Thursday 28 March 2013

Citizens Advice Bureau/ESA Application

Hi everyone,

Again I've been a terrible blogger not keeping you up to date. I'm now living with my parents and partner has had to move in with some relatives. One salary is not enough to live on even for one person. If only the government realised that huh!

So, now I'm living with my parents, I'm able to apply for SOME kind of benefits. Big relief because my overdraft is nearly all gone but I still have pet insurance and my phone bill to pay for on a monthly basis. I've already had one bank charge from insufficient funds and don't want to spiral into years of debt.

I've really been worried about the kind of benefits I actually qualify though, especially after hearing about all these ATOS "horror stories". I feel as if I'm borderline between Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance.

I've read so many things about benefits to see all the ins and outs and I felt that I wouldn't get a look in with JSA. The gov website states that, to qualify for JSA, you must be available for work immediately. Now I aim to be available for work soon (basically, as soon as I'm on the correct medication and these effectively improve my symptoms, I will be applying for suitable work) but I'm certainly not ready for work just yet.

The only other option (I'm aware of) is ESA. To qualify for that, you must have an illness or disability that significantly affects your ability to work. In theory I should qualify as my illness has got to that point. I've thought about the kind of things I'd need to do for any job and here's why I'd struggle/wouldn't be able to.

  • Standing (for a shop/restaurant/hotel job,  in a busy meeting even?) - After 5 mins I get extremely dizzy, my back, shoulders and legs hurt and I get extremely exhausted.
  • Walking (from a bus stop to work, up and down stairs in an office, from stockroom to shop floor or kitchen to restaurant area etc) - After a few mins I get dizziness, exhaustion, my legs hurt so much I must sit down.
  • Sitting (at a reception desk/ in a call centre) - I need a seat that will support my back properly and, even then, I ache and I get stiff joints if I'm sat in one position for a while. This would (and has) affect my productivity.
  • Carrying things (boxes, plates, folders etc) - I get shakiness on bad days and my arms can get quite weak. I drop things easily especially if the nerve pains in my hands are bad. Heavy things would wear me out very easily.
  • Bending and stretching (reaching shelves, replenishing stock etc) - Also causes achiness, exhaustion and shaking especially if stretching to put something back on a shelf.
  • Using machinery and facilities with screens (computer screens etc) - I could manage this but I get blurry vision so I couldn't read things very quickly or for long periods of time. On a good day this is ok, on a bad day, not so ok.
  • Travelling to and from work - On a good day I can just about manage a taxi or a train but I need to be driven to the train station. Buses are out of the question until my bladder symptoms improve and I can get over my anxiety. Any kind of travelling wears me out even if someone else is driving me. If I could drive myself maybe this wouldn't be a problem but my dizziness and blurry vision, anxiety with travelling anywhere alone, and lack of finances get in the way of that. 
  • Meetings - If I'm in a situation where it's not appropriate/not possible to go to the toilet whenever I need to, I get extremely anxious due to my overactive bladder. It gets to the point where I may have a panic attack or at least be unable to concentrate on whatever's happening. 
So, these are the factors I can think of that would be affected by my symptoms. Through working during my illness (before it got a lot worse in the past 4 months), I noticed these factors were getting to be a problem anyway and I'd have to really push myself to do these to a standard good enough to keep me in a job. Now my symptoms are worse, I'm even less able to do them and I can't see many (if any!) jobs that don't entail at least some of these factors. So ESA has to be my option.

I went to Citizens Advice Bureau earlier today to see if I could get some advice and basically to get their opinion on whether ESA was the right way to go. It was a bit of a wait but the waiting room is nice and calm and quiet. I got called into a small office (very warm in there! Had to take my coat off as the temperature was setting off my dizzy spells and headaches). The woman was lovely. She listened to me, took down my details and gave me some good advice. She also had a word with her supervisor to check and basically they think I have a good case for applying for ESA. 

The interesting thing was that the advisor told me that, at first, my claim would be turned down (you think they wouldn't be allowed to tell you that lol!). She also said that the CAB would help me appeal and help with my forms and everything so not to worry. There's no way I could qualify for JSA and I've got nothing to lose applying for ESA. 

It feels so good to have someone fighting my corner on this. Fluctuating illnesses are bloody frustrating. It's all well and good knowing I have to pace myself and build up on physical activities until I improve but how can I honestly hold down a job whilst doing that? From my experiences, if you can't fulfill all the duties, you can't carry on with the job. 

So yes, I will get my sick note from the doctor (hopefully my notes will be pushed through quickly so my newest doctor knows my medical history), gather together the requested information (luckily I found my p45 today, which is needed if I don't qualify for Statutory Sick Pay), fill in my form and send it off. 

Next step, sort my printer out!

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