About me, without me & how people respond to legitimate questions

12 02 2015

I was interested in attending a conference being held in Glasgow by an organisation called Autistic Intelligence. They claim to be “a loosely affiliated group of worldwide experts in aspects of autism, a consultancy.” Comprised of writers, educators, therapists, researchers, and campaigners who all claim to have personal experience of autism in one way or another. The first person featured in their “About Us” section is none other than Professor Tony Attwood, a world renowned researcher in Aspergers. So far so good, right?

Well as an autistic person I was a little disgruntled at the price of their Glasgow conference for the unwaged, the low waged and autistic people. The sold out early bird ticket price was £60 rising to £70, an awful lot if you have no or little income. In my mind this excludes many people on the spectrum who do not have wealthy backgrounds or healthy incomes. So I emailed the organisation using their website contact form. It wasn’t my most articulate piece of writing but it got my message across in a particularly autistic style.

Personal information has been started out but nothing has been edited or removed from the following communication.

Hello Admin
You have a new contact request:

I was reading with interest about the upcoming conference in Glasgow but am disappointed to discover that even the now sold out “early bird” tickets for unwaged autistic people is out with our ability to pay. How can you expect autistic people to participate in wider society when a conference set up specifically to talk about us excludes us unless we are from wealthy backgrounds? Given the low employment rate of autistic people, there’s a far higher likelihood that they will belong to the unwaged/low waged category and given that £60 is only £12 less than the weekly income on JSA, the conference is an impossibility for up to 85% of the autistic community. Is this something an organisation set up on the backs of autistic people intended? Is exclusion from discussions and presentations about us the way forward? Added to this is the fact that parents tickets are even more expensive and there is no mention of carers. I could not afford to pay for one ticket let alone a necessary second to bring my carer with me. I am extremely disappointed but not surprised by this exclusion of autistic people.
From: ********@student.***.ac.uk – **********
Subject: Criticism
Senders IP: **.***.***.**

I was perhaps slightly blunt in my email but I’m getting more than irritated with the ‘all about me without me’ rhetoric of so many of these so called autism organisations.

The organisational contact responded within the hour. I have starred out information that I feel is inappropriate to share, although the author at the time obviously did not.

The cost price of this conference – venue, food and drink for attendees, speaker fees and transport and accommodation, handouts, and online-ticket-selling costs – is 70, provided 100 people attend, and there’s no certainty of that. I also give extra 20% discounts to anyone with financial problems.

Meanwhile I don’t get paid for running the whole show, choosing venues and speakers, answering the phone, doing publicity, writing invoices, answering emails like this, most of which are insulting as to my motives.

I am ** *********. I’ve just had a ***** *******, the first in ten years, as I was going up the stairs to bed. I fell backwards and fractured a rib, and did some major damage to the soft tissue in my chest. I was out cold for 3 hours, and on my own. I came out of hospital on Saturday. It will take me 2 months to recover, but I still have to be there in Glasgow to do registrations, and I still have to fund any shortfall on the costs from my own savings if we don’t break even.

If you have a problem, phone for clarifications before jumping to conclusions, please.

B****** J*****

I haven’t stopped laughing at this response. Not at the poor author’s misfortune, they obviously have had a very difficult time of it lately, but at how out of touch it seems to be with “intelligent” autistic people and their predicament: assuming verbal communication or desire to use a telephone; being excluded from discussions and conferences about their very existence due to financial barriers; and the attitudes of ‘professionals’ and many parents of what autistic participation is possible or even permitted.

Come to your own conclusions as to what to take away from this communication. I sure did.

My aim is to ensure autistic communication is heard, respected and valued. I want that our experiences are listened to and built upon when offering services or developing conferences about us. I’ll let you decide whether or not this organisation’s response does any of that.


But you look so normal

25 06 2014

There are probably hundreds of blogs with that title on the net today. It’s something many people with an unseen disability have been told. My response is usually ‘I am normal’ , even although my disability is one that highlights how abnormal I am, or how abnormal I should be just to appease society.

It’s no secret that I have autism. The shell looks fine if a little rotund, the inner workings are somewhat wonkily wired. I’ve often joked that to be a convincing autistic I need to rock back and forth and talk incessantly about trains or numbers. People would be more comfortable with me fitting that stereotype, one where I can garner sympathy, but I don’t. I can articulate rather well, I can even successfully take part in small talk and social chat. I have thousands of acquaintances. Socially I do ok. I am a strong independent person, even if I can’t cook. You will never see what’s going on under the surface to get me to that level of interaction. I look just like you. Normal.

You, who can socialise instinctively. Normal. You, who knows the cues to talk or shut up. Normal. You, who pick up on more subtle forms of communication such as body language or facial expression. Normal. You , who is unlikely to struggle with sensory overload or processing basic information. Normal. You, who probably doesn’t become catatonic at the sound of sirens. (There you go Lex Luther, there’s my weakness) Normal.

