Invisible Invincible: my day of protest

It begins - the start of the protest

Many of you reading will already know what I was doing on Saturday, but I want to get this written up anyway. So here goes.

My alarm went off at 6:30am. Being a chronic insomniac, it was pure luck that I had actually got to sleep by about 2am and so had had some sleep before hand. Strangely I find it easier to function after four hours sleep than after seven, if not for very long, and so I forced down a double dose of painkillers and coffee and managed to get washed and dressed – no small feat for me at any time of day. The I bundled myself into my powerchair and we were off.

First stop was a bus into Evesham. Karen and I walked/rolled to the bus stop and waited in the cold. Eventually the bus arrived (We knew it would be wheelchair accessible this time because Karen had phoned to check the day before) and we travelled twenty minutes or so into town. Then we had to go on half a mile from the bus station to the train station. I had pre-booked assistance to board the train but not tickets, so we went via the ticket office to buy the tickets. £74 of tickets, which went on credit. Protest is costly, in more ways than one. Trains to London actually depart from the other side of the platforms and my chair wasn’t going to go over the footbridge and so we left the ticket office and went around to the other side via the main road, which took a few minutes. After a few minutes wait in the very cold waiting room (people in wheelchairs are told to arrive half an hour before the train is due, as well as to book 24 hours in advance) the train arrived. Unfortunately when I found the car which I had been booked into, it turned out to be beyond the end of platform. The train manager looked a bit harried as we walked all the way to the other end of the train so that he could put us in first class where there was another wheelchair space. The next hurdle was that there was hardly any room to manoeuvre on the way in to the train and I got stuck trying to get past the luggage space. I had to get out of the chair and the train manager actually lifted it clear of the obstruction, all 90KG of it. Once we were underway I settled down with a coffee and tried to eat the bacon roll which we had brought with us, and I wrote a blog post to explain why I was protesting.

In London I got off the train after a brief delay while the ramp was taken to the wrong end of the train, and we made our way out to catch a bus to our meetup location. I must say that I am very impressed with the wheelchair ramps on London buses. There is a button next to the middle door to alert the driver of a wheelchair, and then after passengers have disembarked the doors close again while the motorised ramp is lowered. Then the doors open and allow the wheelchair to board, with plenty of space to get to the designated wheelchair spot. I wish these buses were everywhere.

We got to the McDonalds where we were meeting far earlier than we needed to but we started to bump into other people arriving for the protest anyway. I was pleased to recognise someone that I had seen at a march in Birmingham the previous June, and even more pleased when I realised that it was in fact @pseudodeviant who I knew from Twitter. It turns out that we had met, and had been talking to each other online but not realised who we were! We were approached by John Domokos, a video journalist from The Guardian who interviewed us both about our reasons for protesting. The first of many interviews I would do that day. After a few minutes I met and talked to one of the organisers of our protest about our plan. The number of wheelchairs and other disabled people hanging around outside was making us a bit conspicuous so he suggested I go to meet up with another group a short distance up the road. I was really please to find people from UK Uncut waiting there to assist us, including some people that I had been talking to over the internet for more than a year but had never met. There was much chatting and smiling.

Then just before twelve we all moved off towards Oxford Circus. Volunteers from UK Uncut waited for the lights to go red and then ran across the Regent Street crossing with a chain, locking it at both ends. A line of people disabled people followed rapidly and took up their places along the chain. I was near the back of the line as I was waiting for Karen to return with food for me (I’m diabetic and had realised that I would miss lunch) so I rolled into place right at the end of the line across Regent Street, actually still on the pavement. We all locked on to the chain with D-locks and a cheer went up. We had done it!

Video: arrival

Interview with LBC. Photo by Richard of Cornwall DPAC
Interview with LBC. Photo copyright Richard, Cornwall DPAC

After that events were hectic and a bit of a blur to me. Being on the end of the line I was the prime target for hoards of journalists. I did interviews with more than I can remember. I did pieces to camera, for podcasts and radio, talked to journalists scribbling notes, to people from the BBC, The Guardian, The Times, LBC, to more than one team from each of those. I talked constantly for two hours, and my head was spinning. I did a live piece for the One O’Clock news on BBC London radio.  The noise of the crowd and the samba band was quite overwhelming and it was only adrenaline from the audacity of what we were doing that kept me going. In between the journalists I met people who I had been talking to on Twitter for months. A great many people seemed to recognise me, which frankly I found quite scary! I also was very pleased to meet Laurie Penny, if only for thirty seconds or so. Throughout the protest people from UK Uncut and others constantly checked if we were OK, offered tea and coffee, and kept us updated with what the police were saying.

