sareini: default (lovely-scream)
Over here in the UK this week we had a Budget, which is basically when a politician who has somehow been given control of the nation's money sets out his plans to waste that money for the next year or so. It's all very thrilling and fun for all the family, provided you're rich. This year's Budget has had a couple of extra fun things - a "Sugar Tax" on soft drinks (joke's on them; I'm perfectly happy drinking water) and the inevitable cuts to disability benefits, which sadly do affect me.

My own ongoing experiences with the DWP )

Currently, the fucking bastard Tory government (that's their full name, don't believe the people who claim they're just called "Conservatives") are trying to make things even worse for disabled people claiming these benefits as well. One thing they want to do is cut the basic ESA benefit for all new claiments, regardless of marital status or anything else, to £73.10 a week - which as I've already said, is all but impossible to live on. The other thing they want to do is reduce the "scoring" for whether you can dress yourself unaided or use the toilet unaided in the PIP assessment "because those people will already have aids to help them at home and so don't need any extra money", thus reducing the amount of money people can get from PIP by anything from £30 to £50 a week.

Imagine that. You've already had to go through the humiliation and probable soul-crushing acceptance that you can't use the toilet by youself, which is then added to when you have to admit it to an uncaring government official. The government then turns around and tells you that you just aren't disabled enough for them, now kindly piss off and die in a gutter somewhere away from the rich people. For all my problems (and there are a lot of them) I am regularly thankful that incontinence isn't one of them (except maybe for when I drink too much orange juice and then get up and suddenly realise that I really should have gone to the bathroom 15 minutes previously and now have to get up the stairs with my legs crossed, or when I have a sneezing fit because apparently I'm older than I used to be, or at the very least my bladder muscles are), because short of being completely confined to a bed or wheelchair I can't think of a bigger indication of "needs assistance to live the same life as everyone else". And yet the government have decided that it's not good enough any more. "Disgusting" is too mild a word for it.

(I do score points on the "needs reminders/prodding to dress self" scale; not because of any physical problems but because I just don't see the point of doing so. Depression has made it so that I just don't care what I look like most days, especially since I don't leave the house and my makeshift bed/sofa most of the time anyway, but I admit that I find it easier to explain the stupidity of the "toilet needs" cut better.)

Right now, a rare thing is happening though. The government is actually facing opposition to these plans, and not just from the other political parties. Even other Tories are standing up and going, "Actually, this is going too far," So there's talk of possible u-turns on one hand, while others in the government are attempting to hunker down and insist that these changes are going through regardless of what anyone else thinks, and they're good for people, honest, and we're totally spending more on disabled people every year...

Inevitably, these news stories bring out comments from the Peanut Gallery as well. For the most part, it's actually been quite surprising - the majority of people I've seen have been agreeing that disabled people are being treated abysmally and that it needs to be stopped. Of course, there's still the occasional neanderthal who has to come out with the usual lines of, "But I pay my taxes and no-one helps me!" or "But there's benefit scrougers out there and they need to be stopped!" Firstly, I've paid my taxes as well, and the difference between you and I is that you aren't currently classed as a suicide risk, so shut the fuck up right now. Secondly, yes, there are a minority of people who game the system. There's also a minority of people in the country who break the law, but we don't put the entire British population in prison because of them, do we? You wouldn't think you'd see people actually jealous of the disabled, but wonders never cease.

Welcome to life in Cameron's Britain, where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the disabled get shived in the stomach and left to bleed out in the gutters.


Feb. 28th, 2007 10:39 am
sareini: default (Default)
Today, two days after I got binned, the JobCentre finally sends me a cheque for my Job Grant.

If nothing else, thir timing is unique, that's for sure.
sareini: default (Angry Princess (one))
Today has brought good news and bad news.

I sat in all day waiting for someone from Reed to call me back (well, it's not like I have much else to do right now, is it?). By half three, however, I'd gotten paranoid (part of this was because NTHell have cut off our phone and I wasn't sure if it could take incoming calls - it can) and so I went out to call them. Got someone to say they'd ring me back as soon as they could.

Reed finally rang back about ten minutes ago. The good news is that I am going to get paid for the week's training I did - which should come out at about £195. This is apparently going to go into the bank account on Friday. The bad news is that they still can't tell me what exactly has gone on here. I got another promise of 'calling back' when they can actually find something out.