But you struggle to read me in the same way I struggle to read you and because you are in the majority, it’s expected I will change to fit in with you. In fact, autism is a developmental disability, I am expected to ‘develop’ my skills and understanding to become normal. Some people make a fortune out of trying to get people like me to develop normal skills so I can pretend I am normal to be like you.

Well you know what? I’m really fucking successful at doing normal. Too successful. I have to convince people of my disability. I have to persistently justify my struggles (or symptoms if you prefer such language), even to people who have known me all my life. They say, “but you’re just you, I don’t care what they label you, you’re still the same to me” and in this statement those who claim to accept me refuse to learn about how my brain works, what my struggles are, or how they could help me overcome them. They silence me with their questioning, ‘what is normal anyway?’ Immediately followed by telling me I should try to understand that I’m different and I can’t expect normal people to understand. If this is acceptance then I don’t get it.

And if I struggle to justify how my brain works to those who know me best, what chance have I got of convincing those who don’t know me that I need help and support or understanding? If my disability was visible, if I hadn’t learned not to stim or hide being ‘symptomatic’ (there I go again with that medical language) I don’t think I’d have to justify myself over and over again. I’m definitely not saying those with visible disabilities don’t have problems with justification, hell I’ve read about ATOS and the WCA, but if someone can see the problem they’re more likely to try and understand it. It’s easier to try to imagine mobility issues than it is an entirely different way of processing and thinking. Physical disability is visibly justified, it makes sense to them that there could be difficulties or support needs. When you look just like them and can pretend on the whole to act just like them, when you finally get the courage to say ‘I need help’, you’re met with ‘prove it’ and if I try to prove it, I’m made to feel like a fraud or a con-artist. Only then to be told, ‘prove it more’.

I shouldn’t be made to feel like I’m faking it just because someone else struggles or refuses to understand. Why should I have to fit in with your world? Why can’t you try to fit in with mine? I do look normal. I am normal. Like any normal person I have struggles and sometimes these require me to ask for help. How I appear on the outside shouldn’t define what I need or get.

No Alarms and No Surprises.

3 05 2013

So UKIP have done better in the polls than twitter lefties had hoped. Are we really surprised?

For the past 6 months and more especially in the past 6 weeks, UKIP and their leader Nigel Farage have been the media darlings of the UK. We’ve seen him dancing with…. *shock horror* foreigners! He’s been on BBC Question Time more often than Dimblebot himself and everyone seems to want a piece of him and his xenophobic policies. Even bad publicity surrounding his nazi supporting candidates (pretending to be plants apparently) doesn’t seem to have done them any harm. Indeed it is likely to have gained some BNP supporters who are looking for a party with a less publicly toxic image, even although UKIP claim BNP members are barred.

As has been proven time and time again, the inhabitants of Britain get their political information from the biased mass media. With the Daily Mail being Britain’s most popular newspaper, this does not give us much hope of impartiality with the news the British public are subjected to. So are we really surprised when a party as potentially dangerous as UKIP do better in the English council polls than the Lib Dems or Tories?

Actually, if I’m honest, YES. Yes I am surprised, and saddened. I had hoped that the British public could see through the type of buffoonery and charm that does Boris Johnson no harm at all. It seems this was beyond the mentality of thousands of English voters. I say English because Scotland was not voting yesterday and Wales seems to have avoided similar results. I’ll be curious to see how they do when it’s the turn of the Scots to go to the polls.

I’m saddened because people are so easily fooled into blaming everyone else for the problems of their home country. For many, UKIP are merely an anti-European party. They have won many votes of alleged rational human beings with their promises of getting the UK out of the European Union, without considering the benefits being part of this union has had on the UK. They can blame Europe for all the problems of the UK economy but given the global nature of the economic collapse, I think they’re being somewhat short-sighted. This EU element, of itself does not bother me, UKIP will never get enough votes in Parliament alone, to be able to effect such a policy alone (however in combination with the Conservatives this could be a worry). So those voting UKIP into local council positions based on their European policies have been duped as to the power they can have at a local level.

What does bother me are the growingly accepted UKIP xenophobic attitudes and policies. In the Channel 4 video (linked above) Farage is shown giving the hard sell to Bulgarians of the benefits of life in the UK, and they’re still not interested in coming here. Even in the face of this blatant evidence to the contrary, he still believes millions of Bulgarians and Romanians will descend on Britain taking all 400,000 available jobs from our 2.6million unemployed Brits and stealing all our benefits and homes. Even his facts on this are wrong as it shows he doesn’t understand how the benefits and housing system works in Europe, but don’t let that get in the way of a good lie.

