Margot lives in East Lothian. She was a full time carer for her adult son, who had a severe disability with a life limiting condition. Margot’s income consisted of Carers Allowance, Income Support and Housing and Council Tax Benefit. However, in 2010 Margot started to receive letters from the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) stating that she was no longer entitled to Income Support and Housing Benefit as she had been over-paid and all benefits paid to Margot were stopped.
Margot was asked to go into the benefit office for an interview. Margot’s son had to come with her which meant through the interview she had to administer her son’s medication through his tummy tube, suction him and sort his feeding pump and oxygen at the same time as answer the interviewer’s questions. Margot took in bank books with money used to pay her son’s nurses from Direct Payments, Independent Living Fund and the NHS. Margot had saved over the years an amount of money to cover her son’s funeral and bills that would have to be paid after the funeral as she did not want to be in debt. The outcome was that DWP told Margot she would have to pay the overpayment back because of her savings. The amount the DWP stated Margot had been overpaid, over five years, was £16,000.
Margot did not know where to go or what to do with this demand so she contacted her MP. The MP visited Margot and put her in touch with an adviser at the CAB who took up the case.
“It was like being airlifted from a devastating situation to care for my son at an increasingly devastating time in his life”.
The CAB adviser established that Margot’s son’s benefit income had been included in the overpayments calculation. Still letters from DWP continued to drop into Margot’s mail box on a weekly to two weekly basis. Margot passed the letters on to the CAB adviser and she helped Margot lodge an appeal. At this appeal DWP looked again at the decision but did not revise it. During this period, Margot's son was admitted to hospital on 25th November 2011. Margot stayed in the hospital on a camp bed 24/7 to be by her son’s side and to care for him with very little sleep due to the serious nature of his illness. While in hospital caring for her son further DWP letters were brought into Margot from home. Margot had to leave her son’s side to phone the CAB adviser and arrange to meet her at the hospital on Monday morning, 5th December, 2011 as matters were reaching a head with DWP.
At 12.10 pm on the 4th December, 2011 Margot’s son died. He was 26 years old. On arriving home from the hospital there was another letter from DWP waiting for Margot followed by another around 14th December, 2011, the day of her son’s funeral and yet another on 24th December, 2011, Christmas Eve. Eventually DWP agreed that their original calculation was wrong and they reinstated Margot's benefits. Margot says:
“I was distraught from the onslaught of DWP letters and I was distraught because I was losing, lost my son. Over this time the CAB adviser was supporting me and communicating with DWP on my behalf. I will always appreciate the time and support the CAB gave me at the most difficult time in my life.”
Margot has been employed since May 2012.
Wilma, Advice and Outreach Co-ordinator, Hadidngton Citizens Advice Bureau
Wilma works full time as the Advice and Outreach Co-ordinator for Haddington CAB. She has been in this position for four years and prior to joining the CAB had experience working for the Benefits Agency and JobCentre Plus for nearly thirty years.
When she came across Margot’s case, Wilma thought it was very unfair and causing unnecessary pressure on Margot at what was already a very distressing time. At first Wilma could not get anyone to speak to her to sort the problems but persevered until she finally helped Margot reach a successful conclusion: “I was so relieved that eventually someone listened after many months and the correct decision was made for Margot”.
Wilma says working for the CAB is the best and most satisfying job she has ever had. “Removing stress from our clients and improving their situation in general is easily the best part of my job”.