Actually, that's only part of the bad news. The rest of the bad news is that, despite the fact that I went through this damn New Deal for Disabled People' to make sure that my IB would be on hold for the first few months in case my health wasn't up to it, I am apparently going to have to put in a new claim for Incapacity Benefit. And I need to get a sick note from my doctor. This is not going to end well...

I just don't know whether to feel upset or angry at the moment. All I do know is that, until I'm proved wrong, I'm certainly feeling discriminated against...
sareini: default (Default)
Ok. Here's how things are/happened as far as I know them.

- back in January I gave myself 'Gamer's Bicep' after I played CoH for way too long during the Double XP weekend. This was pretty painful and awkward for a few days, but after about a week it got better, aside from occasional twinges when I unexpectedly bashed it or tried to move something that was too heavy for me. Generally what would happen was that my right arm would go numb with pain for about five seconds, which is really nothing much except if you're trying to lift something heavy, in which case it might be a problem. I pretty much put it out of my mind and went on with things.

- in early February I got my job interview and assessment for the Royal Mail job. During both I was totally upfront about the fact that I suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, that it had been bad in the past but that now I was much improved and, in fact, I wouldn't be trying to go back to work if I wasn't fully capable of doing the job. I got the job, but afterwards I was slightly disturbed to learn that the woman who had done my assessment was not happy that Reed (the agency who were sourcing the jobs for Royal Mail) hadn't told her that I had CFS. She in fact apparently stated to the Reed guy that if she'd known before the assessment she wouldn't have bothered with me. This did mildly perturb me, but I could also see why she might have been concerned and so didn't really get too bothered.

- second day of the training we get told that, later in the week, we'll be doing a Health and Safety thing where we have to show that we know the correct way to pick up heavy boxes. This is a compulsary part of the training even though we're all going to be call centre drones/desk jockeys. I was mildly worried that I might cause an accident if I had to lift a very heavy box and my arm numbed up, so I approached my trainer and asked her how heavy the boxes weere going to be, explaining my situation. At no point did I say I couldn't do anything, just that I didn't want to cause a problem. She told me that it would be fine, the boxes would be empty and it was just a test on technique. I thought nothing more of it.

- Friday comes along and we do the 'lifting boxes' test. I have no problems, no-one has any problems, we all pass (or at least are told we pass). No-one has mentioned my RSI except once in passing.

- throughout the week we are repeatedly told that we're all doing fine and that no-one has any problems with us. We (and I) believe them, especially as one guy was 86ed pretty quickly when they realised he wasn't suitable. Everything seems to be going fine.

- today we start getting training with the various databases and programs used to input customer data and all that stuff. We all - including myself - get passwords for the systems. Again, no-one mentions anything about any problems.

- at about half six I get a call from Reed. The guy in charge of my 'employment' with RM has just received a call from them, and they don't want me back. The only reason they give is something about an RSI I suffer from. Even he admits that what he's been told is very vague and he doesn't understand what's going on. He apologises for everything and tells me that he'll look into this closer tomorrow, but in the meantime there's nothing I can do. I'm left wondering just what the fuck is going on.

I can't help but be deeply paranoid at this point. I've already been told that my CFS was a sticking point during the assessment, but that due to the Disability Discrimination Act they couldn't not accept me just because of me. But throughout this whole thing there've been other little things that have seemed... odd, somehow. The 'suit' fiasco, which became even more pronounced when I came in on the first day and discovered the other two women there in smart trousers, plain tops (not blouses) and cardigans. Not a full-on formal suit like I'd been told to wear. And now there's this - I'm dismissed for a 'condition' I declared a week ago, that isn't in any way major and isn't going to affect my job in any way shape or form, and which nobody has said anything about for the entire week they were aware of it.

Something just isn't right here. Unfortunately, that's not going to do me much good right now, as I'm still stuck without a job, and with no money and no benefits for the forseeable future (we pretty much cleaned out everything when we had to buy that dammed second suit, to the point where I was having to walk three or four miles home from the place because I didn't have the bus fare) as I don't know what's going to happen next, how long it'll take to reinstate my IB and even if I'll be able to go back on it (one of the rules says that they'll hold your IB for a year or so in case you find that you can't cut it at work, but it's not been me who's walked here and I'm not sure the 'health reasons' will fly.

So, aside from reading up on the Disability Discrimination Act, the various pages on the CAB's website pertaining to potential unfair dismissal and waiting for Reed to call me back tomorrow, I'm still pretty much at a loss as to what to do.

And yeah, I spent pretty much the entire evening crying over the whole situation.
sareini: default (discworld - truth fret)
Apparently, I have a typing speed of 15300 ksph (that's keystrokes per hour) or 51 words a minute. Although it goes down to 42 words per minute when you factor in typos.

