Tag Archives: atos

Riots or protests?

So the rioters have been going through the courts at a breakneck pace, and they’re being threatened with having their benefits taken away. I’m sure that will really worry the millionaire’s daughter, the primary school worker and the budding musician. Well, maybe the musician… It seems that the riots were truly classless, with many tearing up the town regardless of social background. Apparently these people were ‘protesting’ against the government and all its various stupid ideas since the coalition took power, and some people are arguing online that these protesters should be treated as wannabe freedom fighters rather than criminal idiots.

Here’s my view:

If they were protesting against government reforms and all the misery that the government has caused the little people since it took over, if they were protesting the rich tax-dodgers, the bank bonuses, the benefit reforms that have led to untold stress, the fact that it now appears that the police really did shoot an innocent man dead – again! – and the insane cuts to various vital services etc etc etc then…

Why didn’t we see ATOS centres and JobCentres in flames? Why weren’t the crowds marching on parliament demanding equality for all? Why didn’t we see people trying to do to Canary Wharf what the Daleks couldn’t? Why wasn’t every single RBS branch looted and decorated with symbolic effigies of Fred Goodwin? Why wasn’t the House of Commons pelted with paint and stones? Believe me, if the ATOS centres or JobCentres had gone up in smoke, some people would have happily toasted marshmallows in the ashes. (For the record, these are rhetorical questions not suggestions, so if the local ATOS centre gets torched, I had nothing to do with it. Honest.)

Instead, what did these protesters do? Indiscriminately attacked buses, police cars and firefighters. Burned shops and homes to the ground. Whatever didn’t burn, got looted. Homes burgled, passersby beaten up and mugged. Three men mown down. Petrol bombs hurled at police. Reporters hospitalised. In general, forgive me if I’m wrong, but they seemed to be picking the easy targets and hitting them up, much like this government has been doing.

Take for example that they have just admitted that their disability benefit reforms have been based on iffy figures, figures that have been clearly been, at best, not looked at properly, giving an unfair impression of the ‘rise’ in DLA caseloads: http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/08/dwp-admits-disability-reform-based-on-dodgy-figures-as-reported-by-left-foot-forward/

Or the smearing of disability benefit claimants as ‘scroungers’: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/charities-angry-over-ministers-crackdown-on-disability-benefits-2326481.html

Or letting huge corporations avoid amazing amounts of tax while reducing the police, the fire service and the army.

And now, what have the protesters / rioters really achieved? A hell of a lot of mess, nervous tension, and ‘Call me Dave’ has given the police powers to disrupt social networks. Hoodies probably banned (I like hoodies, dammit), increased legal powers to deal with those who upset the state – for whatever reason. I bet ID cards are back on the agenda within a few months. The Daily Mail must be loving this. Now they’ve got an excuse to curtail more freedoms and for what? A free TV and some Basmati rice? I hope it was worth it.

On the upside though, it has been heartening to see communities pulling together, helping each other out and uniting in the face of the worst riots we’ve had since, well, the last Tory government. Community clean-ups, wombles, facebook support groups for the police / emergency services and fundraising for those who lost their homes in the riots make me feel like there’s some hope for us yet.

If only we could all get along like this without having to have a riot first.

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The irony.

As I was forced to go through an ATOS medical last wednesday 11th, thousands of people were marching through London in protest at ATOS bullshit. As part of the Hardest Hit campaign, they marched to Parliament, and many went on to meet their MPs, and had imaginative posters with “ATOS don’t give a toss” and one with braille; “We’re being ……….. by the government!”. Apparently the braille word meant ‘screwed’…

But brilliant that people are rising up against ATOS, hopefully we can draw attention to how hopeless they are, and how completely inappropriate it is to give a company contracts to review benefits and then offer them bonuses for how many people they kick off said benefits. Biased much, anyone?

Their decisions in some cases have been outrageous, and their treatment of those who have mental disorders frankly shocking. How in heck is someone sitting at a computer clicking a mouse for half an hour supposed to assess someone’s mental health, especially if they’re not specifically trained to do so? Don’t we have psychologists for that sort of thing?

As for questions I was asked in the medical – almost word for word the form I filled in… oooh, must be 9 months ago now. That’s right, 9 months from initial claim to medical. And two months after last claim to medical. *Blows raspberry*

And the physical test at the end? Can I stand up? Can I raise my foot? Can I bend my knee? Can I stand on one leg and touch my nose whilst at the same time reciting the alphabet backwards? Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.

I don’t think I have a future as a performing seal, but hopefully I have a future as Students With Disabilities officer at Cardiff University. That’s right, I’ve put my name down, no backing out now. Design meeting for posters this week, and gotta come up with a manifesto by Monday. Watch this space!

ATOS – Helpful or Timewasters? You decide.

