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13 years of fighting the Man

Help and discussions for strategies to get out of debt
tonyreptiles
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13 years of fighting the Man

#55004

Postby tonyreptiles » May 19th, 2017, 5:57 pm

Bit of a tale - but here goes.

Back in 2001 I had a motorbike accident which was pretty bad. I was unable to work for a few years and ended up on benefits for quite a long period of time. I was in and out of hospital, had several surgeries and was reliant on wheelchairs and crutches to get around. Eventually I was able to drive and so I stopped claiming benefits and took on a job as a delivery driver for a local flower shop. It was a temporary job and, when it came to an end I re applied for benefits. The usual delays and administrative bumbling occurred and my claim was predictably delayed and required some backdating.

At around the same time I had a couple of other short-term jobs as I found my feet (literally) and got back into the world of work. My coming on and off benefits caused havoc with over-payments, underpayments and the whole business of calculating my entitlements became a headache. Eventually I got a full-time job and came off benefits altogether.

It was around this time that the DWP decided I owed them some money because of an apparent over-payment. I was still trying to resolve the tangled mess of my benefits entitlement and so asked for some information to help us to get to the bottom of the mathematics of it all. Unfortunately, the information I requested was apparently kept at a remote location and, despite my asking for it several times, the information never materialised. Conversations and letters went back and forth and by 2004, as far as the DWP were concerned, I owed them £227. So began their efforts to reclaim the cash.

To be honest, I still don't know to this day if I actually owe them any money or not. The information we need to decide this has never come to light. However, that hasn't stopped the DWP from chasing the money intermittently over the last 13-14 years. It's been entertaining.

The first thing that happened was that, despite my queries asking for the information needed to check the amounts, the Incapacity Benefits department made a 'decision' to the effect that I owed £227. Then, they continued to send information to my previous address, despite being told on a couple of occasions that I had moved house. I'd occasionally get a phone call from my old stoner house-mate telling me that there had been 'a pile of mail here for you' which had been delivered over the course of several previous months. BY this time, the opportunity to appeal the 'decision' had, apparently, passed.

I always responded to their mail, to tell them of my change of address and to re-iterate that the calculations needed to be looked at. Over the course of the next few years I spoke with several people at the DWP who made some efforts to resolve the situation, but never really delivered on their promises. Information never arrived, my letters were not responded to, changes of address were never actioned etc etc. Interestingly, the amounts that I apparently owed seemed to change too. One time It would be X amount and during another call it would be Y. Curiouser and curiouser. It didn't instil any confidence in me that the department could or would do it's job.

As time went by, years would pass when I would hear nothing. Then, out of the blue I would get a letter telling me that they wished me to repay an (often different) amount of money. The rigmarole would begin again afresh until, after a few calls and letters, radio silence would begin again and my queries would remain unanswered. I'd occasionally get letters from debt collecting agencies, who would back off immediately when I explained the situation.

Over the years I religiously collected their correspondence in a file, knowing that the issue would likely one day come to a head. It was an excellent catalogue of the DWPs failings and a cringe-worthy record of their ineptitude. Time passed and I eventually started my own business as a writer and became a regular poster on the old Motley Fool. I learned a thing or two about personal finance and thereby counted the days to when the supposed debt would be statute barred. Eventually that day arrived after six years passed with no correspondence, and a few years later I was having a clear out of my office and decided that it would be OK to throw away the large pile of letters I had collected during this sorry saga. Surely after all these years the issue had simply gone away?

Big mistake.

About two months A few months later I received a letter and a phone call from the DWP - and they wanted their £227.

But it is statute barred, said I
OK, we can't take you to court but, unlike other creditors, we can still reclaim the money because we're special.

But the calculations are probably wrong, said I
Maybe, but we have a photocopied sheet of A4 from 2003 which says you owe £227. OK, so it's got crossings out on the calculations and you can hardly read it because the photocopy is so bad, but its enough for us to use as evidence in court.

But you can't take me to court, said I, statute barred!
True, but we can ask your employer to take the money from your wages and pay it to us!
Good luck with that, said I.
Eh, said the DWP.
I'm self employed, said I
DAMN! said the DWP.

Well, well set the debt collection companies on you, they retorted
And what can they do that you can't, asked I.
Not a lot, but they can hassle you and you might be frightened enough to pay us, said they.
I'm not easily frightened, said I

And so it went on. I escalated the case through three levels of their complaints procedure, each time asking them to write off the supposed debt. After all, there is no conclusive evidence that I owed the money. They couldn't force me to pay through my payrol and there was no likelihood of them forcing me to pay until I drew a pension, by which time £227 would be worth around £3.25.

All the time I was wondering if I should pay the damn £227 and be done, but the righteousness of my case wouldn't let me. Luckily, I'm in a fortunate position in that I'm not the usual vulnerable type who might find themselves on benefits and be the usual easily intimidated victim they might be used to dealing with. I'm self employed, so they can't force the hand in their favour, and I'm articulate and bloody minded enough to see the matter through to the bitter end. Despite having the discretionary powers to write off the supposed debt, the DWP refused to do so. Despite all of the information I had to demonstrate their incompetence, the issue could not be resolved because the 'computer-says-no.'

But, despite their bullying, harassment, threats and inconvenience, I was determined not to give in.

After all, if the DWP had done their job properly in the first place, this issue would never have happened.
And if they'd dealt with the confusion when the confusion was first identified, this issue would never have happened.
And if they'd done their job and sorted the problem each time they got in touch, this issue would never have happened.

But they didn't, and so here we are. And it wasn't my fault.