I was quite impressed with the police, the Met were calm and pleasant and smiling, which was unexpected. They did pull up with sirens blaring, but then who doesn’t like a good excuse for blues and twos? Two police vans stopped in front of the line and blocked us from the rest of the junction and a row of police lined up in front of the vans facing us. Police did try to take down a banner that was being held across the Tube entrance, and there was a Met cameraman carefully videoing us all, no doubt for the database of protesters that they deny keeping. After about an hour the police made an announcement. I haven’t got a clue what they said, because it was completely incomprehensible, even without the sign-language interpreter that one of the other protesters asked for!

As we neared half past one it seems that the police were getting a little impatient. They informed some of our group that they would tolerate us if we moved aside to only block one side of the road, otherwise they would “take appropriate action.” I almost wish I could have seen what that appropriate action was, because I don’t think the police had any idea. No doubt they had disturbing visions of what the many journalists there would say about police dragging away people in wheelchairs, blind people, people on crutches. And it’s not as though their vans had wheelchair lifts or spaces.

By the time the police had made their feelings on this matter known many of us were quite cold and uncomfortable. This protest was extremely draining for most of the people involved. Although many of us wanted to stay until forced to move, the fact is that most of us could not, and so we all agreed that we would leave at 2pm. In the end it was really chaotic. We all unlocked from the chain and a speech was made, but then no one quite knew which way we were going. Some people had mentioned adjourning to a pub to get warmth and food but as no one knew which one that didn’t happen quickly. We actually ended up milling around in the road and chatting until the police started to look quite stern at about quarter past two.

Oxford Street slow walk
Slow walk down Oxford Street

On the way to the pub there wasn’t room on the pavement for all the wheelchairs, so they ended up in the road. We were in a walking pace procession right down the road in Oxford Street. Eventually it became possible to get on to the pavement but some stayed in the road and a few minutes later some police vans came speeding down the wrong side of the road and then crept along next to the crowd. Eventually everyone reached a pub and tried to cram inside, although it wasn’t possible for everyone in wheelchairs to get in. Several other people and I ended up in a pub next door for an hour or so before moving across to the first pub were we were finally able to get some food and seats.

Police waiting outside our pub
Police waiting outside our pub - were they lonely?

We had a lovely time in the pub and I met yet more people who I previously knew only through Twitter. I stayed far too long for my own health but I had already condemned myself to days in bed in pain and not moving and this was a very rare opportunity to meet people and so I pushed through with help from copious painkillers.

Eventually Karen and I left the pub and returned to Paddington station. The train back to Evesham is only every two hours and we had more than an hour and a half to wait. We passed the time sitting in a coffee shop at the station and I began to zone out from exhaustion and the strong painkillers that I take. At this point the crowds and the noise of the station seemed like distant things and I was floating in a haze of opiates and tiredness.

When we went to find our pre-booked assistance for boarding half an hour before the train was due to leave the manager told us that Evesham station was unmanned after lunchtime, which we already knew, but he also didn’t think there would be any staff on the train who could place the wheelchair ramp for me instead of station staff. This caused me to panic a bit but the station manager called another manager who called the train driver who thought there might be staff on board after all. I went to board the train, which is where we discovered that the train did not have a wheelchair space at all. I eventually ended up blocking the door area with my wheelchair for the whole journey. I am quite surprised that the assistance booking line were not aware of the situation with the station staff, the train staff or the type of train. I was really uncomfortable so I moved to a seat next to Karen, and after Oxford I moved to an empty double seat where I tried to stretch out to relieve some of the pain. I crashed completely at that point with horrific burning and aching pain in spite of my double dose of painkillers. I was in so much pain that I was crying, and trying to hide it from the other passengers.

When our train arrived at Evesham sometime around midnight I had passed out from pain and exhaustion. Karen tried to get me to move back to my powerchair but was unable to wake me up. My memory of this is hazy but I know that I did stir a little and try to stand but could not, and I ended up on the floor of the train and then slumped across the arm of my wheelchair. I understand that a stranger on the train helped Karen to lift and drag me into my chair. Unfortunately when we arrived the ticket inspector could not unlock the ramp at the station. She had been given the code for the lock but it did not work. My family had come to meet me at the station to drive us home and so I was carried off the train into a manual wheelchair by my brother, mother and wife, apparently dropped near the edge of the platform on the way. They also carried my extremely heavy powerchair off the train. Between them my brother and my wife got me into the car and then from the car to my bed, although I was almost completely unable to move.