Heh. 42.

So, I managed to get down to the place I was having the interview despite the snow - in the end I just dressed in my brand-new 'interview' clothes, which consist of a pair of dark brown formal trousers and a blouse-pullover combo (one of those ones where the bouse is actually sewn into the inside of the pullover) in white and tan, and walked into town in my sneakers because they had better grip. Once I was there I changed into my 'work' shoes, which are black, have no heel whatsoever and are actually comfortable because they're in that new 'ballet shoe' style that's apparently sweeping the nation.

I got snowed on the whole way there and nearly went snowblind on a couple of occasions, but it wasn't all that bad, just really really cold and windy.

Interview wasn't that bad either - just got asked a lot of the same questions you get asked at any interview - "What are your strengths?", "What kind of job are you looking for?", that sort of thing. The guy didn't have the faintest idea what CFS was, so I had to try to explain it to him while, for possibly the first time ever, trying to make it sound like it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Anyway... Turns out the job is for Royal Mail, and if I got it I'd be working Customer Service for them, taking enquiries and complaints over the phone, that sort of thing. I get the idea that they might be a little desperate for workers, as I'm going to an assessment with them tomorrow morning despite the job brief saying that it's essential for clients to have had at least 3 months' experience in the Customer Service industry. Also, the guy I saw today said they were focussing less on qualifications and more on what people were like, which is another sure sign that they're desperate for workers.

Had to do a typing test, which is where my score came from (incidentally, the minimum requirement for the job was 3500 ksph, which now seems pretty damn slow to me), and apparently tomorrow I'll have to do some sort of spelling/grammar test, a postcode lookup test and a mock phonecall (the latter taking me back to my Nightline days...) Then I'll be told right there if I've 'passes', and if I have I'll then be taken into the Customer Service floor to observe and listen in to some actual phone calls.

There was only one snag - at one point the guy giving me today's interview said "And make sure you dress for an interview tomorrow - wear a suit or something formal like that". I think I managed to make my face stop falling just in time, but I guess that mans my new 'interview' clothes just aren't formal enough... which is a bit if a problem as I can't afford any more and didn't have any time to buy any anyway. So I guess I'll just have to hope there...
sareini: default (Angry Princess (one))
One )

Two )

Three )

Four )

Five )
sareini: default (American gods - riding the lightning)
(Last week's update never got written due to codine, so now I have no idea what week I'm up to.)

Today was more looking at the jobs each of us had found that might be suitable for me, and then ringing up the relevent people to get more information/application forms sent out/e-mail addresses to send CVs to. A couple of jobs that were particularly interesting were a job as a 'Youth Worker' which would entail working in a cyber cafe teaching disaffected teenagers how to use the internet (which is pretty much what I did during IT lessons in my third year of school once the teacher discovered that I was leaps and bounds ahead of what he was meant to be teaching us and so left me in charge whenever he went out for a smoke) which would pull in £11-12 an hour, and another job that would have me working the front desk of the local police station.

I'm waiting for the application forms to be sent out to me for those two; however, my most promising prospect so far came this afternoon, when I sent my CV via e-mail to an agency regarding a 'Customer Service Agent' job (yes, I know it's a call centre). A couple of hours later I got a call back from the guy, who now wants me to go in Thursday afternoon to see him about the job (and hopefully not to try to fob me off with something I can't do).

There's only one problem with this; I have nothing in my wardrobe that would class as 'interview' clothes. After all, I haven't had to buy anything other than casual since I became ill, and my weight has somewhat... expanded in the several years since I came down with CFS (as in, I used to be 11 stone, and now I'm... 15 and a half stone). Thankfully the Jobcentre might be able to come through for me on this; as part of their 'New Deal' programmes for both able-bodied and disabled people, they can offer a grant of up to £100 for clothes to wear to an interview. You just have to provide the receipts to prove you didn't spend it on mobile phones or food or whatever (although they might be slightly confused when they see that I would have bought a roll of Sellotape along with everything else - it's cheaper than a clothes brush for getting cat hair off your clothes). So I've got to be up bright and early (ack1) tomorrow morning to call the guy who got me started on all this to see if he can organise this for me with about two days' notice. Othwise I'll be turning up for an interview in a red blouse with a button missing and a pair of trousers that creak whenever I try to sit down... and a pair of yellow and blue sneakers.

