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The CAB, You Seek the CAB!

Yesterday (all my troubles…) was my appointment with a specialist at the local CAB to get help appealing my ESA claim. She was very helpful and, if other advisers are like this, I recommend everyone in this situation get themselves down to the CAB. This is a real eye opener into the bullshit involved in this entire process.

I had already been contacted by the DWP about the initial stage of the appeal, which, predictably, I failed. This was last week, and it sent me into a spin – how do I proceed? Is my money stopped? I’ve been told that isn’t the case (we shall find out tomorrow) and simply the appeal then gets automatically sent to the tribunal department for the final hearing. You can choose not to have them decide your case in person, though doing so is a mistake since you are all but guaranteed to fail.

The adviser commented that it was extremely unusual for this first stage of the appeal to have been resolved so quickly. What is happening, I’m told, is that because the office is so swamped they are sending caseloads elsewhere; Lowestoft in this case. What then happens is they rush through the cases, give them a cursory read through and make a decision. Instead of cases taking months, mine took weeks. There are people, I'm told, that have waited six months just to get past the first appeal stage and yet they rushed through mine in six weeks – not enough time to even get an appointment with the CAB and gather evidence.

I suppose the DWP would argue that one should have all the evidence needed immediately. If not then, well, tough shit for you. Already the cracks start to appear. I very much doubt you could appeal for more time with them. I can’t decide whether it’s best to resolve all this sooner or later; the notion of attending a tribunal does not inspire me with confidence – which, ironically, may well be something in my favour.

So the offices dealing with claims and processing appeals are overwhelmed, if local experience is any indication. All they have achieved, in palming people off to be fast tracked elsewhere, is increasing the strain on the tribunal department. I’m told they are using another, more local (ironically) venue to hear these. How long (or not) that will take is anyone’s guess. I posted the tribunal paperwork off yesterday after the CAB adviser ticked the right boxes so I could hear next week, next month or next year. Their letter to me said 8-12 weeks before you hear a date, which is then meant to be a couple of weeks on from that. This whole thing is a mess and isn’t conducive to a calm state of mental repose.

The process of getting help with an appeal is very enlightening. It consists of the CAB presenting you with the full list of descriptors and what they specifically ask in order to score the points listed. This information won't be in the assessment report. In fact the adviser for my ESA appeal at the CAB conducted more of an actual assessment than ATOS. She went through the descriptors – the proper and full descriptors – with me; assessing which were appropriate. Not the bullshit you get as a report card from the DWP when you are told about your inevitable failure. In comparison to the CAB thoroughly going over these factors you begin to see just how poorly ATOS conducts this test, which itself, as I have said before, is not a medical assessment. Not even close.

What conditions you have are irrelevant; all that matters is whether or not you can fulfil the requirements for the relevant descriptors. Not only that but anyone reading this facing this process that has yet to fill in their ESA50 – go to the CAB and get them to help fill this in for the same reason as above: they have the descriptors. In fact:

Anyone reading this facing this process that has yet to fill in their ESA50 – go to the CAB and get them to help fill this in for the same reason as above: they have the descriptors.

You will only pass if you score 15 points from those descriptors. Whatever health issues you have must:

a)     Conform to the descriptors in terms of what they require to pass (i.e. can you do this thing? Can you not do that task?)
b)     Be recorded on the ESA50. If you don’t put it in this form it won’t exist. Though I suppose if you contract something nasty, for example, in the meantime, with your doctor’s support there might be extenuating circumstances.

I mentioned my hypoglycaemia/metabolic problem (I don’t know what the fuck it is, but that’s a whole other thread) to the adviser but because it wasn’t covered in the ESA50, even though I’m sure I mentioned it, it wasn’t going to be taken seriously. Conversely my tired eye problems, which were mentioned (I even brought the optician’s prescription to the WCA), weren’t worth mentioning because recent changes to the descriptors don’t cover this unless you are registered blind. Even then the descriptors don’t cover sight specifically; instead they refer to it by way of being able to communicate or get around; not simply ‘can you see?’

When I got home I started thinking about the health issues and diagnoses I’ve received; for example my GP, when I first mentioned this years ago, said I had ‘derealisation’. Mentioning that to ATOS means nothing – it’s how it affects you.

So the adviser goes through, and, based on your explanation, that this affects you – exactly as the descriptor is laid out. So if the descriptor is something like “can’t walk 20m”, that’s what you write. That’s how it works. The underlying condition is not the issue.

Now comes the hard part: getting my GP to agree with the CAB assessment. If not, the appeal fizzles. That is how ESA works. I immediately contacted the surgery to book an appointment and the earliest I can be seen, at a different venue (because my surgery is run by an idiot), is 2 and a half weeks. For all I know the tribunal people could contact me between then. No matter how unlikely, I cannot confirm that won’t happen.

I can’t pretend to be confident about this; it’s already proven to be a struggle just explaining this system. For learned folk in a compassionate role GP’s can be remarkably reactionary and ignorant. I can but hope the GP will agree – I’m not sure why she wouldn’t since these conditions are real. Refusing to help would, in my opinion, betray prejudice. Even then it will likely be seen as private work, which could come at a potentially hefty price.

As you can see everything in this process is not what it seems. You cannot take anything for granted: not the support of a GP, not the diagnoses of experts, and certainly not the advice and assessment of the DWP and its cronies. If this long winded post achieves anything, it’s that anyone else going through this gets help. If not from the CAB then anyone else similarly experienced. You WILL need it.

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