In February 2014 I applied for Employment Support Allowance when my sick pay ran out, initially you are placed on a assessment rate for the first thirteen weeks whilst you are waiting to be seen. Then once you have been assessed you are placed into one of two groups either the support group, for people who are too ill to work, or the work related activity group, for people who should be actively looking for work but need help. The weeks turned into months, I kept calling the Department of Work and Pensions and they said the same thing time and time again my file was with ATOS and doctors were assessing the information. In February this year my ESA ran out, I was only entitled to 365 days worth, I received a letter telling me it was stopping and resigned myself to the fact that despite not having had an assessment that was the end of the matter. However a few days later another letter arrived telling me I had a medical to attend, now that is irony for you. My benefit ends and now they want to medically assess me.
The day of the assessment arrived, we were heading off to the meeting in Reading and just before we got on the motorway I got the call to tell me it was cancelled. I wasn’t surprised I had heard via online forums that this sort of thing happened all the time. So another appointment arrived in the post, yep you guessed it that was cancelled too, third appointment arrived, the only difference was this was a morning appointment. I spent two days thinking this isn’t going to happen and then the morning of the meeting was awake at 5am thinking should I ring the centre to check before we sit in a lot of traffic? I didn’t bother in the end, we just made our way over and checked in for the 10am appointment.
After an hour and a half wait the lady on reception came and had a chat, she thought a nurse would be assessing me but something had flagged in my file, so a doctor needed to see me, unfortunately they only had one available that day so it would be about another half an hour wait. Well we had been waiting since 10am so there was nothing more we could do and the DWP have you over a barrel really. I just wanted this over and done with!
Finally the doctor came out and called me through, he was really pleasant, we went through to his consulting room and he explained the process of what would be happening. His role was to decide if I was fit to work in my current condition that day, he fully understood my form had been completed some 14 months previously so information may have changed so this was my chance to update the DWP with anything I needed them to know. He would then make a recommendation to the powers that be about my health, my condition and suggest which group I fall into. In fact he would go and make that call whilst I was still in the building.
We chatted about the PoTs as that was all I had explained on the form, so I immediately updated him about my Ehlers-Danlos diagnosis, straight away he was talking about secondary symptoms and issues. He knew all about the condition, it was amazing, he explained he used to work in orthopaedics so had seen various cases. He was then asking if I struggled with brain fog, bladder problems and other issues, I confirmed all of them. He was typing up a report at the same time as talking to us and when we finished he read it back to us. He asked if we were happy with that and agreed with everything he had written, it was fine, just as we had discussed.
He asked me to do some very careful movements with my arms but my left arm was not co-operating, he could see how much pain it was causing me. He took my blood pressure and pulse and stated they were ok for sitting down, how quickly would they change, I said if I stood it would be immediate but my vision would blacken and syncope would start, he didn’t want that, so made notes to that effect
He left to make a call, took a pile of my consultants letter for copying to support my ESA application and came back a few moments later. That was it, he once again apologised for our long wait and hoped the assessment hadn’t exhausted me too much.
So now we wait for the decision, obviously there is some back pay to come for the variance between the assessment rate and the correct rate you are meant to receive, so that will help pay some bills, also there is a disability premium which should be relevant.
For a year I have been on a forum and I have watched with fear as people tell scare stories about their assessments, about wrong decisions, about how rubbish ATOS are, about tribunals and appeals. When I had my PIP it was nothing like I expected, a lovely lady came to my home (I didn’t even ask for a home visit), she didn’t trick me, try and trip me up, she was just nice and she told the truth, I got enhanced rate on both! Now I’ve had an ESA assessment, ok so its been slow, but they are overworked, they are trying to catch out benefit cheats, so if it takes a little bit longer to get to me, I totally understand, the ATOS people have been nice and kind and I can’t personally fault them yet, then again will I be saying that when the decision comes through?