Deborah Ruby, who had her ESA stopped, despite her multiple chronic health issues.
Deborah Ruby, who has had her ESA stopped, despite her multiple chronic health issues.
Deborah Ruby struggled into this London Trussell Trust food bank with her voucher. She’s a 51-year-old lady with multiple health issues. These include, but are not limited to, arthritis in the lower spine, hips, neck and knees, depression, severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome and congenital heart problems. She has been separated from her husband for 12 years and has four children – the youngest of whom is still at school.

A social worker gave her a voucher for the food bank after her employment and support allowance (ESA) was stopped on July 25. This stoppage followed her ATOS work capability assessment in June. Atos Healthcare is of course making an early exit from its contract to carry out “fit for work” tests on disability claimants. If Deborah’s experience is typical, the ATOS assessment process is if possible leading to ever more unfair outcomes for individuals. She describes the worst sort of bureaucratic bungling, and a medical report that appears to bear little resemblance to Deborah’s account of the ATOS medical interview it was based on.

Given what Deborah says happened at the medical, it’s hard to see how she wouldn’t succeed in her appeal. But the likelihood of a successful appeal at some future date isn’t any consolation to someone in her position. For nearly eight weeks she’s had no ESA and no money for food. Her sister – the only sibling who could help – had been able to offer some assistance over the summer. But now she’s had to go back to her home outside the UK. So last week Deborah hit a full-blown crisis – and has no idea if or when she will receive any benefits again. Now that her ESA has been stopped, her housing benefit has also been stopped – pushing her into arrears.

Deborah says she brought along a letter from her doctor to the Croydon medical, describing all her medical conditions. She says that at the medical, she was having so much difficulty moving around – she needs two knee replacement operations – that the doctor had to help her on and off the couch. She was in pain throughout the assessment.

The letter that followed informing her of the decision and the medical report was both contradictory and wrong, says Deborah. While there was a statement at the top of the letter from the Department for Work and Pensions saying that she would be receiving an award and that they would write to her in due course, the assessment and medical report contained in the correspondence told her that she had failed the medical and had in fact been given zero points. She would have needed 15 points to keep her ESA award. According to Deborah, “the report said she could get on and off the couch and she was not in pain, and it said I had no problems putting on my coat myself – but I didn’t have a coat with me. The assessment referred to my depression and other illnesses with the exception of fibromyalgia – but they feel that I’m fit for work. It referred to my incontinence, and she (the doctor) acknowledged that, but said that I can still go out. It seems that in the report they put down the things they wanted to put. The doctor’s report also says ‘she was well enough that she made it here’ and I feel she glossed over and downplayed everything.”

Though initially confused about the contradictory letter, Deborah said that when a follow-up letter did not arrive within a few days, she then sent back a copy of the assessment form as part of an appeal, indicating where she disagreed with the doctor’s assessment. The DWP sent a letter back saying that it had read her challenge, but that it agreed with the ATOS decision. It told her to apply for jobseeker’s allowance (JSA). She has been back to her GP to get medical certificates saying that she cannot attend work-related programmes or work because of her health, and an NHS psychologist is also liaising with her GP ahead of the appeal. Meanwhile, Deborah is having to deal with letters from the council about her stopped housing benefits.

While it at least appears as if she has got past the reconsideration stages and lodged an appeal successfully, she has no idea when it might be heard and has been left stranded with no support while she waits.

According to the latest tribunal statistics, there has been a drop of 92% in employment and support allowance (ESA) appeals and a 93% drop in Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) appeals in April to June 2014 compared to the same period last year. A new system of mandatory reconsiderations before appeals was introduced by the DWP for ESA and JSA at the end of October 2013. Figures have yet to be published by the DWP to show how many reconsiderations result in a change of decision.

We do of course need to know much much more about the people who don’t get as far as an appeal. Precisely how many people are left destitute or dead because they’ve abandoned – or been abandoned by – the system at this most tortuous stage?

9 thoughts on “Deborah, her ATOS debacle, and the missing coat mystery

  1. Sounds like ATOS are working to a quota. But I do not see how that gives them the right to misrepresent medical records. It looks as if this lady and others like her need the services of a reliable solicitor. Who cost a fortune. I suppose there are no charities which could provide the legal services these victims of bureaucratic malpractice need.

  2. Deborah: My heart goes out to you and I know how you feel, my relative went through the same hell and the DWP believed the charlatan ATOS nurse rather than his consultant, at the lowest he wanted to die and were it not for the help off family members, his MP & the CAB I think he would have committed suicide. I swear the DWP rubs their hands with glee every time some vulnerable person is driven to suicide.

  3. Deborah needs advice from the CAB or whoever locally helps with welfare rights. Councils will stop Housing Benefit when the DWP stops paying ESA, but they should start paying it again if Deborah tells them her circumstances. There is no ESA during mandatory reconsideration, but if she has now appealed (and the DWP have had confirmation from the Tribunals Service) she can ask for ESA to be paid again even if she has been claiming JSA – she has to ask, the DWP will not suggest it. If Deborah isn’t getting any benefit her local council might still be running a hardship scheme, though she will have to answer a lot of intrusive questions and won’t end up with a lot of money.

    There are some notes about appeals and mandatory reconsideration here:

  4. It seems the default score after a WCA is zero. That was my score. After appeal the tribunal scored me 18. I was put in the WRAG but thankfully have managed to not appear on the DWPs random radar. Some solicitors will give basic advice over the phone without charging. In my case I just picked the name of a law firm and rang the number. The solocitor gave me advice, didnt take my name or details. So maybe it’s one line worth pursuing. Charities like Mind, Rethink and Depression Alliance may have welfare rights advisers, and since Deborah has depression it may be worth pursuing advocacy from that angle. Christians Against Poverty may also be a useful source of financial support. I hope Deborah is successful in her appeal and hopefully she can apply to her local council for hardship payments.

Leave a Reply to prayerwarriorpsychicnot Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s