And so that is where we are now. I am still in bed at the end of Monday, 48 hours later. I have managed to visit the toilet a couple of times, and I eventually managed to change my clothes this afternoon, but I’m in a lot of pain and I can’t really do much. This is all completely in line with what I expected and I am doubtful if I will be spending any time out of bed before next weekend. This is what the protest cost me, what I knew it would cost me. All I can do is hope that the politicians notice and reconsider their policies.

News items

This video is my personal update from Sunday afternoon.

This is my live interview with BBC London radio – 1pm 28/01/2012

Interview live on BBC London radio (mp3)

 

Here is my interview with BBC News

Here is the Guardian piece and video which includes my interview

You can find more links to news stories about our protest in this previous blog post Welfare Reform Bill protest news links

Welfare Reform bill – email to my MP

This is the email that I have just sent to my MP ahead of the Welfare Reform Bill activity in parliament this week.

Dear Mr Luff,

I am writing to you once again about the welfare reform bill, which as I am sure you know will return to the commons on Wednesday.

I have received your previous letter dated 11th January 2012 and I am sorry to say I feel that your response was inadequate. In that letter you assured me that the the changes to DLA are the result of one of the biggest consultation ever carried out by the Department of Work and Pensions; however I must inform you that the report which I sent to you and asked you to read proved without a doubt that the government had not only ignored the results of that consultation, but had completely lied about the results in order to claim support where there was none.

You may be aware of a protest that took place at Oxford Circus in London this Saturday just passed. I was one of the people involved in that protest and as a result I have been interviewed by LBC, The Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, and many more. I was interviewed live as the top story on BBC London Radio news. I can safely say that there is a lot of interest in our objections to this bill and that the people affected do NOT trust either Iain Duncan Smith or your government. If you care to look I have included links to many of the news stories on my own blog, a link to which is at the end of this email.

I have many objections to the Welfare Reform Bill. By the government’s own admission, the change to PIP will remove support from a great many people. The cumulative effects of this change, and other proposed changes, will be to leave people dependent on more expensive and more acute services. In the end this will cost the government far more than is saved, and will lead to people moving out of communities and back into care homes and institutions.

There are a great many other things wrong with the Bill but what is even more concerning is that way that the government has lied – and I use that strong word quite deliberately – and misled the public to promote their position. They have ridden on the back of scrounger rhetoric from the tabloids, rhetoric which Anne Begg of the Work and Pensions select committee said was being fueled by careless press releases from the DWP. I would go further and suggest that the DWP and the ministers involved are deliberately providing incomplete and out-of-context information to provoke these headlines such as “75% are faking” and other similar attacks.

In short, I do not trust the government, I believe the welfare reform bill to be an irresponsible, mean, penny-pinching and harmful piece of legislation that was drafted without thought or care for the evidence of its impact. I urge you to pause this legislation and review its impact, or at the very least, do not overturn some of the meagre efforts that the Lords have made to mitigate some of its worse effects.

Yours Sincerely,

Steven Sumpter.

Welfare Reform protest – interview & video blog

The beginning

Live interview with BBC London radio – 1pm 28/01/2012

Interview live on BBC London radio (mp3)

 

My personal update on health and my journey home

 

Welfare Reform Bill protest news links

A wheel and a foot with a chain across them

Yesterday’s protest went amazingly well. I’m not functioning enough to write much about it yet, but here are some news links. I will add more as I find them. Please sign the petition to stop and review the welfare reform bill and read Why I protested [My own blog]

 

Mainstream media

Disabled people protest at Welfare Reform Bill [BBC video]

Protesters show anger over Welfare Reform Bill [BBC]

Campaigners protest in London over disability cuts [BBC Breakfast video]

BBC Radio news headlines [BBC London 94.9 FM] (Jump to 57 minutes)

Disability campaigners stage central London protest against welfare reforms [Guardian with video]

Disabled bring Oxford Circus to a halt in welfare cuts demonstration [Mirror]

Wheelchair users chain themselves together and blocked central London over welfare cuts [Mail on Sunday]

Disabled Protesters Block Regent Street [Sky News]

Disability campaigners occupy Oxford Circus [ITN Video]

The demonisation of the disabled is a chilling sign of the times [The Observer]

