Today had been a day I had dreaded ever since I got a letter in a little brown envelope telling me to go to a benefit compliance interview. It all seemed very scary but I understood from the outset that this was a generic letter sent to instill fear through terrifying rhetoric. Nevertheless I instantly started wondering what I had done wrong. I lost sleep going through any changes we might have experienced.
My only thought was that, due to fybromyalgia and M.E I had had to reduce my days of work from three to two thus reducing in hours. The wages were so appaling that I took on ad hoc bank work but this didn’t equate to what I had been earning so I figured it would be ok to carry on as per.
Fybro fog is now part of daily life for me. I turned up for this interview last week and was sat for an hour before one of the security guards double checked my letter and informed me that I was a week early! I felt a total numpty and muttered some half hearted joke about not being penalised for being late then!
Today I turned up an hour early, such is my fear of being penalised for being late. I was seen 50 minutes early but a lady suited and booted and carrying a lot of paperwork. I was led into a room with one frosted glass wall. Today has been hot and the office was like a greenhouse. The table was large but I noticed no recording equipment and it was just me and this lady so I hoped this would not result in any kind of warning.
I had with me three months of bank statements, my passport, two bills, a medical letter, a list of income and three months’ wage slips. This was four wage slips due to one month having bank included. I produced them all. I needn’t have though. She only wanted to see my passport and three wage slips. I explained my condition and also pointed out that next week I lose my job (that will be a different blog).
She clearly and calmly explained that the council had flagged up the bank shifts. She explained I should have declared if my hours had been reduced and then again if I had taken on bank. I explained that I thought (and I genuinely did, though it seems silly now) that I need only inform them if income increases. She was very sympathetic and told me lots of people are of this mind set but the DWP should be informed at every step of income change – whether it is reduction or increase.
At this point I burst into tears. The pressure of this meeting, the looming end of work and having to help my stepdaughter through her turbulant pre teen years through which she is enduring some horrendous bullying all came out right there and then, infront of this stranger, in a formal situation in the form of tears. I was mortified. My strong exterior crumbled. I apologised. I said I had learned from this and it wouldn’t happen again. I apologised for the tears also and explained that losing my job was placing a lot of pressure on me.
She reassured me everything would be OK and I should send a years worth of wage slips in for things to be reassessed and whatever the outcome we will be able to organise something with us rather than against us. She wrote down what I needed to do in case I got “foggy” in the coming days and forgot.
This was not the kind of reaction I expected from a DWP worker. I had the stereotype firmly in my head of hard nosed target driven workers, incapable of sympathy to the plight of us “common folk!”
It was all over and done with in 20 minutes.
All family who had had to calm me in preparation for the meeting were instantly called.
I am hoping this blog will reassure others in the same situation and be instrumental in helping people to avoid the dreaded brown envelope. Please, please inform them of everything – even if it is a drop in wage!