The judge sits on his great assize

(This post is a continuation of this sage: Family misfortunes. Its title comes from this fabulous Roy Harper song.)

Because of last week’s snarl-up last about my sister’s appointment (which seems ages ago now), I phoned the PIP helpline on Monday morning to ensure that day’s appointment was in their records. Fortunately it was. I spied out the postcode they’d told us on StreetView – I couldn’t see any Crapita offices, so I asked if it was in the named building I could see. The reply was that it was in a GP surgery, which turned out to be in that building!

The assessment started on time, and the assessor was either kindly or superciliously faux-encouraging of my sister. I’m pleasantly surprised that she told us her full name. (You can guess what I feel, but I realise I’m very cynical about anyone and anything to do with state benefits at the moment.) She asked quite a few questions about my sister’s physical abilities. (My sister has no problems there.)

Then the mental competence questions began. I don’t recall all of them, but I do recall the assessor asking my sister if she could follow written instructions. This was obviously a wide open question: the answer would obviously depend on the number, clarity and complexity of the instructions. So I asked the assessor for an example. She wrote something like ‘go to the sink the other side of the room, go out of the door, come back’. My sister happily got as far as going out if the door but didn’t come back until the assessor went to get her. It’s unprovable whether my sister would have come back on her own if she’d taken the written instructions with her.

That question was one of a series about my sister ability to sequence, i.e do things in order. I don’t think they really found her limit, which is much less than I’d expect a ‘normal’ person to manage.

There were questions about whether and how my sister uses a cellphone. She can use her ‘candy-bar’ phone to call home or her work if she has travel issues. She can’t text, and has other limitations with technology. There were also questions about my sister’s online life. I didn’t know that she can look up detail of books on Amazon. The assessor asked if my sister bought books online. I explained that she makes no online purchases. I didn’t get across that she can’t assess or install software, react appropriately to phishing emails, or do anything without patient re-instruction. Anything contextual to do with IT is beyond her.

My sister was also asked whether she can arrange her own travel. She can, within Worcester. She has been ‘programmed’ with Worcester bus routes she uses to get to familiar activities. She knows to go to a bus station and ask for relevant information. We told the DWP on the form that led to this assessment that she can’t plan travel outwith Worcester, but we didn’t get to examine this in the assessment. I would have thought that it’s normal for siblings who live at opposite ends of the UK to be able to book trains and flights to visit each other, and my sister can’t do that. I think she’d find going to Birmingham New Street, then to Birmingham International, then getting to the airport, then getting through check-in and security, then getting a tram from Edinburgh Airport to the city centre impossible – especially the security stuff. I don’t think she even knows about checking in/getting boarding passes to a flight. (To be honest, I don’t understand why it’s called check-in when you don’t do it at the airport. It’s saying ‘I intend to fly’, when you’ve made that intention clear by buying a ticket. ‘Checking in’ is surely saying ‘I’m here at the airport, ready to fly.’) The assessment didn’t examine my sister’s numerical and budgeting skills (non-existent), which were quite heavily examined on the form she had to submit earlier. The assessor told us she was a retired nurse. I couldn’t think of a polite way to say ’so how does that qualify you to assess mental competence, and the effects of its absence?’

So I don’t think I was of much help to my sister, and I’m quite concerned that the assessment didn’t really establish the effects of her disabilities on her life, but instead made it appear that she can do more.

The latest bit of fun is that someone at my sister’s GP practice phoned her late on Friday, insisting that she comes for another appointment on Wednesday morning. My brother is almost certainly unable to take time off to accompany her, I can’t go because Elly and I will be on holiday in the Netherlands (and I’m not not going on that!), and our mother will not go to the surgery, even in a taxi. (This is because her legs are really bad at the moment, so she can’t walk more than 20 yards, which she’d need to do to get from the GP car-park to the surgery entrance.) My sister in law might be able to go, but she’s a bit unsure because she hasn’t been in the process until now. To be honest, I’d like her to go, because she has a very strong personality – she’s in the British Transport Police, so has to deal with all sorts of malarkey.

So I spent two hours late on Friday afternoon (when I should have been finishing some work before going away) programming our mother to call the PIP helpline to say

  • Please rearrange the appointment for when I’m next in Worcester (late August)
  • Failing that, please rearrange it to be at home where she and my sister-in-law easily support my sister
  • If the appointment has to take place on Wednesday morning, to stress the points about Susan’s disability that weren’t covered in the first appointment.

I’m particularly incensed with DWP/Capita for making appointments by phone. There is no paper trail, just ‘he said, she said’.

The one tiny ray of something akin to sunshine is that Susan did get an expenses claim form, on which a companion could claim travel expenses. I somehow doubt whether they will repay £180 for my flight, but I have claimed that. I’m sure they won’t repay for the first journey, because it was (according to them) Susan’s fault that it didn’t go ahead.

Oh, and the latest joy: my mother’s solicitor emailed late this afternoon to ask why I hadn’t replied to an email (sent from her colleague’s account) in June, and politely enquiring why her bill for handling our dad’s estate hadn’t been paid. I had replied to that email the same day , I’d responded to her suggestions with some (hopefully) intelligent queries, and I’d asked her to advise her bank details so I could ensure my mother paid by internet banking.

On Saturday morning, the solicitor’s assistant phoned to tell me the bank account and sort code. He didn’t tell me the payment reference, so the bill still can’t be paid!

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