If you are affected by the benefit issues discussed in this post please feel free to copy my letter and send a complaint to the council directly.
I am writing in relation to my Housing Benefit account and the effects your actions have on mine and others Mental Health.
I understand that you need procedures in place to ensure there is no benefit fraud taking place, however, the procedures you currently have in place are causing massive distress not just to myself but many others especially those of us with mental health problems who already have trouble managing our mental state.
Your policy to just stop payments dead whenever we receive a letter/form from the DWP regarding our ESA or PIP means that you put us in a position where we are regularly unable to pay our rent. This is a scary position to be in when renting privately as we are consistently put at risk of eviction, if we are evicted we will not be able to secure a new property due to the referencing procedures (not to mention it is already nigh on impossible to secure a private rental property when you are receiving housing benefit anyway, because of issues like this).
As a council, you are not going to bail us out if we lose our properties, I know from personal experience from becoming homeless a year ago, when you told me “tough” that there is absolutely nothing you will do to help even those of us vulnerable with mental illness to secure a council or housing association property so I ask that you help us keep our homes we have managed to secure.
When you decide to stop the payments, you don’t even send a notification. No email, no letter. The first we know of the payments stopping is when one doesn’t arrive in our account on the due date. This is not only unfair it is immoral. We are at least owed some notice you are again playing this game with us and why.
When we try and call you to find out what is going on we are put through lengthy waiting periods, I recently waited 90mins only to be hung up on before anyone even spoke to me. If we contact you through the online email service attached to our accounts we are ignored. I have never received a response through this. It is there purely to pay lip service and make it look like you are accessible.
When we finally do get to speak to someone on the phone they are purely a call handler, they grill us and make us feel small and like we are wasting there time. Then they tell us they will let the relevant team know and our benefit will restart in a few weeks.
Now, firstly I want to go over how we are made to feel. I understand you want to weed out fraud, I understand that your telephone agents probably get sick of these calls. But this isn’t our fault, people like myself are very sick, they can see my account, they can see the benefits I receive, they can also see that I’ve registered myself as mentally disabled to ensure I am treated with respect. But still I am treated like a time waster, like someone who is just causing them grief and should just get back to work and stop wasting their time.
Like everyone I’ve ever spoken to who isn’t working because of mental health issues, that is what I want. We are working hard to get back to work. We are trying to get well and we are working on our mental health every single day so that we can better cope with a working life so that we don’t need to ‘bother’ you with our benefit claims.
Secondly, Two weeks to press a button and restart the payments is appalling. OK I understand there is probably a little more to it than pressing a button. But as an example, in my most recent experience you stopped my benefit because I received a form regarding my ESA. My benefit hasn’t changed at all, so there is no effect on my housing benefit. That being said I was told even in simple cases like that it would still take two weeks, but “not to worry my benefit would be backdated” well that didn’t help when my rent was due that week.
It has now been two weeks to the day since I spoke to that advisor and nothing, no news on my benefit at all. I’ve no money, have had to use food money to pay the rent so I’m not evicted, have had to borrow money so I can buy food (I’m only just out of bankruptcy so I’m not particularly amused with this situation of borrowing).
More important than the money situation is the fact that it has caused intense emotional and mental distress. I have had several panic attacks, I’ve needed to call the mental health crisis team for support, I’ve needed additional support from my mental health recovery navigator, and I’ve needed to take additional medication to cope with the stress being caused by this situation. I have been pushed to feeling suicidal because of this situation, how is that right?
What you don’t understand is that I found out that my mental health team get numerous issues with patients just because of your actions every week. The way you conduct your processes with the stopping of payments rather than adjusting payments for a few weeks to make back overpayments for example is causing severe issues for people with severe mental health issues in Bristol. This is not moral.
You need to take into account how your actions are affecting those people you are supposed to be helping. You are setting back the recovery of so many people, it was bad enough when I thought it was just me. But knowing that I am not the only one makes it so much worse. There are people closer to recovery than I am who are being set back because of this, there are people sicker than I am who could be tipped into acting on suicidal thoughts because of this, only a few months ago I was that sick.
Threatening people’s homes is one of the worst things you can do. You really need to understand the consequences of your actions. You really need to take on how serious this procedure is and understand that someone’s death could be on your hands if you don’t rethink the way you manage this process.
Please take on my words, I have used my experiences as an example but I am speaking on behalf of those who don’t feel they have a voice aswell.
UPDATE 2nd June:
So, it has been a week since I wrote this open letter, and also submitted a copy officially to the council. I have heard nothing from the council about receiving my payments which are now over a month in arrears nor in response to my complaint.
My Husband phoned them on Thursday after I reached crisis, again, and was told they were working on submissions from 23rd May, mine was 26th May. Three working days later still no news. However these dates do not add up as I spoke to someone originally on the 12th May after my first payment was missed on the 11th May. The 11th May was the 90min hang up incident. Evidently Bristol Council don’t know their backside from their elbow and are willing to let the vulnerable suffer.
I will be relogging my complaint including this public addendum.
To all of you Also being made to suffer under this regime, please complain, let your voices be heard. Don’t let them beat us down. I have had an awful weekend, I almost gave up, I know how difficult it is, the stress of this situation is almost unbearable. But these people are supposed to be helping us…lets force them to do their jobs!