In light of the recent High Court judgement regarding the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and the campaigners decision to press onwards…Today we are discussing coping with benefits agencies.
I’ve heard stories of people literally sick with fear when the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)* envelope comes through the door, and people too scared to open their letters.
Forms can be hard and scary, but there are things that can make the whole process easier. I’ve made a list of essential strategies just for you:
1. Don’t drown in the paperwork.
Get a box and put all the paperwork in it. Don’t have it draped across your desk/bed/sofa/floor/world.
Box it up and relegate it to the corner, then deal with little bites at a time when you are feeling up to it.
Otherwise you can end up just a scared mess under scarier forms.
2. Accept that this is a different world to that which you have encountered before and it doesn’t necessarily make sense to you.
Stop trying to make sense of the forms and rules.
Big bureaucracies can be like that. I don’t have the solution to the overall problem but I know it does make it easier to just accept things are strange and work within them. Otherwise you are just wasting energy being frustrated about things that don’t make sense in the first place and that you can’t change right now, this moment anyway.
3. Go outside the box. You don’t fit into a box in real life so why should you on a form?
In every box on my form it had a sentence or so and then ‘please see attached notes’. I didn’t return a form to the government I sent back a dossier. That’s ok. Take the space you need to explain. Try to be as concise as possible – you have bored, overworked people reading these forms. But if the form asks for your symptoms and gives a 2 inch space when you have a 10 page list simply staple your list to it.
4. Needing benefits is not a criminal offence, it’s not wrong, you are not a scrounger or a parasite.
As an innocent person you may struggle as the benefits agencies often treat you like a benefit fraudster until you prove otherwise.
They also (apparently) routinely turn down first applications and think if you really need the money you will apply again. This is pre-supposing that you can and have enough money to live on now to last through the lengthy application process twice over.
5. Make a medical folder early on, and take it to every official appointment.
Start by putting everything in it so you always have what you need with you, as you get further along you can get file dividers and get organised. Just begin.
6. Be polite, it must be a challenging job and besides you want them to like you as much as possible rather than hate you.
It’s not the person at the call centre’s fault that you don’t like government policy on disability and illness. Be as nice as you can – everyone has struggles.
7. Reward yourself for each question you answer.
Forms are tough, give yourself a treat or a reward for every one you get through. Self care works (thanks Claire for this tip).
8. Photocopy everything.
I mean every single thing you send to them and keep records, this is your proof. How can I put this… sometimes files and forms go missing. If you keep your own records then if you are asked to start again you can just pull out your photocopies. Most printers/scanners nowadays also have photocopying capabilities. Also photocopy the form first and try doing a draft, reading it over and giving yourself some time before committing to the form itself (thanks June for this tip).
9. Send everything special delivery.
Just because then you have proof, and you know your letter arrived.
10. Get help.
There are those who have done it before you and succeeded – learn from them.
* The funny thing is, ‘dwp’ means stupid or nonsense in welsh.
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