Wish me luck...
sareini: default (chaos...)
Yesterday was my second meeting with Samantha, the lady from Maatwork who's helping me with this possible going back to work thing.

One of the problems I'd admitted to in the first meeting was that I had no idea how to write a good CV, since I came from the time of Records of Achievement which aren't used any more (and I don't think were ever used...). So she said she would write a CV for me, and when I turned up yesterday she had done just that.

I barely recognise the person on the CV. It's like that test I had to do for the Incap, where by the end of it I sounded like it would just be kinder to take me out back and shoot me. Except this time it's got things like "excellent interpersonal skills", "excellent customer service skills" and "works well on own initiative" (ok, that one sounds accurate).

We also went though some potential jobs that we'd picked out over the week that could be suitable for me. Right from the start it became clear that the "permitted work" hours just weren't going to happen; hardly any businesses want to employ someone who can only work a maximum of 15 hours a week, we had to face the prospect that I'm going to have to go into part-time work if I want to do this. Which might not be too bad, provided the hours aren't too long (20 hours per week seems to be about the norm so far).

I ended up applying for several jobs; a job working for customer enquiries for BT, a job working for customer enquiries for a "prestigious telecommunications company" (if it turns out to be NTHell I may have to have a moral debate with myself...) and a job as a charity worker of sorts, where my duties would be to ring up businesses and try to persuade them to support the charity with donations. (The charity is this one, if anyone is interested). This latter job ended up with me having something of an inpromptu telephone interview, getting asked what I knew of the charity, what I would like to get out of a job and, because I mentioned that I was trying to return to work after being on IB, what my disability was (which is a no-no, because you're not supposed to ask what a person's disability is because it can be seen as discrimination). That was mildly scary, but I bullshitted my way through it, and the guy said he'd send me an application form which I was to fill in and send back with my CV, and then we'd see how it went from there.

To be honest, I'm a bit worried about the apparent cold-calling aspect of this job, because I tend to get all sorts of tongue-tied on the phone sometimes (thank gods it didn't happen yesterday) which I'm pretty sure would get worse if I was cold-calling. At least the call centre jobs (yes, I know, shut up, we need the money) would have me receiving calls, which wouldn't be as bad.

But overall, my experiences with Maatwork are proving to be much better than I might have expected, and certainly more helpful and productive than the "Access to Employment" route I was trying which fell through. We'll see how things continue to go...
sareini: default (Default)
...well, that wasn't particularly useful.

Had to walk up three flights of stairs (well, I didn't have to as there was a lift, but I wasn't too sure about it's stability) which left me pretty shattered by the time I got to the offices. Got there stupidly early too, because I'm so paranoid about being late for things that I'd rather turn up ridiculously early than even risk being late (really. Ask Nick or Kerry about how I get when we go to the cinema sometime.).

So my appointment starts. First thing I get told is that the IT course more than likely isn't for me as it'll be for the computer illiterate or the computer genius, but probably the former. So there's really little need for me to do a course which teaches me how to open and write an e-mail. Ok, I think, and then begin to resign myself to the fact that the only other course that looks suitable for me is the Customer Service (ie. Call Centre) course.

Except that the only work placements one can get for the Customer Service course are in shops. IE. standing around at tills and putting stock on shelves, that sort of thing. I'd be dead in three days if I tried that (I have problems standing for more than fifteen minutes without something to lean on), so that's out too.

So Access to Employment can't help me in my quest to see if I'm employable, and so it's just up to Maatwork now. Which isn't too bad, as Maatwork seem to be pretty on-the-ball about things. I admit I'm slightly disappointed about things as I was hoping to do some sort of course that could maybe kick-start me back into learning, but there are still plenty of other routes I can take.

I have discovered one flaw, though, in the system (at least in this area) - people really seem to believe not only that people trying to get back to work from being too disabled to work or from being out of work for a while are as thick as a sausage sandwich, and that they all want to do manual or industrial work. I can't imagine that I'm going to be the only one in the situation I'm in (although with my past record I may be rather optimistic there - only 1,000 people in the UK collect Guardian's Allowance, for example, and out of them only about 10% of those having it claimed for go on to university, and I was one of them), so it seems rather dumb to restrict courses for disabled people looking to go back to work to things like Bricklaying, Painting and Decorating and Engineering, to name three of their bigger courses.

Have to go through job searches this week as 'homework' for Maatwork, and see which ones might be suitable/interesting for me. This should be fun...
sareini: default (Number 31)
Had a couple of interesting days.