Sooo… the saga of ATOS and my medical continues. Having called them last week to ask if I could tape my medical, and being promised that I would be sent a letter and they would text me back, and neither happening, I called them again this morning. I got through to the Bristol centre on the first try, a little unexpected but not unwelcome. I politely said that I had called about taping the medical and I was just wondering what was happening?

They made it clear in no uncertain terms that I cannot tape the medical. They actually said, I swear, “let me just get the guidelines…” and then quoted them at me. For five minutes. If I want to tape my medical, I must have a professional sound engineer, a double tape deck capable of making simultaneous recordings and copies, the tape deck must be professionally calibrated before recording begins, I have to get the written consent of the healthcare professional conducting the medical beforehand and I must be able to hand a sealed copy of the finished tape to the healthcare professional at the end of the medical. They then said that the costs for all of this must be met by the claimant.

Excuse me? How is any benefit claimant supposed to arrange and afford all that?

I said, as politely and inoffensively as I could, that that seemed a little unreasonable. They said that the guidelines must be abided by and if I wanted, they could cancel my medical and have it rescheduled so I could have a witness with me, but that the file would be sent back to the DWP with a note explaining why.

In other words, they threatened to send me back with a note pinned to my chest saying that I’m a troublemaker. That’s nice.

I said I didn’t want to cancel my appointment, I only wanted to tape it, for my own use. They said they couldn’t comment as they were DWP guidelines and referred me to their manager, giving me another number to call. Realising I had reached an impasse with the assistant, I agreed to call the manager.

I called the manager and briefly explained why I was calling. They said they didn’t know anything about my case, that they were off-site and so didn’t have access to their computer and so couldn’t access info on my case, but that there was a number on my ATOS appointment letter and I could call that.

I explained that I had already called it, and they had referred me to the Bristol office, who had referred me to her. I said I just wanted to ask about taping the medical and why the guidelines were so harsh. They reiterated what the assistant had said, saying that they were DWP guidelines, and I would have to call them. They did say though, that after the assessment I can request a copy of the medical report, and again I would have to call the DWP office in St Austell, and she had found the number in her diary and helpfully gave it to me. Hm.

So I called the DWP. It turned out to be a general helpline number with a recorded message and options rather than an office, but I persevered and waited until the phone was obligingly picked up. After the usual security questions – I failed the mobile number question because it appears that despite several forms having been filled out since I changed it, they haven’t updated their records. Surprise. – and jumping through some hoops, we began a sensible conversation. Well, as sensible as it gets where the DWP is concerned. They asked me to confirm which benefits I claim. I confirmed that I get DLA but that I had stopped ESA two months ago. They asked whether the medical was for ESA or DLA. I said the letter said it was for ESA. They said that as I was no longer claiming ESA, the medical was no longer appropriate as it is a work capability assessment and since I am currently self-employed, the point is moot, and said that they would send a note to the benefit centre to have it cancelled.

This was done so casually that it took me by surprise. I had called to ask about the taping guidelines, now I was being told I didn’t have to go at all. I was so disbelieving that I asked several times if they were sure and if the medical wasn’t to check my six month ESA claim had been genuine or backdated or catching up with claims or something like that. They repeatedly and patiently said the same thing over and over – I am no longer claiming ESA, therefore there is no need for a medical. In the end I took that for an answer, but I’m still going to call the Bristol ATOS centre on Wednesday morning just to double check because heck knows if they’ll get that note or even take any notice of it.

There you have it. Several phone calls to ATOS, and I mentioned in at least two of those phone calls that my claim for ESA had ended. They didn’t bring me up on it or question it, and just assumed the medical was going ahead come rain or shine. One phone call to DWP and apparently, the whole thing’s off because it’s pointless. I could have told ATOS that.

I was so taken by surprise by this turn of events that I almost forgot my original reason for calling – to question the harshness of the guidelines on taping medicals. They said they had no idea as this was a general ESA helpline (!) but that the policies and guidelines were available online at direct.gov.uk. I decided not to push my luck, thanked them for their help, and signed off.

Does this mean I’m finally about to be left alone by the powers that be? I can only hope. For now, I leave it to you to judge: ATOS – helpful or timewasters?

Fun and games with ATOS

A few days ago, I got two very strange letters from ATOS. One was informing me that my appointment on 11th May had been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, and the other said that my appointment on 7th May (huh?) was also cancelled. The one about the 11th was odd enough, but the 7th? What appointment on the 7th? And according to the letter, that one had been due to be held in Gloucester. Gloucester? Are you kidding me? It’s 30 miles away!

