At 9am on Tuesday, October 13, I shall begin a hunger strike against the kafkaesque machinations of the Department of Work and Pensions and will be picketing the DWP offices at Westfield House, 85 Manningham Lane, BD1 3BE, Bradford, West Yorkshire until I obtain satisfaction from them.
A week ago I was advised that a DWP representative would be calling on me at 10am on Monday, October 12, to discuss my pension credit. Since this was likely to be a detailed discussion I was advised to set aside the whole morning for the meeting.
I sorted out all my income and expenditure paperwork to assist us in the discussion. (As a freelance writer of songs, books etc, my income is rather complicated, based on royalties which can go up and down from year to year.)
However, when the DWP representative came he said he was merely delivering two letters. He did not wish to see any of the papers I had prepared for him and furthermore said he could not stay longer than a few minutes since he had other similar calls to make during the morning.
The two letters stated that I had been overpaid because “your circumstances changed and the office that paid your benefit was not told at the correct time that your Occupational Pension was in payment” (whatever that may mean). DWP was demanding payment of two sums: £4992.40 and £684.36, £5676.76 in total.
The DWP representative could not advise me of the nature of the alleged change in my circumstances and as he left my premises I was still explaining my situation, but he walked away without listening to me.
There was a telephone number of 0345 606 0265 on the letters, which I rang. After a long wait, I was put through to someone who said they could not help me because that was the concern of a different department and they would transfer me. I asked if there was a direct line I could ring in case I got cut off but was told there was no such number. After a wait of several more minutes the connection was lost.
Needless to say, there has been no change in my circumstances since I retired from full-time freelance journalism in 1998. I have declared all my royalty and other incomes to the Inland Revenue but they have advised me that because the sums are fairly small, I do not need to submit an annual return.
This is a situation like Franz Kafka’s The Trial, in which the hero does not know what charges have been brought against him but has to mount his defence nevertheless. DWP allege that my circumstances have changed but they do not specify what these alleged changes might be. As is so often the case in these bureaucratic call-centre days, telephoning them switches one from department to department while tinny voices state that your call is important to them so please hold on – or ring back at another time.
Judging by the haste with which my DWP caller was going to his next appointments, it would appear that I am not alone in being trapped in this spider’s web of dead ends.
As a lifelong activist for peace and justice I am not prepared to put up with this kafkaesque treatment. I urge anyone else in a similar situation to join me in this campaign. I am also seeking the support of my church, my trade union (Unite), and my MP in obtaining a response to my complaint.
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