Getting Help About Benefits

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ClosedCitizens Advice say their phone lines open at 10am. No they don’t. They give you a long message before admitting that no assessors are available to answer your call although some specialists are. I eventually got through at something like 11:30am only to be told that they cannot refer me to my local CAB directly. There is a drop in today, between 10-1pm. So I pick up my folder and venture down only to find the above sign. People are allowed to be ill but I’m not feeling that great either.

There’s another drop in session tomorrow at a different office at the same time as my therapy appointment. Good thing I can change the latter but I do actually need it. Continue reading

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Benefits Bonanza Day

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fuckthisshitI telephoned the CAB on Thursday. I asked whether I should appeal on the basis that I didn’t know what was going on and wasn’t getting any information or whether I should keep pursuing getting a statement of reasons. They said they would refer me to a specialist which would call back within 48 hours. I realised this might mean Monday morning and tried to set it aside.

I tried to take charge of something and applied for child benefit for 2son as the CAB had advised me to do, saying if I got it for the next few months that I’m entitled to, then I can appeal to have it backdated based on incorrect advice given. As it turned out, I’m glad I got that moving.

I emphasis the “tried”. People ask me how I am and in my head I’m answering that everything is actually really positive except for this massive disaster that’s looming over me. How much of that answer I actually give depends on who they are. Even then the reply tends to be me “oh that’s awful” before moving onto something else. People who don’t get benefits, who haven’t had to rely on the state simply do not realise how terrifying these things are. Continue reading

Taking Back Control

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focus on where you are headedOn Monday I decided I’d had enough of waiting for the post to arrive to see if the latest missive from Housing Benefit had arrived. I rang up. I got through to a guy who was trying to be helpful and telling me figures, but he was reading it out loud as he went and it didn’t make a lot of sense. He told me my claim hadn’t been suspended and that a decision had been made to pay some £3 rent a week for me. None of it made a lot of sense and he said the paperwork would be in the post in a few days and I left it at that.

By Thursday nothing had arrived and Friday was a washout too. After returning home I would open the door with trepidation looking for post on the mat. When a cold caller rang the bell I almost reacted badly once I realised he wasn’t the postman delivering a thick envelope. I’m waking up early with weird bad dreams. I can phone up and chase this or I can just wait it out. Either is stressful and quite honestly the end result will be the same.

Yesterday therefore, I sat down and made a list of what I have control of and what I can do something about:

  • my physical and mental well being
  • what do I want to do for a living?
  • what extra work can I do now?
  • what do I want?
  • how do I learn and find answers to these questions
  • love my children and carry on supporting them

I am going to try and focus on these. Some involve doing research online, talking to people about job opportunities and direction. There’s reading round counselling as preparation for September’s start. There’s also doing meditation and physical exercise as well as my physio. I need to get out of my comfort zone, at least once a week.

I acknowledged, for the first time, that I’m sick of being poor. I want to be off benefits and tax credits, to be financially independent. This claim re-assessment has swept the rug out from under my feet and for the first time in a very long time I am simply scared about losing my home, even though that is probably an unnecessary fear. It brings back old memories of being petrified of losing a home and then doing so. I want to feel safe.

So this scare has made me think harder and more immediately about where I am and where I want to be. Whether I can find part time work that fits in with studying and children and all the rest of it I don’t know, but I’m going to start looking. I have had it easy these past few years, and if that’s because benefits have been overpaid then so be it. It might all end up being a positive kick up the arse.

But I still look forward (sort of) to knowing whether I do owe £15,000 and whether I have to pay it back.

 

My Parents Are Old

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My parents are both over 80. They are old. They are physically fragile. They have just moved house and country, which is one of the most stressful things they can do. They are having to learn completely new ways of living. Small details such as in which bin do you put your rubbish take time to learn and all these changes are happening at once. Going round the supermarket my mother has to read all the labels as she doesn’t recognise the contents from the colourful packing or the visible branding that is not what she’s used to. They now have smartphones, having never used a touch screen device and barely having used a mobile phone. They have to learn their new house, which windows open, which keys do what, how does the alarm work, the oven. They have to learn to use more than one remote for the TV and the cable TV, how to use a new land line phone.

On top of all that, they have to discover their local area, find out where they want to go for pleasure, what they are going to do, what their new routines will be.

It’s a lot to learn. It’s even more to learn when you’ve spent the last fifteen odd years living in your own little bubble and having things exactly as you like them without having to change anything without months of thought and discussion.

Into this mix I come, now half an hour’s drive away instead of several hours. We’ve been used to quarterly day visits from my father and an annual visit from my mother. In the last month I’ve talked to each of them more than in the last year combined. It’s all changed.

The relationship is altered. What it is to become is yet to discover. At the moment I am the educator, the facilitator, the practical person. I am helping, explaining, supporting, teaching. The roles have changed; I won’t say reversed. I feel sorry for them. I see their fragility, both physical and mental. I want to help them and look after them.

