Friday, 24 April 2015

The frustration of dealing with bureaucracy

I had one of those moments today. Never mind road rage I had a moment of reception rage where I felt, actually felt, my blood pressure rising with frustration.

Since my husband suffered a serious injury recently and is unable to work for the forseeable future we have been applying for benefits which has been an interesting experience to say the least.

I consider myself relatively intelligent, well educated with no issues with reading or filling in forms. But even I have been left baffled by the reams of paperwork which is flying about between myself and varying departments none of whom seem to speak to each other.

On some forms, which I presume are read by the same person from beginning to end, have information repeated or you feel one lot of information is superseded by the next set of questions....ours is not to reason why I suppose.

We have been awarded Employment Support Allowance with little pain (excuse the pun!) thanks to a helpful lady who filled the form out over the phone. We have no idea when we will get that though, or how much the first payment will be since the letter quotes three dates and implies yet another. I showed it a friend who confidently felt it would be paid last Tuesday. We agreed. It wasn't. We are still waiting.

We were granted Free School Meals (and pupil premium) after a day of increasingly frustrating phone calls. Our primary school secretary joined the fray and faxed them a copy of the proof of benefit while I phoned from the office to make sure it was going to the right place, and after being told categorically the claim would take ten days, an hour later the finance officer from my children's secondary school rang to tell me she had been notified that it had been granted.

Today I'm on day 3 of the Council Tax Support drama. I printed off the first forms and after completing what felt like a tome loaded my husband into his wheelchair and struggled into the offices in our nearby town, as advised by the website. ("delivery by hand means your application will be fast-tracked within 48 hours compared to 5 days minimum by post")

The lady in reception glanced at it and told us we needed to complete another form in addition to the first one. She would not accept one without the other. She did however tell me I could take them both to my local town the next day. I sighed and pushed my husband back to the car.

After a fun hour or two filling in form #2 I (luckily) looked up opening times for my local office. Closed on Thursdays. Of course it is. You'd think the woman who'd advised me to go there would know this!

I headed for another office slightly further away but not as far as the first office, taking two forms plus proof of my income thinking I was being clever. I was, but not clever enough.

The nice lady stamped my forms and briskly asked for ID for me and hubby. I didn't have any for him on me, unsurprisingly. She then asked for proof of child benefit. That's when I had my reception rage moment as I pointed out through gritted teeth that I had filled in all the details of child benefit, including the child benefit number on pages 5-6 of the very first form.

She cheerily informed me that they still needed proof. I wanted to ask why this was not on the list of things to produce, along with the ID. But I just forced a smile and promised to be back tomorrow with it.

I swear if I get there tomorrow and they ask for something else I will collapse in a soggy sobbing heap on the floor.

I'm baffled how people manage to swindle the system - I've been asked for proof of everything a couple of times over it seems.  I feel sorry for people who find reading and writing difficult, or don't have the confidence to chase things via phone, email and face to face.

I am exhausted and if I wasn't desperate would probably have given up - my friends tell me they think that's what they are hoping!

If you are just starting this journey I have a few tips. Start a file just for the paperwork as you will need to constantly cross-reference. Photocopy everything.

Use the white space to explain yourself - I wrote twice on one form that despite all their demands for details of my husband's income for the last 12 months it's all irrelevant as his income is now a big fat zero. I explained about the accident, I explained about the prognosis. I want the people reading these forms to understand that there's a family behind these forms, a story, a personal disaster, real people who are desperate for help, fast.

And don't give up. If you are struggling with the forms ask for help. Citizen's Advice Bureau, your local authority, even your school secretary may be able to help.

Good Luck!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Vital car checks to perform before your holiday

When I was learning to drive many moons ago, along with teaching me the skills I required to navigate the roads without killing anyone, my step-dad also made me learn what was under the bonnet of my car.

On my first car he even labelled the vital parts like oil and water using white correction fluid. He also taught me how to check and change a tyre. He made it clear that a driver should be responsible for maintaining the basics on their vehicle.

I'm embarrassed to admit that when I married I did hand over those chores to my husband mostly, although I do still get my own hands dirty of he's not around to check oil and water, especially if I'm off to the south coast to see my eldest boys.

We've all seen people stranded on the roadside. On Bank Holidays and the peak holiday escape days you can barely drive 100 metres along the motorways without passing glum folk waiting next to their cars. I often wonder if they are there because they failed to make basic checks before setting off.

For those of you who didn't have the benefit of my step-dad teaching you what you should be checking, here's a handy list.

