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Making successful benefit claims – it’s all in the mind……

25.10.17

Our Benefits Expert Jayne Knights explains how you need to get into the right mindset for making successful benefit claims, over to Jayne…

Jayne Knights

I’ve been working in the field of welfare benefits since the 80s (I need to get out more) and during my time as a caseworker and advocate I’ve seen some very surprising outcomes to claims, both positive and negative. I’ve picked up the pieces of refused claims, disappeared claims, and claims sabotaged at the outset by unhelpful ‘supporting’ evidence, and I’ve spent thousands of hours training people from all kinds of organisations how to claim effectively. In previous blogs, I’ve ranted on a bit (a lot?) about the need for effective preparation before anyone puts pen to paper:

  • Research the benefit you are claiming;
  • If there’s a scoring system, then what will get you points;
  • Provide helpful and targeted evidence;
  • Know what you’re aiming for;
  • Keep copies of everything and send all post by tracked methods……and so on.

The Right Mindset

Alongside the above suggestions runs another theme, which is that of the mindset you need to adopt in order to maximise your chances of success while minimising the cost to you in terms of stress and upset (not to mention tedium and writer’s cramp).

As readers interested in the work of Renaissance Legal, it’s likely that you work with or care for a disabled person. You may be the person who has to tackle the paperwork for new and repeat claims for benefits such as DLA for children, and ESA / PIP for adults. You may have a claim form sitting in an envelope right now, but you can’t bring yourself to fill it in because you know it’s likely to be an upsetting experience, or you’re worried about the responsibility of ‘getting it right’ and using the right terms. There are agencies that can help you with these claims, and it may be worth contacting them. In Brighton and Hove, there are many helpful organisations, and the Brighton and Hove Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) has put together a list: https://www.advicebrighton-hove.org.uk/

A Different Approach

How about if you want to do the claims yourself? If you decide to tackle the claim process on your own, then it’s important to get into the right frame of mind. I understand that the mindset of caring for a disabled person has to be one of positivity, optimism and working towards greater independence and ability. All of your actions and plans may be geared towards these goals. You need to leave all that to one side for the duration of the claiming process, because these words have no place in the benefits regulations in which the emphasis is always on phrases like ‘substantial limitation’ or ‘severe discomfort’.

Personal Independence Payments, Disability Living Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance

For Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA), there is usually a waiting period before payment can begin, and a requirement that the need will stretch into the future; this in itself sets up a pessimistic mindset of permanence as it does not permit the idea of improvement or recovery. PIP and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) carry a precise system of points scoring which both need careful examination – the difference between scoring 6 or 9 points for a particular activity may hinge on picking up on the difference between the words ‘occasionally’ or ‘frequently’ and being able to give coherent recent examples.

Challenging Perceptions

On my training courses I often challenge people who say ‘oh, you should always answer the questions as though you’re having the worst day’, or ‘always go for the highest scoring descriptor’. I think this is a mindset which can lead to problems, because it’s important that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) decision maker, along with whichever Maximus (ESA) or ATOS (PIP) person does the face to face assessment, is sure that your answers are reasonable, plausible and not over-exaggerated. The mindset with ESA, PIP and DLA should always be, in my view anyway, to explain things from the perspective of ‘averagely bad with a bleak outlook’. This means you have to be as detached and unemotional as possible: you are going through a process, filling out a form, with a specific outcome in mind, and you need to frame your answers to every question accordingly. If necessary, assume that the decision maker is looking for reasons to turn you down – but you’re not going to give them any. It doesn’t matter if the decision maker’s eyes glaze over with boredom at the sheer amount of detail you put down. The important thing is always to paint a vivid picture of how your disabled person’s life is affected by their condition or illness and with DLA/PIP what might happen to them if your help or supervision were not available.

Home Visits

People often ask if they should request a home visit for these assessments. I’m not sure that a home visit is always the best option, as generally people are more comfortable at home and may behave or talk in ways that never happen in the outside world. You want the assessor to see how things really are – if your disabled person is withdrawn, anxious or upset when they go out to appointments then maybe it’s important for the assessor to see that, even if the experience isn’t pleasant. It’s also completely fine for the disabled person to be accompanied – don’t be put off! As the chaperone, you need a polite but assertive mindset – you can act as a prompter, note-taker and all-round quality control person. It’s absolutely OK to discuss point-scoring with the assessor, the points systems for ESA and PIP are not secrets!

As always, the incomparable Benefits and Work website has sections on the claiming process and how to prepare and present yourself or your disabled person – which is worth a read on www.benefitsandwork.co.uk.

So – my ideal mindset for successful claims means embracing preparation, detachment, detail, focusing on the end result and how you’re going to get there; and giving examples of daily life and putting them into the context of the regulations. See it all as a means to a positive and financially beneficial end, rather than anticipating a rather bleak and depressing experience (which may be the reason your DWP letters and forms are still in unopened envelopes at the back of the kitchen drawer….). Good luck!

Thank you to Jayne Knights for an extremely informative and helpful blog. Jayne can be contacted via her website, please click here.

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