Guilty Until Proven Innocent – My Quest To Get A Bus Pass

About two months ago, my support worker asked if I had a concessionary disabled person’s bus pass. I told her no, because I didn’t think I was entitled to one. She asked me some questions and ascertained that actually I probably was entitled to one if my GP agreed that I was medically unfit to drive due to the medication I take making me dangerously drowsy. She got me a form from Leicester City Council, filled it in for me and told me to see my GP and ask them if they agreed and if they did, could they fill in the relevant part of the form and sign it as proof.

It took me a few weeks to get an appointment with my regular GP, but when I did I brought it up and she did agree and was happy to sign it for me. I wasn’t going to be able to see my support worker for a few weeks because she was going to be off for a few weeks, so my partner took me to the council’s Customer Care centre on Granby Street instead to put in my application. The lady on the reception desk looked at it and asked me if I had any other proof with my application. I asked her for an example. She said proof such as a copy of a prescription. I said no, because the form doesn’t that you need proof, only that you need your GP to specify why you are medically unfit to drive and for them to sign it. She said that unfortunately she has a list of what the criteria is to get a disabled person’s bus pass, and being too drowsy to drive due to medication was not on the list. I asked her if that doesn’t make you “medically unfit to hold a driving licence”, then what does? She said “I’m not allowed to tell you that,”. She followed this up with a remark along the lines of “I’m sorry, but you wouldn’t believe how many people come in trying to get a free bus pass, and put as the reason ‘sore leg’. A sore leg isn’t a disability,”. I was thinking to myself, well it could be. You might not have use of one of your legs, or you might have severe pain, or some other such ailment that would be severe and enduring enough to legally count as a disability. But I couldn’t say that, because by this point a combination of my anger and anxiety took over and I started welling up with tears. My partner took me out and we phoned my support worker.

My support worker, who has been helping disabled people get free buses for ages now on this ground, e-mailed the customer care team and told them I’d been made very anxious and upset because of my experience at their centre and asked to clarify exactly what the form would need to say to allow me to access to the bus pass. They e-mailed back apologising and saying that it would need to state “drowsiness due to medication” – which is exactly what mine said, and that no other proof was allowed to be asked for as long as my GP had signed the form. She took me the other day to the Customer Care centre, armed with this letter. This time, the lady on reception gave us a ticket to see an advisor. When we got to see him, he told us that unfortunately he couldn’t allow this reason for a bus pass – until my support worker showed him the e-mail she had received, he looked again, and voila, it was stated there as an acceptable reason to obtain a bus pass. He apologised and promptly sorted it out and made me one. My support worker also got more details from me about my insensitive inquery with the previously incompetent member of reception staff so she could pass it on as a formal complaint on both of our behalfs.

This seems to be to be a worrying trend with council services, following in the footsteps of Government disability benefits, whereby staff do not accept a GP’s word, essentially indicating that they cannot trust it and therefore that the GP may be lying. This is horrendously offensive to GPs but also to the disabled people that these departments are supposed to serve. This experience also adds to a long list of frankly incompetent members of staff that I have had to encounter in both Government and City Council departments to obtain disability related benefits. It is very upsetting also to think that for example the last time I went in and eventually got my bus pass, that was only because my support worker was there with me with the printed out e-mail; another disabled person without such an advocate would have just been wrongfully turned away. It is a disgrace that disabled people are being forced to fight for the benefits that are rightfully theirs and are constantly treated as guilty until proven innocent of some kind of huge, organised benefit fraud.

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