Injustice of the benefits system | Letters

Anne Williams does not think she will ever recover from an experience that nearly left her homeless, Jane Bonnick is shocked that the government can preside over such cruelty and Hester Fairclough says cuts and the housing crisis have created a perfect storm

Regarding personal independence payments (PIPs), I was receiving a lifetime award for disability living allowance when the government decided to review my employment and support allowance (ESA), a separate benefit (Minister moves away from language of ‘shirkers’ as she revamps benefits, 6 March). That was reinstated on appeal but as soon as that benefit was reinstated at tribunal they stopped my PIP.

As I rely on the mobility allowance, it was really hard because unlike ESA you get nothing while you are waiting for the appeal. I wouldn’t have done it if my benefits adviser hadn’t offered me her support, and I was left feeling as if I did not deserve to exist. As it was, I had to wait nearly a year for the appeal to be heard “because of my age”, according to my MP. So you’re trapped. You’re nearly at pension age so everyone has already consigned you to the dustbin. I have sunk so low in my self-esteem that I really didn’t think I deserved it anyway. As it was the court reinstated PIP at a higher level but I still feel as if they could stop it all any day, despite me being a year away from my pension. It has broken my heart. I never wanted to be ill, and I don’t think I’ll ever recover from the sheer inhumanity of the system in which I nearly ended up street homeless without the help of my benefits adviser.
Anne Williams
Hove, East Sussex

• I was dropping off food at our local food bank this morning and was told that last week 40 food parcels were sent to families in this small town. Further to that, one father had come in as he had no money for himself and his family. He received too much money the last time his payment had been made, so social security took the lot off in one go. Nobody told him he had been paid too much, so it was entirely the department’s fault.

How can this government preside over such cruelty and what do ministers expect people to live on when this sort of thing happens? His plight moved the volunteers to tears. Has this government got so unchristian that it can reduce people to being so dependent on charity instead of doing what it should be doing, which is looking after people, who though no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times?
Jane Bonnick
Tiverton, Devon

• In relation to your article (Teachers in poverty, Education, 5 March): everyone should be aware that both HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can cancel any debt owed for benefit overpayment under exceptional circumstances. I’m certainly surprised, given I’ve worked for both, that her MP and Citizens Advice were unsuccessful in obtaining this for the teacher mentioned in the article. Nobody working full-time as a teacher should be in a position where they could be made homeless.

Cuts to benefits and local authorities and the housing crisis have created a perfect storm where, as in this instance, even someone providing an essential public service can not obtain a basic standard of living for herself and her children.

Everyone should be aware of the, admittedly discretionary, right to have benefit overpayments written off and ask for this. Both HMRC, but especially the DWP, can be surprisingly sympathetic and approaching your MP to assist you with this is often successful. I wish this teacher the best of luck. Her experience should be a warning to everyone what happens when austerity goes too far.
Hester Fairclough

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