Saturday 26 February 2011

To err is human...

... but if you do it on DWP forms, you can expect a fine.

A £50 fine, to be precise, although that's just a starting figure. It could be as much as £300.

Apparently the point of this fine is to get claimants to take "responsibility" for their claims, because "I have to fill in this form right or I won't have any money for rent, bills or food" doesn't have enough impact on your life to make you take it seriously. Or something.

Leaving aside the class war bit where a bunch of millionaires (who make plenty of "mistakes" in their own benefit claims and consider £50 to be the cost of lunch) are imposing these fines on DWP claimants who are, for obvious reasons, some of the poorest people in the country for whom £50 is two weeks' groceries or more...

I'm reasonably bright. Not exceptionally so, but I have my selection of higher-tier grade GCSEs including English and Maths, I've been able to read and write since before I started primary school, most of the jobs I've held have had some sort of administrative element. I should be as well-equipped as anyone to fill out those forms correctly, and I have a distinct advantage over many claimants who are less academically inclined.

And I have made errors on my claims.

The first one, was when I first got sick and lost my job. Let's set the scene. I'm in my early twenties. I'm sick, so sick I cannot work, and more or less confined to bed so that I can manage the big bursts of effort needed to go out (I haven't yet been taught about pacing). I don't yet know what's wrong with me, so I'm scared. I have no income and the Jobcentre have given me three forms. The biggest one is for Incapacity Benefit. The next biggest is for Housing and Council Tax Benefit. The smallest - which is still some thirty or forty pages - is for Income Support, which I am told is a "safety net" in case my Incapacity claim is rejected.

Bear in mind the reason for my claim was that I was too sick to work in my mostly office-based job. I had something symptomatically akin to 'flu. I was not in a top form-filling state.

I worked on the forms as best I could. By the time I got to the IS one, time was running out, but I did my best and felt quite proud of myself for finishing it all within the deadline.

My mistake? In the Pensions section. Having ticked that no, I was not in receipt of any pensions, I was told to go to the next section of the form. So I skipped over all the questions about what type of pension do you have to the next section of the form, About Other Benefits. What I missed, was that "War Pensions", although tacked onto the end of "Pensions", was in fact a section in its own right - a one-inch strip with the single question are you in receipt of a War Pension and Yes/No tickboxes. The form was sent back to me, red-penned and with a stern letter of admonishment.

I've also made errors on my DLA forms before now, again usually at the level of missing a tickbox, although thankfully I've always caught them before sending.

The BBC article says:
The proposals also reveal that the government assumes there will be very few appeals against these fines.

Well, yes. If my incorrectly completed form and nasty letter had also included a £50 fine, I certainly wouldn't have had it in me to argue the toss, because I was too sick to do so, and THAT was the reason why I was filling in the forms in the first place.

That's the thing about benefits. You claim them when your life gets to a desperate stage. You're sick, perhaps terminally so. Your spouse has emptied the joint account and run off with So-and-so from Marketing, leaving you with a broken heart, no money and two kids who want to know where Mummy/Daddy's gone. You've finally managed to get up the courage to get out of a violent and abusive relationship even though you took nothing with you other than the clothes you stand up in. At the very least, you've lost your job. You're stressed. You're upset. You're running around trying to improve your situation and get back something which is recognisable as Your Life, whether that means you're attending countless hospital appointments or applying for countless jobs, and on top of this, the Jobcentre have presented you with over a hundred pages of forms to fill in?

And while we're at it, let's not forget the cuts to legal aid and the closures of Citizens' Advice Bureau offices which will make it even harder for people to get help filling in forms or conducting appeals. Nice one, George. Withdraw the support, thereby increasing the rate of mistakes, then charge people for those mistakes on the basis that they'll be unable to argue. It would make a wonderful Dilbert cartoon, if only it weren't targeted at real and vulnerable people at their time of need.

Minor mistakes are inevitable when people in these circumstances are filling in these forms. Fining people who can't afford to pay but aren't in a position to defend themselves, is appalling.

(cross-posted at This Is My Blog)


  1. I hate this govt - They are attacking people with no money whilst they LET OFF people who have millions and owe billions in taxes or whatever and that wasnt a mistake - THEY did it on bloody purpose!

    This millionaire Cameron is bloody evil - Bet he doesnt give a damn if he makes a mistake - he has millions to back him up - That £50 could be my childs food for the week or more!