But at the same time I feel annoyed that I’m being compassionate and giving up my time and it’s all about them because they don’t have the space to consider anything else. I mentioned my small housing benefit disaster and got nothing. I mentioned what my sons were up to and got nothing. It’s all about them. Nothing has changed on their side other than the passage of time. I can feel annoyance turning into anger deep down and that conflicts with the fact that these are old fragile people who are never going to change.They are never going to be there for me.

That is easier to accept from a distance.

My mother’s already reverted to talking to me about my father. His little quirks and his health because he won’t talk about them or acknowledge them. She’s not allowed to go up a ladder more than two steps in case she falls because he won’t be able to catch her. His cancerous nodules are growing which could mean anything but it reminds me time may be short.

And yet, what am I to do? No doubt conversations and help will tailor off shortly as they become more settled. Grandchildren will be less enthused about visiting once school comes back and it eats into their time. Their behaviour has been immaculate and helpful on visits so far. I’m not going to be taking my mother round the supermarket once a week or even once a month. I’m becoming the helper and the grown up, but they are not children and they are not helpless.

What do I want out of what time we have left?

Shame and Inadequacy

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I was watching Angels in America last night. In it is the portrayal of an orthodox Mormon, one who still wears his special underwear, who finally admits he is gay after his marriage crashes around him.

​​He is full of shame, having spent years fighting these “sinful” tendencies and feelings and the actor (an impressive Russell Tovey) shows, vividly and compassionately, a man who has strong moral objections about who he is and who is discovering that he is going to have to reconcile these two extremes.

I sat there at one point thinking well this is who you are. You are just going to have to accept who you are and get on with it, and you will eventually be happier for it when I realised the irony in this. Continue reading

Council Tax Catches Up

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Housing have actually been decent so far with me. I said I was paying the rent in full weekly and they accepted £20 on top of that to go to the month’s arrears which I got due to housing benefit backdating their suspension of my claim for a month. I was very grateful to talk to a human being who saw the £10,000 I supposedly owe and treated me like a human being.

Council Tax sent me a bill today in which they’ve added all the supposed overpayment to my current council tax (which doubled from £25 to £50 when they suspended my claim automatically as I’m on direct debit). What with full council tax for the year as well, this bill amounts to £5,000. The bill also said they were changing my direct debit payments to £600 a month for the next six months to clear this up.

This time I almost lost it. I’ve sort of been coping so far with this whole cock up but have been dreading the arrival of the postman each day and and am feeling a massive sense of relief every time I open a letter to find it’s not another disaster. I phoned up Council Tax and pressed buttons until I got a real live human being, after listening to their promotion for their automated online system several times. Real person told me that despite the situation they couldn’t do anything like suspend the overpayment until the decision was fully processed and that I just had to wait until the court summons and sort it out then. I don’t want to go to court. So I hung up, phoned up the CAB (lovely people, so helpful and sympathetic) who said nag your councillor. I did that and then cancelled my direct debit and set up a standing order for £70, nothing like the £600 odd they want but at least it shows willing. How long I can keep these payments going I have no idea but at least I won’t have to worry about whether I’ve breached savings limits.

Councillor said they’d just been told that housing benefit hadn’t received my last letters. Considering they’d been sent via email to the same address as the first, with the same reference and I’d received the automatic acknowledgement I really fucking doubt it. No doubt the non-receipt is what gave them the excuse to suspend my claim. Bastards.

I cannot tell you how terrifying this all feels. Not that there would be any point in the council making us homeless but the fact that this is possibly a risk and I have no idea how much money I will have to pay, let alone at what rate and for how long is all making the ground under my feet feel like quicksand instead. I’m worried for my children’s future. No doubt that is an exaggeration of the possible consequences but I’m being chased for £15,000 I wasn’t aware I owed and I still haven’t been told why.

How Do I Let Go of Childhood?

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Keep Britain in Europe

A fortnight ago we had rather a frank discussion in therapy about where it was going and what we needed to do. I understand what happened in my childhood but haven’t got anywhere near being able to let go of it. I went away with that question to answer.

We also mentioned the fact that I talked best about the things I was happy to talk about, and not about the things I didn’t but needed to. So we decided to talk about my childhood and see what got left out.

Last week we talked about the first seven years, before we moved abroad.

We lived in a four bedroom semi-detached house with a large garden. We had two reception rooms, the smaller of which was an office for my father that I barely remember, so rarely must I have gone in it. We had a semi-outside toilet next to the kitchen that my mother at some point brightened up by painting it shocking pink and that is still very vivid to me. She also wall-papered, painted walls and sewed her own curtains. Continue reading

Current Affairs

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I am under investigation for suspected angina.

i have a trapped nerve causing me pain and difficulties.