  • Tyres. Before every long trip and at regular intervals you should check tyre pressure making allowances for the load you will be carrying. Most cars have a guide sticker somewhere or check your car manual for pressures and load guides. Some new cars have a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) which notifies you of pressure issues. If you are not sure how it works you can check this useful website.  You should also check tread depth and look for any damage. If in doubt, get new tyres since a blowout on the motorway could prove fatal. You can order replacement tyres online easily from Point-S nowadays with just your car registration number so you can relax knowing you are buying the right tyres for your vehicle. 
  • Windscreen Wipers. It sounds obvious but if they are getting worn you may not be able to see out of your windscreen properly in rainy weather. Anyone whose ever been on a motorway in rain does not need me to point out how dangerous this can be!
  • Oil.  Here's how to: Park on level ground & switch off engine. Locate dipstick and use a cloth to clean it off. Dip dipstick back into oil reservoir then withdraw carefully and check level is between recommended level markers. Without oil your car engine may be severely damaged and will seize up!
  • Water. My step-dad taught me to nudge the car with my hip so the water level sloshed about. It was a quick and easy way to check there was enough water in there since it can be difficult to decipher where the level is in a murky opaque reservoir.
  • Lights. It's important to check all your lights work including brake lights and indicators. If you are heading to the continent for your holidays remember to fit headlight adaptors to avoid blinding drivers on the other side of the road. You may need to carry a full spare set of bulbs in some countries - you can buy European travel kits for this and all your bulbs for motorbikes, cars and trucks at ABD which also stocks camping lighting and accessories.
Don't forget to do all of these checks just before you set off on your annual holiday, even if you are only driving to the airport - it would be awful to miss your flight because of an avoidable breakdown. It's good practice to get into the habit of checking your vehicle regularly anyway. Just once a month would make sure you have the best chance of keeping your car running safely.

a paid informational piece from madmumof7

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Miss/Mrs/Mr Blogger 2015- a fantasy Pageant

Hit by insomnia I found myself watching a "fly on the wall" programme on TV at about 4.30am today which briefly featured a woman taking part in a Mrs International competition - like Miss World but for married American women.

The immaculately groomed contestant who obviously thought showcasing teeth 'n tits was the way to success simpered her way through the competition rounds which included a particularly ghastly"trophy wife" tour of the stage on her husband's arm and a cringe-making dance competition with lots of wiggling from contestants wearing identical shiny minidresses.
blogger in drag queen costume
Do I look like a beauty queen? madmumof7 in drag-stylee

My favourite bit was the "interview" during which an elderly man wearing a fascinating toupee asked how our Mrs planned to extend her particular charity to, and I quote, "remote areas of the world. She answered that the charity had offices in the UK and Australia so was already in remote areas of the world. Well that's told us then hasn't it!

In my sleep deprived state I started to wonder if we should ditch the current blogger award competitions and hold Miss/Mrs/Mr Blogger awards instead. Yes it would be a popularity contest but (dare I say it?) most award schemes are already on the whole!

So what rounds would we have? Well forget swimwear. I think conference wear would be better where contestants could wear their outfit of choice. This would showcase everything from sparkly evening wear to leggings and T-shirts. Most contestants would of course be wearing Converse or Hotter on their feet.

blogger on train wearing converse
Blogger's life -comfy trousers and Converse on a train

There would have to be a dance round - possibly led by the Team Honk Danceathon crowd and the MAD Award flashmob crew. I veto shiny mini dresses though.

The talent round could feature weight-lifting (of goody bags) recitation of the train/tube/coach routes and timetables into London which most of us who attend events know off by heart, and memory demonstrations  matching blog names to real names. Or avatars to actual faces - I'm not sure I'd score highly on that one. I'm the woman who stares fixedly at your breast trying to read your name badge even though I've met you ten times already. Sorry about that.

Forget hoping for World Peace- most bloggers would start with hoping for Peace on Social Networks - it's like Armegeddon out there some days. We'd have to ban statements about hoping to work with children or animals as most of us do that already.

I think we might have to add a food element to our Blogger Pageant. I can't decide between an extreme food-eating style comp testing who can eat the most cake in 5 minutes, or a Bake-off style event using random and bizarre ingredients supplied by a PR company with about 5 minutes notice.

We'd certainly have no shortage of official photographers along with a host of people shooting video. Who could we pick to compere such an event? My vote is for George Clooney who always looks hot in a tux or Russell Howard who makes me laugh (plus he's cute in a  quirky kinda way) or Dom Holland who is funny and a blogger.

So whose with me? Who wants the title of Miss/Mrs/Mr Blogger. No restrictions on age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality... we might actually have the first ever all inclusive pageant in the world!

Oh by the way - the simpering Mrs came third by the way.