  2. A cynical ploy to feed into lies about the ease about obtaining benefits and suspect nature of claimants-guilty until proved innocent-unsure about how they will administer but if it will deter people claiming it will serve their purpose-disgraceful-given the vastly more mistakes that the DWP make resulting in delays and far more underpayments than overpayments

  3. Now I am even more frightened than I was already. The reason I can't bring in even a little ££ by eBaying my de-clutter (apart from being in too much pain to do the de-clutter) is that I make so many goofs with the simple, logical steps required for that kind of thing. :(

  4. This could be discriminatory, if a fine is imposed on someone with dyslexia, learning disabilities or other disability-related reasons for making mistakes. I hope someone is supported in taking a claim under the DDA, so that this rubbish stops as quickly as possible.

  5. Okay, let's see DWP employees fined for every mistake they make. But that won't happen, will it? How completely disgraceful, and how transparent an attempt to deter an already intimidated group of people from claiming in the first place.

    And lilwatchergirl makes a really good point about how this could be discriminatory in itself... I don't have a cognitive disability but my physical disability means there are days when I'm exhausted and brainfogged and I make really silly mistakes, the kind where I catch myself and think, yikes, that could've been nasty... when I do catch myself. :/

  6. Well if you ring upto claim you can't fill a form in wrong can you, except by telling lies on the phone.
    If you got ajob dolescum, they'd be no need to claim

  7. I do wish haters would at least have the balls to post under an ID

  8. Well if you ring upto claim you can't fill a form in wrong can you, except by telling lies on the phone.
    If you got ajob dolescum, they'd be no need to claim

    If they make a mistake on the phone, write numbers wrong, or don't listen, or are sloppy it is almost impossible to prove that you SAID it right.

    I used to record all my calls with the DWP, either by textphone transcript or if I got stuffed my super amplified voice phone. So I *could* prove I'd been misrepresented but most people don't have the tech or knowledge to do that.

    I no longer deal with HMRC, DWP or Jobcentre Plus by phone because textrelay introduces too many mistakes in finances (operators mix up numbers and words and spellings a lot and it's hard to follow the conversation). I had all sorts of rubbish put all over some dole/welfare benefit claims and access to work forms because of phone errors which were NOT mine.

    As for "get a job" some of us HAVE jobs and still have to fight this crap. Some of us can't work because employers DON'T make reasonable adjustments. I fight discrimination every day in my work place. I've been bullied. Hassled. Shouted at. Refused equipment. Had equipment delayed. And then people wonder why I get tired and stressed about the difficulty I have KEEPING my job.

  9. Ok, This is for the attention of the imbecile who posted the hurtful, offensive and sheer ignorant comment:

    Well, if you feel that you have the right to cast judgement, even if it be poorly worded and spurious, then so do I. I'm thinking that you aint too bright, are ill informed, and merely attempting to wind up the genuinely ill/disabled. Therfore, adding to their already high stress/anxiety levels. Well YOU FAILED!!!!

    I am sitting here laughing at your dim witted, pathetic brain(or use of said brain)and cruel frozen soul, as I type. Remember you can never really be certain of what may be waiting to greet you around the next corner or two - Smugness aint so neat when your luck takes an almighty downturn... Haha Still laughing ;D

    For the attention of the genuine posters, I do hope nobody was too wound up/upset by that twat's comment - they have no argument - just a stupid, hateful judgemental remark. Let it float off into the ether... ;))) Keep smiling with willful determination folks! X

  10. @Anonymous:

    I realise you were trying to take down the abusive commenter by putting them in their place. But to do so using offensive terms and stereotypes about people with not so high IQs is just about as out of order as the previous post.

  11. Perhaps politicians could also be fined for every time they 'misspeak' or misrepresent the facts. That would create a lot of jobs, too.

  12. I have severe mental illness. Over the years, I thought I had grown used to the language and stigma associated with it. (We're psychos and loonies that go on wild rampages murdering people and getting off scot free to stay in nice, cushy hospitals. Every tabloid reader knows that.) In recent times, money and effort has been put into doing something about it and just as that was slowly beginning to work, we find that we are scrounging scum faking our mental illness. This gives the tabloids a bit of a quandry - do they tell their readers we should be locked up or tell them that we should get off our backsides and work?

    So dolescum is no more hurtful than all the years of abuse many of us have put up with, the nutters, the spazzes, the retards, the... well, you get the idea.

  13. @ Lisa: I am really sorry - I did not think there were any specific stereotypes cited and I did not feel it was overly abusive - again sorry I did not read it that way!!!!
    Anyone else please let me know, and I also would have puta name to myself but was too sleep deprived to register...

    Apologies all and to anyone I specifically offended for that certainly was not my intention! I'm a little bit high/passionate/easily irritated/ sleep deprived, at the moment, so sometimes I just need to vent that...