Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Working, Money, Benefits and Atos interviews

I finished work last year after 10 years as an Admin Officer at a Magistrates Court.  I liked working, liked earning my own money (be it a modest wage) and liked being able to say ‘I have a good job’. So the decision to stop working due to my disability was not an easy one to make.
Because my condition is a degenerative one, as well as deciding whether I could cope with the work considering my current condition, I also had to take into account my future condition.  I.e. do I stop now while I still have the ability to do some things and enjoy my life or do I just want to keep working until I can’t do anything any more…
The decision for me was made slightly easier by the fact that I was finding it more and more difficult to keep up at work.  My colleagues and even those I had trained found it increasingly easy to surpass me and although my bosses did offer me concessions and (after some persuasion) adapted the workplace for me as fully as they were able to, I was still very aware that I could no longer perform to the standard that I wanted to.
So after 10 years that I decided that maybe it was time for me to stop struggling and to do some of the things that perhaps I haven’t been able to do whilst I have been using all of my energy working.

My first worry about not working was money.  If I no longer have any wages where is my money going to come from?
I have two forms of income:
Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and
Employment Support Allowance (ESA)

I have been receiving DLA all my life, although I am aware very soon this will be changing to Personal Independence Payment (PIP).  Anybody making a new claim for DLA would now apply for PIP instead here is quite a good website that explains it all. DLA Link
the change from DLA to PIP is a source of anxiety for a lot of disabled people, myself included.  It can be argued that the government have not been very clear on setting out the guidelines and criteria that will be looked at.  However the government have tried to reassure people that the genuine disabled person will have nothing to worry about.  I guess that time will tell whether that is true!  I will be sure to tell you about my experiences as soon as I am changed over…

I had to wait to apply for ESA until I’d finished work and I had received my last wages. ESA divides people into two groups.  The work group, which sounds a bit like jobseekers allowance (JSA, where you claim benefit whilst actively trying to find employment) and the support group, which is a bit like a mixture of income support and severe disablement allowance.

  I was lucky enough to be placed in the support group without having to have an Atos interview.
Here is quite nice site that explains about ESAESA Link

The dreaded Atos interview…

It is my understanding that (sometimes) when you claim for ESA, to decide which group you are placed in, either the support group or the work group, you are required to attend an interview with Atos health care.
For the new PIP disability benefit you will be required to have an ATOS interview every three years.
Atos health care website: Atos Link

ATOS health care do not have a brilliant reputation for their disability assessments when you speak to disabled people directly.  Disability is completely subjective and there is such a wide range of disabilities that is difficult to imagine that one healthcare service would have a complete understanding of them all.

I have had one ATOS interview and that was a few years ago now, to assess my disability and work capacity in order for my employers at the time to get an idea of how much I could and couldn’t do and how much to adapt the workplace by.  I was less than impressed with the resulting report, which was just too general and too vague to actually say anything.  My employers decided that they knew me and had a better understanding of my condition than my assessor.  So I hope that there is been an improvement in the assessments especially because a lot of stock is going to be placed in them.

I have a very obvious physical disability and as much as I hate that sometimes (actually most of the time) perhaps looking like a crip will help me out on this occasion!  I worry about people with hidden disabilities and hope that the assessments will also properly take into consideration the difficulties that come along with these types of disabilities and not unduly disadvantage anybody.  My advice to anybody attending these interviews is to take literature about your disability with you.  Any leaflets or articles concerning your disability and how this might affect you could help you explain about yourself.  The Internet is a great place for obtaining this type of information.

Good luck and be sure to let me know your experiences…

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