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are read by the same person from beginning to end, have information repeated or you feel one lot of information is superseded by the next set of questions....ours is not to reason why I suppose.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


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