I am aware that I haven’t been for a walk for pleasure in days, if not weeks.

4son needs to see a GP for stress and to keep us out of trouble with school.

3son is on Fluoxetine and still struggling.

I need to find a school for 2son for the year after next.

Housing Benefit want ten grand or thereabouts from me.

My parents are returning to England today.

On the plus side,

I have a place offer for Level 3 Counselling.

1son is currently on holiday but firming up plans for his future.

I love them all, even when I want to kill them.

Housing Benefit Disaster

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I came home from a lovely day out to find housing benefit reassessment number 3.

This made it clear that they’re throwing 2son off my housing benefit claim because Child Benefit threw him out when he returned to school and stayed there over the summer. After 8 weeks the claim is suspended, especially when you don’t tell them. I appealed and explained the circumstances, and the rules said I could still claim child benefit for him during the school holidays when he was at home. They turned down the appeal and said I could re-apply from scratch as if he were a new born and I really couldn’t face that for £500 odd a year. If I’d known how much disruption it would cause as it throws a red flag up with my tax credit claim since I’ve got him down as still at school but without the child benefit then I might have done things differently.

Mea culpa, I never thought to tell housing benefit that 2son had a residential placement because he still lives at home, even though he’s not always there. So I can write and explain all that. I even have a letter from council explaining this that I used at the appeal, although not my appeal (I had to appeal tax credit as well on the same basis and they accepted).

But,

I also received from Housing Benefit Decisions about 80 pages recalculating my housing benefit and council tax benefit over the last six years. They’ve decided that I owe them over £10,000.

I have a big collection of decision notices without the calculations use to derive them. They all just say due to change in financial circumstances and they cover the last six years. I can and will ask for these calculations.

My guess is, given that I’m self-employed, that they’ve just realised they have never asked me for profit and loss accounts. I have never submitted them as they get their figures through my Tax Return but it turns out that’s not enough and I should have submitted my P&L each year to housing benefit. I didn’t know this. No one ever asked me. My income as shown in my tax return gets used in benefit calculations so I assumed that was fine.

So this part I think is their fault. But apparently even if it is their fault, they can still ask for the money back for overpayments in the last six years.

Now if it is agreed that this is all accidental rather than an attempt on my behalf to defraud the benefit system then I think I only have to repay it at £11.10 a week unless I come off benefits. But I’m not sure of anything any more.

I also wonder if this overpayment puts my tenancy at risk as I live in a council house and if you don’t pay your rent they can (and so they should) chuck you out.

So on Monday I have to go see 4son’s head about his attendance, get a replacement prescription for 3son’s Prozac, get some legal advice (starting at Shelter as my first port of call, probably followed by CAB which is strictly appointment only), writing my first letter of reply that will basically say WTF? Work will have to wait.

I had a really fantastic day today, until I got home and opened the post.

Yesterday, by the way, I got my offer of a place for my counselling course next year so yay!

Oh fuck

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Yesterday,

I really struggled through pain to get work done so I didn’t have to do it all today. And so I could do other work today without spending longer at the computer and causing more pain. The last couple of days have just been a struggle.

Oh fuck,

I got a phone call this morning regarding 4son. I was supposed to go to a meeting at school last week regarding his attendance which I cancelled the day before as I had medical appointments. So I’m told off for not cancelling it promptly and for cancelling it by email rather than phone and not to the senior person the meeting was with but with the more junior one who I knew.

Then I get the warning that this is the final meeting at school; after this it goes outside the school’s hands and I face prosecution, criminal record and up to £2,500 fine. All because 4son’s attendance is poor, granted, and there’s nothing wrong with him.

Other students have cancer and have better attendance.

I almost burst into tears. She wasn’t being mean. This is the process and she’s tried talking to 4son before about attendance and it just hasn’t got anywhere. Plus, unlike 3son there’s no medical reason, no evidence so nothing for 4son to use as an excuse other than the fact that he gets tired really easily and struggles with mornings. He had problems getting to primary school on time and would/could fall out of bed half an hour before it started as he could just run down the road. Secondary school is 40 minutes away in normal traffic which doesn’t happen very often and he’s often late as well as frequently just not getting up at all.

I don’t know what the reason is but it’s hard to come down hard on 4son when 2son dropped out of school for 4 years (albeit for reasons beyond his control) and 3son frequently doesn’t go in but he gets away with it because he’s mental and talking to CAMHS. 4son’s only real problem is that he has to live with 3son all year round and 2son occasionally. That’s not a medical condition.

Yes I can beat him up more over bed time and all that but I don’t really think that’s the issue. Maybe we ought to go down the medical route.

He needs to decide to be more resilient.

Don’t we all.

P.S. Today,

I’m also waiting for the expected third housing benefit letter since the last two both arrived on a Friday. So I was really pscyhed to be in a good positive mood and not overly anxious at all. Splendid.