‘We have nothing to live on’

By Martin Neville

Sunday, November 11, 2012

 

THE withdrawal of crucial benefit has left a Ryde couple in severe financial difficulties and under immense stress.

Victoria Willingham, who is registered blind, and her partner, Joe Eldridge, have been living on less than £240 a month since her employment and support allowance (ESA) was stopped in August.

Victoria, 33, who is epileptic and has hydrocephalus (water on the brain), started receiving the benefit — around £245 a fortnight — in September 2011.

In May this year, she was forced to cancel a work capability assessment after she fell and banged her head.

Mr Eldridge, 32, said another appointment was cancelled by Atos Healthcare, the firm carrying out the government’s 'fit for work’ assessments, due to it coinciding with the IW Festival, and they were told a new date would be sent.

However, he said they were shocked when they received a letter stating Miss Willingham had missed a medical assessment on July 8 — an appointment they say they knew nothing about — and her benefits were stopped after their appeal was rejected.

Mr Eldridge, who receives £60 a week as his partner’s carer, said they were advised to make a claim as a couple, but that was refused on the grounds Miss Willingham had missed her appointment.

Miss Willingham, who has a letter from her GP stating she is currently not able to work, said: "The constant worry has disturbed my sleep, my blood pressure is high, which is a worry with my epilepsy, and there is the stress of bills coming in when money is so tight."

Mr Eldridge added: "It disgusts me the way vulnerable people are being treated. The stress and worry it has caused us can’t be measured.

"We didn’t receive a letter informing us of the appointment on July 8. I’m meticulous about these things."

An Atos Healthcare spokesman said decisions on benefit entitlement rested with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

She said: "We cannot talk about individual cases. However, we will reschedule an assessment which has been cancelled for medical reasons or has had to be cancelled by us. Where someone does not turn up without letting us know we will send the referral back to the DWP."

A DWP spokesman said the complaint was being investigated.

Reporter: martinn@iwcpmail.co.uk

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