Don’t Panic!

Have you noticed how often life leaps out to bite one’s bum? And, when it does, invariably at the most awkward moment. Mind you, if the moment wasn’t already tending towards the awkward, then this would be no more than a niggling nibble rather than a severe savaging. I could spend much time, and effort, discussing the various Laws of Sod and Murphy but I’m sure the web already has many such pieces. No, I’m concentrating on how and why a particular crisis suddenly bounced into my life.

There it was in the post, a bulky, A4 sized envelope. No clue as to its contents when opened as it was in print. Or at least, so I presumed as all I could make out was paper covered with faint, quavery scratches. It was only when my husband came home that I discovered the DHSS, writing from an office in Blackpool, wanted to review my situation. They must certainly believe in miracles, that lot, sending this pack out to me in print rather than Braille. I phoned their Help Line, a misnomer I can tell you. Be prepared for a wait worthy of Captain Oates. The minion to whom I eventually spoke assured me a Braille version would be posted immediately. Well, just like Diana Ross, I’m still waiting. And, this is a government department who agreed over a decade ago, after much toing and froing of forms, that all future correspondence would be in Braille.

I suppose they smugly assumed they had gone out of their way to be helpful; after all, the letter had been produced in large print. A dodgy photocopy, done so badly the print was fuzzy; even someone with twenty twenty vision would quickly have had a migraine trying to decipher it. The DHSS must work on a similar principle as those folk who, when holidaying abroad, assume that everyone will understand English, if it is shouted loudly enough.

And, if the prospect of tackling a sisty page booklet wasn’t enough, the accompanying letter peremptorily demanded the whole shebang be returned within three weeks. Three weeks, of the date the thing had been dispatched. Since it had taken a week to reach me, that left us a fortnight. Just as the Scottish school holiday season was starting; my husband, therefore, would be away until well after the deadline. But then, how could we have expected someone in an office south of the Wall to realise that Scotland is a different country where things are done differently? I wonder how many folk would return from holiday to find a similar missive waiting on the doormat, return date well and truly gone? But, of course, us drains on the System aren’t supposed to have holidays!

I’d only one option. Phone my local CAB and book a home visit; two visits, there was such a fankle. Certainly, I could never have tackled it on my own, accessible format or no. The gentleman explained that, each year, the DHSS selects a number of clients at random and checks whether their situation has altered. The official line is concern that the correct benefits are being claimed. In other words, Government speak for a wee snoop. And as far as snooping is concerned this particular office would have impressed neither M nor Harry Pearce, the letter had taken so long to reach me because they had forgotten where I lived! It had initially gone to their Kilmarnock office, trusting that someone there would be able to track me down. They had been paying money into my account for years, yet didn’t know where I lived! And as for the attempt at providing all this in an accessible format, the presentation of the whole thing was so amateurish that the CAB gentleman suspected it might be a hoax or even something fraudulent and made several phonecalls to double check the thing’s authenticity.

So, an extension was granted and the massive form completed. And yet another assurance was made that, in future, I would at least receive covering notes in braille. Several weeks later, another missive arrived, confirming that, yes, my condition had not improved. Well, it wouldn’t, would it, not without a miracle! And, since my condition was as before, my benefits were also unchanged. All of which I could have told them weeks before.

And did this information arrive in braille? What do you think?

Yes, I know there are benefit cheats. Such people must be stopped; thrown out of Parliament, at the very least. But I also wonder just how much money, OUR money, is wasted annually on cafuffles like this? Inefficient attempts at providing accessible information; records of addresses out of date or non-existent; not even any effort at basic research as the prognosis of medical situations. Unless of course, this whole thing is part of a Job Seekers’ Programme?

© Charlotte Bennie 2009