Disabled Protesters Block Regent Street [LBC]

 

Blogs and photos

Activists join together to fight ConDem attacks on the disabled [Indymedia]

stop the welfare bill – civil disobedience [Indymedia] Great report with lots of photos

Disabled People’s Protest In Oxford Circus [Personal report from Pseudodeviant]

“Because I’d rather die than go back into an institution”  [Benefit Scrounging Scum]

An ‘amazing success’ – disabled protest blocks Oxford Circus [Coalition of resistance]

I’d Rather Die Than Go Back Into An Institution [CWU Northwest]

Disabled people lead central London blockade in Welfare Benefits protest [Ekklesia]

Photo sets: Demotix1 Demotix2 DPAC [Flickr]

 

We also got some attention from a Tory Basildon Councillor.

https://twitter.com/#!/CllrMackenzie/status/163239121161175040

And a great reply from @pseudodeviant

https://twitter.com/#!/pseudodeviant/status/163266240213811200

 

Stop the welfare reform bill #invisibleinvincible #DPAC #wrb #ukuncut #spartacusreport

Right now I am on a train on my way to London to protest against the welfare reform bill. The bill has its third reading in the house of lords on Tuesday and then returns to the commons for final approval on Wednesday.  Peers have made a valiant effort to amend the bill to prevent some of the more harmful aspects of it from passing but those amendments are not enough, and all of them are likely to be thrown out by the house of commons on Wednesday anyway.

This bill is incredibly badly written, will withdraw support from millions of people, cause homelessness, poverty, suffering, and save the country some money – the real aim. We are spending more on the olympic games than this bill will save. We are spending more on nuclear weapons than this bill will save. We are spending more on invading other countries than this bill will save. We are letting multinational companies off more tax than this bill will save. This bill is so awful that even former members of the Thatcher government have voted against parts if it.

The biggest problem that we have in opposing this bill is that people just don’t believe what is being done. It’s too extreme. I am very lucky to have received full support for my illness but other people in much worse condition than me have lost all support, and that is just under dwp direction from this government, before the welfare reform bill has even passed.

I am not against reform. I am against this bill and the deceitful and spiteful way that the current government are doing it.

And so today I will protest. I am travelling to London at great cost to my personal health, and will endure pain and exhaustion to do so because the government have not listened, are not listening. The Responsible Reform (Spartacus) report proved this. I don’t know whether anyone will notice our protest, or if it will make the news, but I have to be there and say no to this government.

Please, tell your friends what is happening. Sign Pat’s petition to stop and review the bill. Write to your MP and tell them not to undo the efforts of the house of lords.

Please don’t let misplaced cost cutting and tabloid-style hate and rhetoric destroy so many lives.

Pat’s petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968

Protest details http://ukuncut.org.uk/blog/message-from-the-invisible

Despair

Don’t read this if you want any hope. I haven’t got any.

Today has seen two articles that have all but destroyed my fight. First, in the Sun –

‘Pretend disabled’ really ARE sick

MY New Year’s resolution for 2012 was to become disabled.

Nothing too serious, maybe just a bit of a bad back or one of those newly invented illnesses which make you a bit peaky for decades — fibromyalgia, or M.E.

The article starts by claiming the the illness which has crippled me and destroyed my life is “one of those newly invented illness which make you a bit peaky for decades”. A bit peaky. Try unable to get out of bed for months at a time, screaming in pain, aching, burning pain, curled up in a ball sobbing from the agony and wishing for death. Hardly leaving the house except to visit the doctor to try another dead end drug because nothing helps really but you have to try. Using a wheelchair when you do go out because you can’t walk. A bit peaky. Right.

Then it claims that you can make lots of money from being ill, that you can park anywhere, that claiming benefits has become easier, and that 80% of people claiming sickness benefits are fit to work. All the usual stuff wheeled out to attack sick and disabled people, with the usual caveat that he doesn’t mean the genuine ones, while asserting that most aren’t genuine.

That was all soul-destroying enough but then a few hours later the Telegraph joined in, ostensibly in response to the complaints about the article in the Sun, but going on to make a far worse attack.

The fake disabled are crippling our economy

There really are far, far too many people sponging off the taxpayer right now with their fake or exaggerated disabilities and they’re one of the reasons we’re in the financial mess we’re in.

And there you have it. Not only am I either faking to get money or just a bit peaky, but I’m also responsible for the financial mess.

