examination took place at a DWP office in Sunderland City Centre, I was given a map (Conveniently printed on the back of the appointment letter, which the DWP keep when you attend) which indicated the nearest car park was well over 50M away from their location. Knowing Sunderland pretty well I was aware of limited disabled parking facilities on Union Street within 15 M of the building, Disabled parking the DWP conveniently neglected to mention in their letter giving directions. If you do not have a disabled badge, access is still available providing you can get someone to drop you off in Union St, that way you can actually get within 10M of the door. I asked a friend of mine to do this for me knowing the underhanded methods used by the DWP.
In this case, disabled access for those who are wheelchair users, Agoraphobic or Claustrophobic is not easy and I would like to take this opportunity to point out that you can have an examination at home, providing you have a legitimate medical reason for this, so, if you use a wheelchair, have been diagnosed as Agoraphobic or Claustrophobic this option may be open to you. The entrance to the DWP medical examination centre in Sunderland City Centre is located at 60 The Bridges and is opposite (slightly to the left as you come out of the station entrance) the Metro station. Entry is via a controlled security entry phone, placed low on the wall (where they assess your ability to bend) at the left of the entrance. Once inside the foyer you will see a lift immediately ahead of you, it is approximately 1.5M square and has a low ceiling, the door will barely accommodate a wheelchair. To your immediate left there is a narrow staircase which I could not investigate fully and would appreciate some details of i.e. does it go directly to the floor above, Does it turn back on itself, are there any landings, are the handrails any use, and fitted to both sides of the staircase, how many steps are there and is it well lit all the way up? Please feel free to answer these questions via the blog or the forum http://www.dwpexamination.org
When you arrive at the first floor you enter a larger foyer where there are several toilets, these are not for your use so don’t bother asking for the key to the disabled toilet, you will be wasting your time. The toilets you have access to are in the waiting room and are very small and enclosed. The receptionist will take your letter, ask you to sign and date a declaration form, and if you want to claim expenses, Note: this is all part of the game and is an assessment of your ability to follow instructions, read, write and to see how long they can keep you standing there. Plus if you claim parking expenses they assume you were able to walk to their office from whichever car park your ticket comes from. Staff will report your performance to the Doctor.
The seats provided in the waiting area are low and uncomfortable to sit on, they have no arms and you are forced to twist to your left or right to get any support by using the back of the chair as you sit or when rising from them.
The (alleged) “Doctor” will usually call your name, he will watch you rise from your seat and walk into his examination room (this distance is measured and will appear on your medical report), where you will be offered the lowest possible seat he can find, usually without arms. Once inside the room he will attempt to put you at ease and off your guard by telling you how he will proceed. During the examination you will be asked questions about your health, home life, mental well being and whatever else he chooses. Some of these questions are at best dubious IE “what kind of car do you have”, “Who do you do your shopping with?”. I asked what that had to do with my physical examination, he didn’t reply. Once your interrogation is over he will then examine you physically, Note: he must ask if he can examine you. He will make you do things which may seem pointless to you but are designed to prove you have the necessary level of movement/mobility he requires to stop your benefit claim. If you try to speak you will be interrupted, when he asks you questions he will ignore your answers, and by the time the examination is over he will dismiss you like a naughty child.
So what is going on here? And more to the point what can you do?
First, be absolutely sure you are able to attend the medical examination on the day and at the time they require. If you cant you are within your rights to ask for an alternative date and time however, you will be required to provide this information. You are also entitled to ask for a Doctor of the same sex as yourself for example, you may be a Muslim Woman and being examined by a man would be inappropriate.
Note: the DWP say, and I quote;
“Please note it (Note: they dont even use the term medical examination)is different from a normal medical examination-it is not to diagnose or discuss treatment of your medical condition”. Why on earth do they call it a medical then? And more interestingly what is its purpose other than to make a liar of you and stop your benefits?
