Case Study November 2016


Tilly is a woman in her 40’s who has complex mental health issues, a history of drug dependency and an extremely high level of complex support needs.  She is prescribed Nitrazepam, Benzodiazepines & Diazepam to help manage her mental illnesses.

Today Tilly came to SWWOP in Crisis, she hasn’t received any benefits since July – 4 months.  She has survived by working as a prostitute on the streets of Sheffield, feeling she has absolutely no alternative to keep herself alive

Her ESA claim was suspended in July following a medical assessment that deemed her physically able to work, despite the fact that the award was originally made due to mental ill health and not physical health.  Yes, I agree, she can raise her arms above her head but that’s not the issue here.  Mental illness is difficult articulate, difficult measure and difficult to understand – evidently.

Till has been unlucky in another of the governments postcode lotteries.  The DWP told her, the only benefit she was now eligible for is Universal Credit because of her postcode.  Hers is one of the first areas UC is being phased in to.  Without any choice or understanding of this benefit, it’s extremely onerous, Claimant Commitment and what as an ill woman she is expected to do. Tilly signed her name to 40 hours per week of job search and to attend multiple appointments with a work coach.  Obviously, Tilly has been set up to fail, she hasn’t been able to fulfil the commitments and thus is at risk of being sanctioned.

Our worker made several long calls to DWP departments and was given lots of conflicting information.  Ultimately payments are not being made as UC are waiting for a copy of Tillys tenancy agreements – something that could be simply resolved if she had been informed.

On top of this the council have served Notice Seeking Possession for non-payment of rent and she is at risk of losing her home.  She is unfit for work, she isn’t receiving any benefits– she has no means of paying her rent.

We also establish that actually, on UC Tilly can in fact submit sick-notes which will exempt her from job search but not necessarily appointments – that’s at the discretion of a single individual – the Work Coach. So, she submits a sick note and DWP accept she is too sick to look for work but apparently not too sick to attend coaching. It’s like the DWP have the power to pick and choose whether she is sick or not as it suits them?!  I thought trained medical professionals (we call doctors) made that assessment, the ones who actually issue the sick notes. Did we miss something here?  If a DWP employee submits a sick-note presumably they are now asked to still come in for some of their duties – at the line manager’s discretion of course.

Our worker managed to get a UC payment made for Tilly – a one off for now.  We provided a food parcel so Tilly can eat until she receives a payment, hopefully tomorrow.  We will work with her to provide the necessary documents the DWP need to enable her benefit to be paid, to help her understand UC benefit, to ensure she is treated properly and fairly and that her mental illness is not dismissed as less important than physical illnesses.

In the meantime Tilly will continue to survive by prostitution, she will continue to put herself at risk because what are the alternatives for someone in her position?