So I’ve run out of hope. I can’t take these attacks anymore. These are viscious, uncaring, downright evil attacks on my friends and I and I don’t want to deal with them or their fallout any more. I know this is my depression, but tears and sobbing and despair are the same anyway. I’ve come very close to ending it all in the last hour. Add in the Welfare Reform Bill being rushed through the third reading and the house of commons again next week and I don’t see what is left to hope for.

— EDIT —

Thanks to some very lovely friends and the power of Skype I am not suicidal at this point and have even managed a couple of smiles. Until next time.

The problems with rental agencies

I want to tell you about a rental agency called Timothy Lea & Griffiths of Evesham. If you want to rent a home or a commercial building in Evesham they are hard to avoid as they control a large part of the market. My family has been unfortunate enough to have rented through Timothy Lea on several occasions over the last decade.

One of my sisters got married in 2004. She and her fiance found a suitable home through Timothy Lea and started the process to rent it. They were charged credit check fees and passed the credit check, (with guarantors, which had been arranged) and it was agreed that they could rent the home. The signing of the contract was left for moving in the day before the wedding. Then, three days before the wedding, someone from Timothy Lea made a telephone call to my parents house to talk to my sister. She wasn’t in, and so they left a message with my mother instead. The message was that the landlord had changed his mind about renting the home and that they could not move in after all. A different member of staff later told my sister that they would not let any other home to her and her fiance and they refused to refund the fees already paid.

As a result of this, my sister and her husband lived in one very crowded room in my parents house for three months after their wedding until they were able to find a flat through a different agency and save enough money to pay agency fees there.

Unfortunately the flat that my sister and her husband ended up living in, while let through a different agency, was in a block that was managed by Timothy Lea. (I told you that they were hard to avoid.) The door entry phone was broken when they moved in to the block which meant that if anyone came to the front door of the block there was no way that they could alert the occupants. It meant that my sister and her husband had to rush out of the flat and through the communal hallway to answer the front door before the visitors got fed up and left. Since my sister suffers from M.E. this had an impact on her health too. The fault was reported by the letting agency of the flat to Timothy Lea many times but in spite of this, it was never fixed during the two years that my sister lived there.


My parents house is owned by friends of theirs, but was initially rented through Timothy Lea as it had already been advertised through them and the landlords wanted Timothy Lea to manage maintenance of the house. A few years ago the owners decided that they would prefer to rent the house directly to my parents. They thought that Timothy Lea didn’t do much for the money, but passed lists of repairs on to the owner to be fixed, many of them not things that the owners or my parents cared about fixing.

When the landlords wanted to take over direct control of the tenancy and the deposit that meant that Timothy Lea had to end the tenancy and return the deposit to my parents who could then pay it to the landlords. Unfortunately this was an extremely slow process. They caused great inconvenience to both the tenants and the landlords. During this process I am told that attitudes of staff at Timothy Lea & Griffiths were unhelpful and hostile, although in the previous few years it had been different staff who had generally been helpful and friendly. Additionally, my parents were informed that when my sisters had turned 18 that Timothy Lea should have been informed so that they could be listed on the rental contract as jointly liable. I do not know why they require this, but it seems a rather absurd requirement which must make extra money in credit check fees for Timothy Lea, and presumably if they do not pass, see the family made homeless.


Obviously, knowing this history, when my wife and I returned to live in Evesham in 2009 we wanted to avoid renting through Timothy Lea at all costs. Because of my poor health our credit record worked against us but we managed to make contact with the owner of an empty flat next door to my sister. He agreed to let the flat to us but insisted on doing so through Timothy Lea, chosen because they also managed the whole block of flats. Unable to pass the credit check, the only way that we were able to convince Timothy Lea to allow us to rent through them was by paying six months rent in advance with help from generous family.

Over the two year course of that tenancy we reported several different problems for repair. Some were fixed promptly. Our cooker hob was replaced. When the door entry system kept getting stuck and buzzing continuously it was eventually sorted out. Some things in communal areas such as blocked drains and a frozen tap were also sorted out. The lawn was mowed and the windows washed frequently.

However, we reported other problems that were not fixed.  The fan in our bathroom vibrated excessively and was so loud that we could not turn on the bathroom light at night without waking each other up. In my opinion it was actually in danger of jamming and causing an electrical fire. It was reported at every inspection (which was every three months) but never fixed. We turned the fan off at night using the inconvenient switch near the ceiling which meant that it was often off at the time of using the shower. This led to damp, which we were blamed for.