“You may be asked to remove some items of your clothing?”
“Your time with the Health Care ‘Professional’ is usually between 20 and 60 minutes”.
The Health Care ‘Professional’ will want to know;
· how your medical condition and/or mental health affects you in doing every day tasks.
· If your illness or disability varies?
The report he/she completes will be forwarded to the office dealing with your claim or entitlement, where a ‘decision maker’ will use the medical report (ESA85) as the one (and only) source of information in deciding your entitlement. They will also consider (Ignore) all other evidence available to them, including your own statement and any reports provided by others such as your G.P. You can provide additional evidence to the decision maker dealing with your entitlement.
Second, you are entitled to have a representative with you during the examination; this can be anyone you like. The DWP will provide someone to be present if you so wish?
Ideally this person should be someone who has medical experience and appropriate qualifications, a union representative, Care officer, social worker or any other suitably qualified person. They should have with them the following items if possible
Pen /pencil and note paper/book (So notes can be made during the examination If they tell you note taking during a medical examination is illegal take a look at this site http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/content/view/110/94/ ) or better still, look here http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/5
Watch (To time the medical examination)
Your companion should object/intercede if you suffer any ill effects as a result of the examination, you are entitled to take time to recover.
It may be worth asking your companion to take a mobile phone or camera (Switched off until required of course) with them, they may have to use it to take pictures if you have an accident or become ill as a result of your examination.
Take a Dictaphone with you and ask the Doctor if you can record the examination? He may not object.
Once the examination is complete ring the office dealing with your claim and ask for a copy of the medical report, they can not refuse.
Here are some useful tips for those attending DWP medical examinations, they aren’t official and were generated by me after my recent degradation session oops! Medical examination with the DWP.
- You are under observation from the moment you come within sight of the building and remain so until you leave sight of the building.
- Once in the building your movements and voice are under observation, yes folks, they can hear every word you say when you are on their premises.
- Nothing is “Off the record”.
- Copy everything they send or give you, ask for a copy of anything you sign or are asked to read on the day.
- Keep accurate records of any correspondence or phone calls, I use something I call a contact sheet which I keep by the phone.
- Make notes during and after your examination
- Everything you say is taken into account.
- Insist the Doctor listens when you explain the nature of your disability, remember, he has no idea at all of your medical history and will not know how your disability affects you.
- Every action from entering the building to leaving is taken into account and is to be considered part of the examination.
- Allways assume that reception staff will report on your use of mobile phones, ipod, radio, movement/mobility, removing your jacket etc whilst you are in the waiting area.
- You will be given the lowest chair (without arms) they can provide during your examination unless you make prior arrangements, even then make sure it meets your needs during the examination.
- They will try to outwit you by asking the same question several times in different ways.
- They will not listen to a word you say.
- You are entitled to ask the Doctor to read his notes back to you and to challenge anything you think is not a true representation of the facts. Do this and you will find glaring inconsistencies.
- Do not volunteer any information except when it is to your benefit to do otherwise.*(see note below)
- Ask your companion to help you rise or sit or help you to remove or put on your clothing.
- Think before you move.
- Think before you answer any questions as they will be coming thick and fast.
- Tell the Doctor if you are in pain during the examination.
- Do not hesitate to complain if you think the information in the medical report is wrong, inaccurate or as in my case assumed and made up.
*Note: I answered Yes when asked “Do you like watching television”? The answer on my medical form reads “Likes to watch television every day. Generally prefers to watch the news and documentaries” This infers I can sit for long periods watching TV, He did not ask if I “sat” watching TV and obviously took no notice at all when I said I usually watch TV in the bedroom where I can lie on the bed?
In closing, if you can provide me with any details of any medical examination centre, photographs both inside and out, details of bad practice etc please don’t hesitate to contact me via the blog or the forum http://www.dwpexamination.org
Let’s protect our rights, benefits, families and ourselves by working together to expose bad practice.
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