Esme's Story

“Is this the world I exist in?” 

After nearly two years of fighting with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), this is the question that Esme was left with. A Complex PTSD survivor, mistakes in Esme’s benefit calculation, and repeated ignorance about her mental health struggles left her on the edge of losing her home at the time she most needed stability.

When a mental breakdown related to past trauma caused Esme to stop being able to work, she tried to claim Universal Credit. However, the amount she received wasn’t even enough to cover her rent. She was also being hit with benefit deductions that were being incorrectly applied, and her repeated attempts to resolve this were getting her nowhere.

Asking for help:

The final straw was when she was forced to do a telephone assessment in which the assessor minimised what she was suffering and denied her the Low Capacity for Work Related Activities element (LCWRA). In her own words Esme described the experience: 

“I believed and trusted that if I fell, the system would help me until I could get myself back to my old life. But instead I felt completely despairing every time I contacted the DWP. I felt like there was no way to continue my life.”

Esme sought help from Citizens Advice Barnet to appeal her Universal Credit decisions and start an application for PIP. Her first appointment was with generalist adviser Artan, who helped her make a formal complaint about the treatment she had received from Universal Credit. 

“He was absolutely amazing… I got a response from the DWP the next day. Within 24 hours! If I hadn’t come to Citizens Advice Barnet, I would have given up.”


Keeping up the fight: 

Despite this response, Esme was still forced to take both her Universal Credit and PIP applications to appeal. The experience was exhausting at a time when Esme described herself as severely mentally distressed: 

“The fight that I needed to have to stay alive was compounded by all the energy and stress that I needed to battle the DWP to keep a roof over my head… No one seemed to care and no one seemed to want to bother to sort out the mistakes and the problems I was facing.” 

To appeal she was helped by Naomi and Susan, two of our specialist benefit caseworkers. Esme was keen to highlight just how different this experience was for her: 

“I can’t say enough how amazing Naomi was. I came to Citizens Advice Barnet and a few days later she sent me a breakdown of what I’d said and what I was going through and it was spot on. I felt heard and understood and that there was someone in the world who was listening to me.” 

Esme began to work her way through the appeal process assisted by both Susan and Naomi’s expert advice. They were able to refer her to the Free Representation Unit, through which she received legal assistance at her tribunal. Esme also wanted to highlight the care and compassion that Susan showed, going through things that were traumatic for Esme to deal with. 

In the end her first tribunal took only five minutes before she was awarded LCWRA! 


Esme’s Experience: 

For Esme, the most important thing throughout has been having someone to explain and guide her through the process. When asked about her experience with Citizens Advice Barnet she said: 

“I am alive because of the help that I received here. I have experienced the epitome of horror to the absolute joy of what Citizens Advice Barnet is here to do. And it’s not that everything has been fixed but having the stability of being able to afford to pay my bills and keep my home has given me a way to breathe and not be terrified every day.”

Esme has shared her story in the hope that others dealing with similar issues know that they have somewhere to go: 

“I wish I had come to Citizens Advice Barnet earlier to fill in the original forms and not done it alone. At the time I didn’t know.

People should know that if they’re in trouble emotionally and mentally before they fill in any forms they should go to Citizens Advice Barnet. It will help them cope with the trauma of going through the system.”