We reported a faulty night storage heater in the living room in winter 2010. An electrician was sent out fairly quickly. Since the heater was unsafe he disconnected the daytime power supply which meant that the fan and thermostat on the heater no longer worked. He left us with a promise to inform Timothy Lea that the heater needed replacing. Unfortunately the heater was never replaced, despite us reporting it on several occasions and at inspections after that. We know from talking to an electrician at the flat that the heater was replaced the day after we moved out.

Near the end of our tenancy there was a water leak in the flat above us which destroyed part of our bathroom ceiling. We reported this problem straight away. Nothing happened. We reported it several times including pointing it out at an inspection. Eventually, Timothy Lea had arranged with us to allow a prospective buyer to view the flat. (As it had been on the market throughout our tenancy.) We pointed out to the sales arm of Timothy Lea that the ceiling was still not fixed. The next day we had someone round looking at it, and soon after a plasterer “repaired” the ceiling. I say repaired, because it was a cosmetic fix and none of the water damaged materials around the visible damage were repaired. A few days later parts of the ceiling started to become discoloured as more damp came through. After I mentioned this to the landlord he visited with staff from Timothy Lea in tow, expressing his displeasure at what happened. We have since moved out so I do not know how this ended.

One of the edge strips on the stairs leading to our flat was broken from the day we moved in. This was quite dangerous – while we were moving furniture in several people slipped on it as it fell off the step and left the concrete exposed. A lady who owned a flat downstairs from us tried to get Timothy Lea to repair it but was told that it was not covered in the maintenance fees for the block and that owners would be charged it Timothy Lea repaired it. She glued it back in to place but that edge strip came loose repeatedly throughout our stay there. Another example of this is one of the lights in the garden. The glass top of this light was missing leaving just the top of the metal pillar. This light was never repaired during our stay there.

Near the end of our tenancy Timothy Lea showed several prospective buyers around our flat, with our permission. Each time we asked them not to go in by themselves as we have a cat who gets extremely distressed around strangers and particularly if they are in our home. There was a strong chance that the cat would run away when the front door was opened by a stranger. We asked Timothy Lea staff to always contact my sister next door and have her accompany them into our flat. They ignored this every time. They ignored it despite us reminding them each time they asked permission to show someone around. They ignored it even when a note was stuck to our front door to remind them.

We eventually left this flat not by choice but because we were given notice by our landlord. (I suspect because he thought he had a better chance of selling the flat without us there. I believe that he still hasn’t sold it nine months later.) At that time some friends of ours in another flat in the same block had moved out and I asked Timothy Lea if they would allow us to move into that flat. The response was that they would not take us as tenants at all. The phrase “I’m sorry, we can’t help you” was used. My serious illness and the temporary nature of my wife’s employment as a supply teacher and cleaner meant that were unable to find anywhere else to live privately, and our imminent homelessness meant that we were made top priority for social housing. Of course social housing takes time to sort out, and the two months notice was not enough. By the end of the two months we had found a flat through a housing association, but it would be another few days before our new flat was made ready. Timothy Lea were made fully aware of our situation and although they eventually accepted that we would stay another few days and pay rent for those days, for a while we thought we would have to pay to move all of our furniture twice and also to store it. During the last few weeks we were there they phoned us every day, sometimes more, to ask when we would leave. Since I have multiple serious illnesses and suffer from anxiety and this constant contact from Timothy Lea staff severely affected my health. We actually moved in to our new home before everything was ready because of this constant contact and as a result had no available hot water, cooker or other appliances for more than a week. This was also very damaging to my health.

At some earlier stage the fridge had broken. It would no longer stay cold enough, and the door of the freezer compartment was physically broken. We obtained verbal permission from Timothy Lea to discard the fridge and to use our own, and leave them to replace the fridge when we moved out. They had given us permission to throw out the fridge so you would think that it was worth nothing, right? Wrong. It was wired in permanently and we had been unable to remove it without getting an electrician in, so it was still there when we moved out. Timothy Lea charged us £30 from our deposit to repair the fridge.

When we moved out we had the carpet cleaned under the direction of my father, who was a professional carpet cleaner for many years. After we left the Landlord had the carpets cleaned again by another company and Timothy Lea charged us for this too. They claimed that we were obliged to pay a professional carpet cleaner to do the job even though my father WAS a professional carpet cleaner.