Puzzled, I got on the phone to ATOS yesterday. They denied all knowledge of the 7th, and said the appointment on the 11th was going ahead, and that a BSL interpreter has been booked. No explanation for the letters. I asked what the 7th had been all about and the advisor suggested it might have been linked to DLA. I asked why DLA would suddenly arrange appointment. They said they didn’t know, all they could see on their system was my old ESA claim – which stopped nearly two months ago – and that I would have to call DLA as it was two different departments. They said that ATOS handle all benefits, but I would have to contact the DLA department. I asked, reasonably I thought, that if ATOS handle all benefits, why DLA wasn’t showing up on their system as it’s all the same company. They replied that they were two completely seperate benefits (Are they? REALLY?) and that I would have to call the DLA department and – surprise, surprise – they didn’t have the number. I said I’d find it and hung up.

There you have it. As part of the radical overhaul of the benefits system, instead of government departments that don’t share information, you get two corporate departments – of the same company – who don’t share information. Fantastic.

But it didn’t end there. I couldn’t find a number specific to DLA for ATOS, either in the letters or online, so I called the general helpline again today. Again, they denied all knowledge of the 7th, and having been reassured that I wouldn’t be accused of deliberately missing the appointment if it turned out to be for real, I let the matter rest. Then I brought up my other reason for calling. I am nervous of the medical, and I have read few, if any, good things about them. I have no idea of who the BSL interpreter will be, and thus no idea of the qualifications they will have. I asked if I could tape the medical and have it transcribed so that I could be sure of what the interpreter was saying for me.

They said that I could tape the medical, but that I needed to call the centre directly and let them know, and helpfully gave me the number, and even more helpfully, it turned out to be the correct number.

I got through on the fourth attempt, having been cut off twice. After the usual security preamble, I explained my reason for calling; that I was concerned about my interpreter accurately translating everything I signed, and that I would like to tape the medical and have it transcribed.

They asked me to hold the line while they ‘got advice’.

After a minute or so, they came back and said that all they could say was that a “signer” had been booked, and that they were a “professional signer” and that that was all they could say. Ignoring the slur on interpreters and choosing not to correct the ‘signer’ term – cowboy terp anyone? – I asked “but does that mean I can record the interpreter?”

They said they had no provisions for recording medicals.

I said my Dad has a couple of old tape decks (he does) and I could bring them.

They asked me to hold the line.

When they came back, they asked if they could have a number to call me back. I said that I was calling from a minicom and I wouldn’t be around all day and my mobile is strictly text messages only. They said they completely understood and promised to text me back.

I’m still waiting.

Atos medical – yippee (!)

So I was having a nice quiet Saturday morning, until a letter landed on the mat. It was from Atos, inviting me to a medical, well, if you can call “we have arranged an appointment for you at: ******* . It is important that you attend. If you fail to attend, your benefit may be affected” an invitation.

It’s not the tone of the letter that has me astonished, horrified and not sure whether it’s appropriate to laugh. In the form they sent me and that I sent back to them a while ago, I explained that I cannot walk far without resting, that steps are an issue and my feet are painful. In response, with this appointment invitation, they have sent me a ‘suggested route’ to the assessment centre – a 1 hour 14 minute journey by walking and by bus, with 5 changes – Walk, bus, walk, bus, walk.

Are they insane? Stupid? Having a laugh? Or all of the above? Or maybe they really think that I am capable of this, and of course if I actually do take their suggested route (ha!) they’d no doubt use it as evidence that I’m not eligible for benefits. And to make it clear, I actually stopped claiming ESA a month ago, and am registered as self-employed with the HMRC. I was claiming ESA from september to March because I got so tired of being jerked around by the JobCentre – maybe one day I’ll describe some of my more colourful experiences with them on here – and actually took less money on ESA than I did on JSA just because a) my legs were getting to the point that driving myself to jobcentre was becoming more of a pain and b) I wasn’t asked moronic questions every two weeks.

They are so far behind, it’s taken them 8 months and a month after I stopped claiming to get round to giving me a medical. And this is how the government is going to overhaul our benefits system.

I have a better idea – encourage, no, force the various departments to talk to each other. In my dealings with the DWP / JobCentre / BCC / Other agencies, I’ve lost count of the number of times that information is simply not passed from one to the other and more often than not, important documents are ‘lost’. The onus is on me to make sure everyone is up to date. No wonder it’s so easy to screw the system. Unless you’re genuine, like me, then the system screws you. I agree completely that the benefits system needs a complete overhaul. But instead of treating the claimants like criminals and idiots, why not emphasise the importance of communication and competence to the people administrating the system? I guarantee things would improve much quicker than by giving everyone a bewildering new set of rules.

Now what was my point when I started all this? I’m sure I had one. Oh yes – I will NOT be taking Atos’s suggested route to the assessment centre. I will be insisting on the attendance of a BSL interpreter. I’m also seriously considering taping the whole thing, so I can show how they deal with deaf claimants, or in my case, deaf ex-claimants.

Atos, here I come!