Yesterday I met a drunk woman who was trying to do the splits in the newsagent's for the amusement of the staff there (and who called me "lady" and laughed uproarously every time she did). I also had a most bizarre phone call, which went something like this:

My strange phone call... )

Today I had an appointment with a woman from a company called Maatwork wgo do work with people who are wanting to try to get back to work through the New Deal for Disabled People (I'm now on that, by the way. At least now I can see how it works from the inside rather than just bitching about it from the outside). She's going to be helping me with my CV (I don't have one, since when I was at school the big thing was 'Records of Achievement', which were supposed to be replacing CVs but have died a death in the years since), helping me look and apply for jobs which might be suitable for me and stuff like that. If I get a job, it'll likely start off as 'Permitted work' (under 16 hours a week and/or £86 per week) and go from there - although that could change. If I get anywhere and find I can do the work, that is.

Also this afternoon I got a call from the local college, about the Access to Employment schemes I was looking into last week. They think they can get me on an IT/Customer Service course, so I'm going in tomorrow for an appointment with them about that.

I admit, things are moving along a lot quicker than I had expected. Aside from a few snags, there really do seem to be a good few systems set up to help disabled people who want to try to get back into work but who aren't sure about how to go about it. The limited range of work placement courses is a bit of a problem, but I suspect that that's either down to a regional thing or just that the college can only put on a certain number of courses and so put on their most popular.

Of course, things could still all go horribly wrong. We'll see how tomorrow's appointment goes...
sareini: default (B5 - 15 things)
We appear to be hitting something of a snag.

Yesterday I called the number I'd been given for this college scheme that gets you NVQs while you do work experience and the like to enquire about doing an IT or web design course with them (or, at a pinch, some sort of admin course, although it would eat my brain). Got called back today, but by the sound of things they only do an IT and Business Administration course which is a) short and b) for regularly unemployed people with little or no skills. (They also wanted me to prove which A-levels and GCSEs I had, which I've not been asked since uni and mildly worries me, not least because after all the bloody moves I've done I don't know if I have the certificates any more. Time to go looking on wesites for replacements, methinks...)

So I'm too qualified/intelligent for most course, yet not qualified enough to do other things. Story of my life.

I also looked at the Stoke-on-Trent College website to see what NVQs they offer in general, and it's nearly all stuff like Brickwork, Plastering, Paining and Decorating and the like. It still boggles my mind that you can get a qualification in Call Centre Working, too. But overall very few of the courses were anywhere near suitable for me.

I think I've found my first large flaw in this whole 'Pathways to Work' thing.

The lady who called me today is apparently going to call back on Monday after talking to some people, so we'll see what's up then, but I admit that I'm not holding out too much hope for this avenue...
sareini: default (Number 13)
So today, if you remember, was my interview with an advisor down at the Jobcentre about this 'Pathways to Work' thing.

Things didn't get off to too auspicious a start when, after walking all the way into town to get to the JobCentre, the first thing I see is a sign in their car park/outside area telling me that they have a rat problem and could people please not stand around out there. The JobCentre itself is abattered and rather manky-looking blue-and-white/grey prefab that looks like it was meant to only be a temporary thing but the money ran out.

Inside though, everything is high-tech and new, with touch-screen consoles for jobseekers to access and all the latest computers for the staff to use, which raised my spirits somewhat as I tend to judge how efficient something is by the state of its tech (the SS office, for example, spent over a year supposedly upgrading its computer systems and look how bad that is).

Waited a short while, then the advisor I was seeing came to get me. There weren't any private offices or anything like that, but we went to the back of the building, which was quiet and rather under-populated. This was the disability advisor's section.

First thing I found out was that I'm not actually due for my Incap check till December of this year, which surprised me as I was sure it would be April. Still, no matter, I could still get all the help I wanted, it just wouldn't be under the 'Pathways to Work' name.

We discussed the types of work I'd like to do (anything but manual, I said, but with emphasis on IT, office, admin and secretarial as I think I'd be good at them - certainly at IT), and the options available to me. There was doing voluntary work, which gets you experience but no cash, 'permitted work', which is under 16 hours a week but you can take home up to £86 on top of your IB, and part-time and full-time. We also discussed CVs, career guidance and the possibility of getting qualifications.

All in all, it wasn't too bad an interview at all. I certainly didn't feel pressured into signing up for anything or dropping my IB to go back to work, and it was made very clear to me that everything would be done at me own pace. I went away with the promise that someone called Samantha would be calling me to help me with writing a CV if I needed one (I freely admit that I can't remember how to do half a CV any more) and with the number of a college scheme that could help me get NVQs or equivalent in IT and web design and/or anything else I thought would be good for possibly getting a career. I'm going to look more into them this evening and possibly call them in the morning.