We disputed many charges to our deposit and several letters, emails and phone calls were exchanged. The dispute was characterised by staff at Timothy Lea obviously not reading what we said to them. Eventually we realised that the rules about the deposits meant that they had to return the undisputed part and so we arranged this with the intention of disputing the rest through the deposit dispute service used by Timothy Lea. Unfortunately a turn for the worse in my health meant that we were never able to finish the paperwork and so we believe that Timothy Lea still owe us one hundred and twenty pounds.


In the end I don’t know why people are treated so badly by rental agencies. I don’t know if it is a case of them being evil or more the fact that in their world of stable income, property ownership and landlords I think they just don’t have a clue about renting or poverty. It’s not that they wish anyone harm, it’s that tenants are so unimportant to them that they just don’t notice the harm that they do. And that hurts more than if they did wish us harm.

I will not voluntarily take this information down, although I offer Timothy Lea & Griffiths the right to reply with a statement here on this blog. Now that this is all out in the open, here is what I would like Timothy Lea & Griffiths to do:

  • Donate the remainder of the disputed part of our deposit to Evesham Citizen’s Advice Bureaux.
  • Return the fees paid by my sister and her husband.
  • Properly repair the step mentioned above before my sister or her husband are injured by it.
  • Give a written apology to my wife and I, my sisters and their husbands, my parents, and their landlords.

 


I have received a response and as promised here it is.

Dear Mr Sumpter

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the contents of your blog, our response is below.

In respect of your sisters’ experience unfortunately where the landlord has a last minute change of mind, as you point out in your blog, unfortunately instances like this are beyond our control. We do not know of any instance where a prospective tenant has been told that ‘would not let any other home to her’ in these circumstances.

In respect of the door entry phone, where we manage a block repairs are prioritised and completed when the management company authorises them to be done. For the purposes of understanding the delay we are sometimes in a position where we are aware of maintenance requirements but are restricted by the management company’s instructions to carry them out.

With regard to your comments in the delay when sending out a deposit where we are no longer instructed, in that instance the deposit was returned within 3 days of the end of the notice period on our contract.

In respect of your tenancy, perhaps you would like to contact the office as we consider this matter still open and are holding funds allocated to you in our client account on which we have sent correspondence.

In all, we understand that sometimes things happen in letting property that, whilst beyond our control, is still distressing for the persons who then have to find another home. We try to avoid these situations and accommodate tenants but it is not always possible, or clear as to why not, as we have to follow our landlords confidential instructions.

Kind Regards

Victoria Beasley
Practice Manager
Timothy Lea & Griffiths

What are you afraid of?

Sitting at my computer – chatting, using twitter, writing a blog post.  Then suddenly it happens. A surge of fear. Heart thumping, pulse racing.

What are you afraid of?

I stop typing and sit back. Try to be calm. Think. What caused that? Why am I panicking? I don’t understand it.

What are you afraid of?

In my panic I stand up. Adrenaline strengthens my normally wobbly walking. I walk through the house. Remember that no one else is here. Then for no reason that I can think of I wonder where the cat is. She’s not on the bed, or the sofa. I stumble through the house, wobbly now, adrenaline or not. I don’t know what to do.

What are you afraid of?

I crash back into the living room. I find the cat sleeping on the floor next to the sofa. Relieved to find any living thing in the house, I fall down beside her. She glares at me.

What are you afraid of?

I put an arm around the cat, and my head on the floor. I close my eyes. My pulse is racing. Thumping. My head hurts. All the aching muscles that I had been resting after too much activity in the last few days are aching again. I reach for my phone, for twitter. Call out to anyone who is there. Friends are there. They are lovely, talking to me, helping me to calm down. The cat purrs a little, perhaps sensing my distress.

What are you afraid of?

Time passes. The floor is hard. The cat finishes purring and wanders off. I should move, but panic has left me exhausted. I have no energy.

What are you afraid of?

There is a fluffy polar bear behind me. I more to put my head on it. I lie there helpless.

What are you afraid of?

Then, at last, I hear a key in the door. Footsteps. A voice calls out.

Then help to sit on the sofa. Hugs. A cup of tea.

Feeling stupid, foolish.

What are you afraid of? I only wish that I knew.

A bus to nowhere

You may recall last summer I made a video highlighting the difficulty that I had in getting between the village where I live and the local town in the electric wheelchair that I had been given by a relative. Following that video I was informed that a new wheelchair-accessible bus service would be starting up between the two places. Fantastic timing. However, since then, I have been quite seriously ill and unable to even go out in my wheelchair and I have been fortunate enough to have my father help drive me to medical appointments. Today I decided to take the new bus in to town for the first time since it started.

