Under pressure

When a visually impaired persons opts to have their letters sent to them in braille, it turns out that they’re reducing the amount of time they have in which to respond. When the letters concerned are from a landlord or a government department, the consequences can be serious.

Let me explain.

Just before Christmas, I had a phone call from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). They told me that my £10 Christmas bonus, (an annual “gift” to those of us who claim benefits here in the UK), would be in my account by the end of December. They asked me if, having had a phone call, I still wanted notification in braille. I said I was quite happy with the phone call.

This came up for discussion on one of the online groups for visually-impaired people that I belong to. I ventured to say on the group that I didn’t need a letter as well as a phone call. Then other issues came to light.

Many people with a disability in the UK have claimed a benefit called Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for some years now. It is supposed to compensate us for the additional living costs we incur due to our disabilities, such as paying for taxi fares for those who find public transport difficult or inaccessible.

A few years ago, DLA was replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP). You are not automatically transferred from DLA onto PIP. You have to apply. You get a letter telling you that you can apply for PIP and if you do not do so within a certain time your DLA payments will stop. After you have applied, you then go through a protracted process of telephone interviews, form filling and face-to-face assessment.

Let me return to that initial letter telling you that you can apply for PIP. As I have indicated, it is time sensitive. You have to respond within a certain time frame. The clock starts ticking from the moment the print letter goes into the postal system.

If you have indicated that you would like your correspondence in braille, the print letter will be sent to a third party to be brailled. That person then has to return it to the DWP, who will then send it out. Time meanwhile is slipping away. To add to an already difficult situation, the DWP send the letter out by second class post. They could send it “Articles for the Blind”, in which case it would go first class and free but, no, they pay to send it out via second class post.

So, by the time the applicant gets it, there is little time left to respond.

I have also encountered this issue in my role as a braille transcriber.

Suppose I am transcribing a letter regarding a tenant’s failure to pay rent. Time may be of the essence. The customer may ask me to return the letter to them. I reply, “Wouldn’t it be better for me to send it directly to the person in question? I have the right packaging, I can send it Articles for the Blind, it will save time and, also, each time the braille goes through the mail, the dots get a little more squashed, making it harder to read.”

Sometimes I win this battle, sometimes I don’t.

However, I do feel that government departments in particular should be taking this on board. They shouldn’t be penalising people who are already disadvantaged by taking so long to send vital letters in a format the recipient can read. And why waste taxpayers’ money by paying unnecessarily for postage which takes longer than the free alternative?

I suspect this is a case of a lack of joined-up thinking among civil servants and a lack of understanding of the material they are dealing with. It could all be so much more streamlined with a bit of forethought. Wouldn’t it be nice if they asked the people on the receiving end for their thoughts. What a wonderful world that would be!