Mark Chapman has been the Visual Impairment Advisor for Sight Concern Bedfordshire for 13 years. Working mainly in Luton, he offers emotional support, practical advice, discussion on aids and services and help with benefit claims to visually impaired children and adults.
Here, he talks about how he can support families looking for help with benefit forms.
Speaking as someone who can’t put up a shelf, and can only fix something around the house if it involves No More Nails, Sellotape or my hot glue gun, I hate being the person who is supposed to be in charge of fixing things.
I occasionally get so embarrassed that things remain broken for much longer than they should. I blame it on being too busy with other things but really I’m putting it off. Currently, at home, we have a toilet that doesn’t flush unless you turn an internal tap for a few minutes beforehand; a shower you can’t stand in as the wooden floor needs replacing; another toilet that you have to reach into the cistern to flush and some patio slabs that are loose and a wee bit dangerous.
I’m just not very practical. I’ve just read that first paragraph to my wife, thinking she may find it amusing, and she told me of another three jobs that need doing. When I have managed to fix something (usually by just taking it apart and putting it back together again) I do a lap of the house! My dad used to be able to fix anything in the house or outside it. I can’t. But I can do benefit claims.
What’s my job?
I’ve worked for Sight Concern Bedfordshire for nearly 13 years and I’ve been helping people with benefit claims for all of that time. I think, over the years, I’ve done most of the various benefits and applications. Some I know reasonably well, while others I do almost every week.
Someone once said that anyone can become an expert on anything. All they have to do is spend 10,000 hours doing it. I don’t know if that’s true but I’ve just worked out that the 13 years I have been here equated to around 112,000 hours!
Admittedly I don’t do benefit claims when I’m not at work and I don’t do them in my sleep. But I still think that I can claim to be an expert on the main disability benefits:
- Disability Living Allowance (for children),
- Personal Independent Payment (for working-age adults),
- and Attendance Allowance (for retirement age adults).
When I say expert I don’t mean I’m never wrong about something or never make mistakes. But the experience can help you see the end target better. Everyone I talk to has a different set of disabilities, experiences and needs. This makes ‘the target’ different for everyone. Some people may be eligible for the lower rate of mobility, some the higher. Some people need a particular care need and would qualify for one thing and not the other.
With benefits, people often write a huge amount of information about their challenges or difficulties. I think of it as a bit like not knowing where the dartboard is, so you’re throwing a hundred darts at a wall in the hope of hitting it. If you throw enough darts, you’ll probably land on the board a few times and may even get a bull’s eye. If you imagine the dartboard as the criteria for getting a benefit award, this can explain why applying for benefits can seem so challenging. And that is why I obsess over the criteria.
If you understand the rules and criterion of a benefit you can just aim the few darts you need to get a bull’s eye. My hope is that this way is less painful, stressful and worrying for parents. I say that because filling in the form or talking to someone, and putting down every negative thing about your child can be very wearing.
Just talking, not listing
By talking through the benefits claim form, and then letting me finish it off for them (if they want me to), I’ve seen parents visibly relax and take a deep breath. There have been tears. I’m happy to not be the kind of man who can put a shelf up if I can be the kind of man who can sit with someone who is upset and not feel uncomfortable or have to try to ‘shake them out of it’. I guess these are not mutually exclusive but you can’t be good at everything. Which is why I started this short piece with an explanation of all the things I can’t do at home. I have to be in charge of getting these jobs done; as parents are in charge of getting the benefits forms done for their child.
But being in charge doesn’t mean that you have to be the one to do it. Maybe there’s a plumber out there who can do my jobs. And maybe there’s an advisor out there who can help you fill in a form. In both cases, I’d hope, the job will be done successfully with less stress and anxiety for everyone.
I write posts on Facebook (a LOT) but apart from that I only write an occasional article for our News & Views magazine. I am always being told not to start a sentence with and or but. But I can’t stop myself. I hope what I have written will encourage other parents to ask for help when they come up against a new form or application. It just might leave you time for other things. Like your children. They are much more important than forms and all that other stuff that eats up your time.
You can contact Mark via his email address email@example.com or by calling his office on 01582 655554.
Sight Concern Bedfordshire
Sight-loss charity providing information, advice and practical support for blind and partially sighted people in Bedfordshire and Luton.
Contact a Family
Charity offering information and support to families of disabled children.
Overview of benefits entitlement for disabled people.