Now I'm home, tired but not feeling too shell-shocked, and working on Kerry's birthday present - a scarf whose pattern I found in the new knitting partwork I'm collecting. Her birthday's at the end of Febuary; I'm hoping it'll be finished by then...


Jan. 4th, 2007 05:30 pm
sareini: default (The Pilgrimess)
This afternoon I actually did something towards one of my New Year's Resolutions.

I called up the DWP's 'Pathways to Work' number and asked for more information.

The 'Pathways to Work' initiative is apparently supposed to help people who've been on Incapacity Benefit to go back to work if they want to. I admit to having some misgivings about the concept in general (I'm afraid it could be misused to force people into going to work when they aren't physically capable), but as my Incap is due to be re-evaluated this year anyway, I figured that I might as well bite the bullet and try it out before they came looking for me. Plus, I'm getting so frustrated at home with little to do that I figured that I might as well see if I'm able to go back to work or something. If I can't then I can't, but at least I'll have tried (and they then can't try to force me into it at a later date).

I've now got an appointment with a personal adviser of some sort at the local JobCentre next Wednesday at 3pm, where I assume I'll have to answer a lot of slightly patronising questions about what I want to do and what I think I can do. The DWP website is remarkably vague about what exactly will go on (worryingly, I saw the phrase "life goals" on the website... I somehow doubt that "getting a character to level 50" will count among them), so I'm still mostly in the dark over what will happen, but I'll keep things updated.

Of course, there are two obstacles in my way that I can see at the moment. One is my health, because if I have to lie down for a few hours after walking down to the town centre (which is just over a mile) then I'm not too sure I'm going to be able to do much in the way of work. Especially if I have to travel a bit to get to a place of work, seeing as I don't drive, won't be driving any time in the near future and more than likely won't be able to afford daily taxis.

The other is the fact that Nick has... misgivings, shall we say, about this. Partly because of my health, but also because he has this slightly oldfashioned idea that only one person on a house should need to go to work, and since he's got a job, I don't need one. Now admittedly, Nick's wages mean that we're not doing too badly right now, but it's not entirely about money - it's about the fact that I don't want to be cooped up indoors any more, and want to at least try to do something. Also, I'm getting rather sick of having no money to spend on myself (the IB goes on the gas, electric, food and cats as Nick's wages only come through once a month and mostly goes on rent and paying people off) and so having to ask Nick for money. I want to be more independant, dammit!

We'll see how things go, anyway.
sareini: default (Bast)
It's always nice to start the day with a cheque in the mail...

Back on Monday, when I was at the SAC, we discovered that my IB was wrong - I should have been receiving some sort of age-related premium. After checking and double-checking the figures, I decided to be industrious and go into the SS office to try and sort it out - or at least get the ball rolling on it, as past experiences with the SS have taught me that it's like attempting to teach cows discipline. They just stare at you dumbly, flick their tails, chew the cud and periodically poop.

So, I turned up at the SS office, only to find that they had changed their system round again to minimize the actual contact with members of the public even more, as for all enquiries you now had to call the relevant department direct. Luckily they also had phones in the office for people who didn't know this/had no phone - such as me.

I explained the situation to the nice lady on the other end of the phone (who may well have been the last helpful member of staff in the building), and she looked over the records and agreed that yes, there had been one heck of a cock-up. Of course, fixing it was another matter entirely - she told me that they might well have to delete my account and rebuild it from the ground up to fix it (thus proving that they still haven't fixed that database error from 2003). She did tell me, though, that she would put it through to be looked at marked 'Urgent', and that I could expect a reply from them by the end of the week. I decided not to hold my breath.

Well, I got two letter from them this morning. One was the standard, "Oops, our bad," letter, but with the added bonus of, "We have now fixed the problem and from next week you will be receiving the correct amount." If that wasn't shock enough (the DWP being efficient? Will wonders never cease?), the second letter was a cheque for the backpayment they owed me, as I should have been receiving this premium from February of last year.

The cheque is for £1,091.20.

I don't know what I'm more shocked about - the fact that they've sorted out a backpayment without having to be chased up, the amount the cheque is for, or the simple fact that all of this has been sorted out so damn quickly.

The DWP staff must have been replaced with Pod People. That's the only thing I can think of.

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