The story has a happy ending, for me at least. After many hours on the phone, several letters and a three-stage escalation through their complaints procedure, the DWP eventually agreed to write off the debt - without prejudice. I get the feeling that this was because I'd requested a freedom of information release of all the files and letters they had regarding my issue. (Remember, I'd disposed of all the correspondence some months before.) I'd resolved to take the matter to the Independent Case Examiner and then to the relevant ombudsman, and surely, at some point, the DWP would have their nose rubbed in their own dirt.

It's sad that it took so long and cost so much of both my time and that of the public servants at the DWP. Sadder still is the knowledge that many many vulnerable people have been shafted by the kind of intimidation tactics deployed by the DWP on me during the last 15 years. I've been in their position, scratting down the back of the sofa for enough money to get a bag of chips for dinner. I've waited by the letter box for a giro which never came, making me miss a job interview. I've begged at that big sheet of bullet-proof glass that stood between me and the DWP, desparate for some cash to buy a token to put in my gas meter so I could light the fire in the dead of winter. I've been there. Desperate and crying with nowhere else to turn.

So, last week I took £227 into my nearest city, and handed it out a tenner at a time, to every homeless and vulnerable person I could find. Then, I spent £227 on groceries and handed it to the local food bank.

And then I took Ms TR to the nicest restaurant I could find to celebrate. Because now I have a letter which tells me that the ordeal is over. I won my battle with the man. I won my battle, not because the system saw the error of its ways and decided to do the right thing. I won because I'm reasonably well off, and have the faculties and determination and sheer bloody mindedness to fight for what I believe is right. And when I'm right, I'll fight to the death

It's a privilege not afforded to many who have found themselves in similar situations.

Up yours DWP.

UP. YOURS!

NomoneyNohoney
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Re: 13 years of fighting the Man

#55005

Postby NomoneyNohoney » May 19th, 2017, 6:06 pm

And this is why we have recs!

Inspiring story, but an evil tale of ineptitude. Well done.

Devjon
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Re: 13 years of fighting the Man

#55140

Postby Devjon » May 20th, 2017, 6:12 pm

Chapeau sir, Chapeau

Clitheroekid
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Re: 13 years of fighting the Man

#55185

Postby Clitheroekid » May 20th, 2017, 11:37 pm

An inspiring tale, well done.

As I was reading it I was mentally preparing a letter for you to send to the DWP accusing them of harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and threatening to sue them for damages.

I would love to see them ordered to pay damages to someone in your position, it might just shake them out of their stupidity.

melonfool
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Re: 13 years of fighting the Man

#55217

Postby melonfool » May 21st, 2017, 11:12 am

Well done in standing up to their incompetence!

By the way, you can't use Freedom Of Information for personal information, that would be the Data Protection Act (Subject Access Request). They only have to provide what they hold and if they have lost or disposed of stuff then they cannot be compelled to find it. I guess that they knew it would take too long to find everything in all the different departments.

The annoying this is, of course, that since they could not show how they concluded you owed the money, it is possible that they owed you.

Mel

DrBunsenHoneydew
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Re: 13 years of fighting the Man

#55241

Postby DrBunsenHoneydew » May 21st, 2017, 2:16 pm

melonfool wrote:Well done in standing up to their incompetence!

By the way, you can't use Freedom Of Information for personal information, that would be the Data Protection Act (Subject Access Request). They only have to provide what they hold and if they have lost or disposed of stuff then they cannot be compelled to find it. I guess that they knew it would take too long to find everything in all the different departments.

The annoying this is, of course, that since they could not show how they concluded you owed the money, it is possible that they owed you.

Mel


Next year (25th May 2018) we look forward to the General Data Protection Regulation in place of the Data Protection Directive, (an EU framework that will likely be kept in force in the UK Great Repeal Act), with greater scope and much tougher punishments for those who fail to comply with new rules around storage of personal data. It applies to both public and private sectors, but could be a nightmare for small businesses though.

tonyreptiles
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Re: 13 years of fighting the Man

#55384

Postby tonyreptiles » May 22nd, 2017, 2:48 pm

Clitheroekid wrote:An inspiring tale, well done.

As I was reading it I was mentally preparing a letter for you to send to the DWP accusing them of harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and threatening to sue them for damages.

I would love to see them ordered to pay damages to someone in your position, it might just shake them out of their stupidity.



I'd love to see them brought to heel too. I thought I'd feel a lot better being free of the hassle and headache, but the sense of justice not being done still slops around in my head when I think about it. I was originally reluctant to throw more money and time at the issue, but I'd certainly now be interested in rubbing their noses in their dirt. I'm not looking for compensation, I'm looking for justice and an opportunity to make them think twice before doing the same to someone else.

Do I have options?

Cheers
TR

pds2008
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Re: 13 years of fighting the Man

#223486

Postby pds2008 » May 21st, 2019, 6:30 pm

Great story well told, apart from your last post, which suggests going again.

My advice is - it's over, you won and then celebrated your victory like a proper winner. Now move on and let it go.

Yell

GoSeigen
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Re: 13 years of fighting the Man

#223523

Postby GoSeigen » May 21st, 2019, 10:41 pm

pds2008 wrote:Great story well told, apart from your last post, which suggests going again.

My advice is - it's over, you won and then celebrated your victory like a proper winner. Now move on and let it go.



I think you'll find he moved on a couple of years ago.

:-)

GS

pds2008
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Re: 13 years of fighting the Man

#223993

Postby pds2008 » May 23rd, 2019, 2:14 pm

Thanks - (administers face slap)


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