The new bus route 552 out of Evesham and it’s accompanying bus 553 which goes around the loop the other way are advertised as running low-floor wheelchair accessible buses on the timetables and when my wife spoke to Henshaws, the bus company the runs the service, she was assured of that fact.

Unfortunately this is what happened when I tried to board the bus today.

Accessible bus fail
Accessible Bus Fail

As you can see, it is in fact rather inaccessible for a person in a wheelchair.

The bus driver was very apologetic and tried to be helpful. She explained that the usual bus for that route was undergoing maintenance and that it had been substituted with an older bus for the day. She told us that the 553 which goes the other way around the loop was the usual accessible bus but would take a long time to arrive, and suggested that we could also try another bus that passes through the village, the 247 run by First Group. We decided to try the 247 but the bus stop for that service is actually at the top of the hill more than half a mile away. The 247 also does not use accessible buses all the time and so it was only a chance that I would be able to get on it.

Fortunately that bus was wheelchair-accessible. The bus driver helpfully told us that only his bus was accessible today and told us when we could get his bus back from the bus station. Here’s me on a wheelchair accessible bus for the first time.

Me on a bus in a wheelchair!

So what should I take from all this? Well obviously things are improving. The introduction of a (normally) accessible bus service proves that people are making an effort, and hopefully by the target of 2015 all bus services will be accessible all of the time. However, at the moment travelling in a wheelchair is thoroughly unpredictable. If a bus needs maintenance, no one thinks anything of swapping in a bus that wheelchair users can’t get on. If there is someone in a wheelchair already on board the bus, then tough, there is no room for another one. Other people have told me about problems with getting people to move out of the wheelchair space on the bus, and in many areas the buses are decidedly not wheelchair accessible.

What is worrying about this is that with the proposed Personal Independence Payments under the Welfare Reform bill, it is assumed that because of accessibility laws there is no problem travelling as a disabled person now, and therefore disabled people do not need the extra money to help with travel that DLA provided.  This is definitely not the case. Now that I receive DLA I have ordered a car through the Motability scheme and using that will get me to where I need to go reliably and on time, without the possibility of not being able to get my wheelchair into it one time out of ten, or suddenly having to wait for a different car. Clearly the world is not yet equal for disabled people and government ministers are deluded if they believe otherwise.

Just a form – some benefit myths

Myth: DLA can be claimed just by filling in a form.

Fact: Some people might only fill in a form to claim DLA, but decisions makers demand strong evidence to award the benefit. That evidence might come from the claimant’s GP, or consultant, or other specialist in their disability. It might come from an occupational therapist or social worker. Many people send supporting evidence with their claim form, but if they don’t the DWP will write to medical professionals and ask for it. If nothing is available, the DWP will send the claimant to a medical assessment – and they might well do that anyway. So the claimant might just fill in a form, but the decision needs a lot more evidence than that. Renewals may be treated differently.

Myth: DLA is awarded for life.

Fact: DLA is awarded for life ONLY if the disability is for life. Some cases are obvious. Missing limbs, progressive diseases. They don’t get better. They get worse. There is no point in repeatedly assessing people with such disabilities apart from to see if they have got worse, and in that case a simple letter asking the patient if they have got worse would suffice to determine who to reassess. People who have variable conditions or illnesses that might improve get awarded DLA for a limited time after which they have to reapply. In my own case I have been awarded DLA for two years, and more recently for five years. Not for life.

Myth: People on benefits get free cars.

Fact: People who are unable to walk or virtually unable to walk get the higher rate mobility component of DLA. This is worth about £50 per week. They can spend it to improve their lives however they wish. Many people use the money to buy a wheelchair or a car. There is a scheme called Motability which is run by a charity, NOT the government, and people who receive high rate mobility can choose to lease a car or a wheelchair through them, paid for out of their own DLA.

The Motability scheme (remember, paid for by people who use it) purchases new cars and leases them to its customers. Most customers pay the entire £50 per week of their mobility allowance to the Motability scheme for three years to lease the car. That is £7,800 in total. At the end of the lease the car is sold.  If the payments and the sale price together are not expected to match the purchase price, the customer pays the difference in advance. So it is perfectly possible to have a high end car, but unless it has a high resale price, the customer could be paying hundreds or thousands of pounds extra for that lease. And they don’t get to keep it.