Benefit shambles after three conflicting letters in a week for former miner

FORMER miner Christopher Harvey has received an apology from the Government – after being told he was fit to work on Tuesday, wasn’t on Thursday and should get a job on Friday.

The mix-up followed an assessment last year, which ruled Mr Harvey, who has arthritis and mobility problems, as well as anxiety and depression, was no longer entitled to receive employment and support allowance (ESA).

He appealed the decision and finally got the response almost a year later, with letters dated September 3, September 5 and September 12.

The first stated: “The appeal is refused. Mr Harvey is not entitled to ESA.”

But the next read: “We have looked again at the facts and evidence. As a result, we have changed that decision.”

Then the final letter arrived, telling him: “I wrote to you stating I had decided to award ESA. Unfortunately, unbeknown to me, the Independent Tribunal Service heard your appeal on the same day and upheld the original decision disallowing benefit.

“Unfortunately, the tribunal decision takes precedence over my decision and ESA is not payable.”

Mr Harvey, who last worked as an industrial cleaner, then received a phone call from the DWP on Friday afternoon, saying he would be entitled to ESA after all. The benefit is paid to people unable to work due to a disability.

Father-of-three Mr Harvey, who takes a cocktail of pills every day to control his mental and physical ailments, said: “The stress has put me on the edge. If I had all my tablets, I ‘d have taken the lot.

“I’d get a job tomorrow if I could, but I know I’m not capable of going to work. Some days I can’t get out of my flat. I suffer from arthritis and can’t walk very far. I use a disability scooter.

“I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression since the late 1980s, when I worked as a miner. I took an overdose in June, but luckily, my son found me.”

Mr Harvey’s daughter, Gemma Shellcross, aged 27, from Leek, said: “I can understand they need to make checks, but dad’s medical records show he’s not fit to work.

“Our family is on the verge of breaking point. We’re all working, looking after our families and dad, and all the time frightened we’ll get a phone call like I got in June, when my dad took an overdose.”

Simon Harris, chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent Citizens’ Advice Bureau, said: “This level of confusion is exceptional. It’s a coincidence as the tribunal has been heard at the same time as DWP officers have reviewed the evidence and they have both come to different conclusions.

“It’s been compounded by the way the department works. The biggest single benefit problem we are seeing is ESA and people disagreeing with decisions that they are fit to work.”

A DWP spokesman said: “We have apologised to Mr Harvey for the confusion caused in relation to his appeal. We have re-instated the correct rate of benefits and paid the arrears due.”

by Richard Ault in the ‘Stoke Sentinel’, Sept 16th 2013: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/BENEFITS-SHAMBLES/story-19801299-detail/story.html

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