The UKIP are getting more support now because despite all the ‘on-the-face-of-it’ niceties, the British are on the whole, a xenophobic nation. We are racist, self-serving, egocentric and self-important. We still believe we have an important platform on the global political stage. We are stuck in a centuries old colonial mindset. we see ourselves as a bigger player than we actually are. It’s actually quite pathetic. We were big players, we damaged millions of lives and ruled 1/4 of all the land on the earth. For all but the wealthiest of Brits imperialism wasn’t a time of glory and indeed it is now considered by many a time of shame. We are responsible for the state we are in now, by our actions of the past. We are responsible for this false belief in our higher socio-political status based on our destructive actions of the past.

In reality Britain is a tiny wee island, full of tiny minded people. We fear the outside world. It’s a typical island mindset that does not fit with our perceived global political position. When one person dares to speak up about their racism and fear of others or outsiders, it gives the usually silent Smiths and Joneses the opportunity to air their fears too. To believe that UKIP are fooling the population into voting for them is naive. UKIP have just given the many racist fools of the UK, stuck in a historic colonial mindset, a voice they have been too scared to allow be heard. I’m all for freedom of expression but when you fear expressing your racist thoughts you have to consider why that may be.

To me all this suggests our education of the masses on equality has failed. There are hundreds of thousands, likely millions who do not conform to the xenophobic beliefs of UKIP, but as we repeatedly witness, fear sells better than future potential and no one dares stand out from the crowd. People are so scared of losing their material possessions and their perceived public position that they will not let change occur or speak out. They would rather have more of the same bad old ways than take a chance on radical change for the future in case they lose their telly and broadband. Look where that kind of thinking has got us. It has got us radical and damaging changes to state and health that no one in a position of power has confronted because we’ve been led to believe it’s in our best interest. Damaging change by those who believe in a colonial existence, those who believe their historic wealth gives them the power and right to dictate to those who do not have the same aristocratic background. They’re keeping their friends safe, wealthy and healthy while we little people get to suffer, and y’know it’s all in our best interests.

And like the fools we are we swallow it. Inequality grows alongside the fear of the foreigner. We won’t consider what immigrants can put into society or the benefits of multiculturalism or even the benefits to our economy, oh no, we shall fear them, hate them and drive them from “our lands”. We shall accuse them of stealing our women, our jobs, our houses and our money. Hell they probably eat our pets and pee on our roses. We won’t stop to consider what we could be doing wrong, merely what the “foreigners” are doing to us. It’s never our fault. Oh no! Never.

So instead of looking to a new fairer future for all, we are reverting to ancient beliefs of racism, fear of foreigners, blaming others for our own faults and taking the perceived easy route to try to solve the problems of our society. Problems caused by everyone but us. We never seem to learn from history. It’s not invoking Godwin’s Law to make a direct and realistic correlation with a situation resembling that of the rise of fascism in 1930s Germany. We may like to convince ourselves we are not gullible enough to find ourselves in a situation akin to that of Nazi Germany in the 30s, but is that really true? Back then the changes were subtle. Enemies were hiding in every nook and cranny. People didn’t trust their own family let alone their neighbours. It was a slow development that went generally unchallenged and it started with mild xenophobia. We all know what it descended into. All it takes is one charismatic person to reach a position of perceived authority to get the ball rolling. In steps buffoon Farage.

We might like to think we’re different from those nasty Nazi’s but are we really? Are we allowing the media to fool us into fearing the foreigner, when in reality the enemy is within? Is the average Brit really jaded enough to believe that a few thousands Eastern Europeans are doing more damage to our economy than the huge division between our homegrown rich and poor? Can those who are already relying on social security to survive (e.g. low paid on tax credits) really differentiate their brand of poverty from those in different but equally as difficult financial situations (e.g. the disabled)? It seems so. Can ‘ordinary’ people not see the damage being done to the state upon which so many rely, both waged and unwaged, while those wealthy and in power making the changes, profit from it all? And yet we blame thousands of hypothetical foreigners who have already said they’re not interested in coming to this sham of a country. We blame the disabled for faking it, who in reality have no alternative to the existence we allow them. We blame Europe, we blame the left, we blame a government out of power for 3 years. We blame everyone but ourselves and our own stupidity. We didn’t educate ourselves properly at the last election and apathy will drive even fewer to educate themselves properly at the next. Do I think things could get worse in the future? Hell yes!

And now we are finding saviours in ignorance and lies. We as a society are politicising on a wing and a christian only prayer. We find hope in a party on the fringes on right-wing extremism with smiley faces and a pint of ale in hand. Good ole British traditional blokes down t’pub. Someone we know and can rely on. Apparently. Our saviours. Apparently.

We have, aided by the media we pay to indoctrinate us, given a platform to a large swathe of people who honestly believe they are superior to anyone with a different cultural or religious background or skin colour. We have given a platform to those who decide a people’s worth not on what they can give to society but what stereotypes are popular at the time. And in our apathy we have not only allowed this, but celebrated and encouraged it, and it can only get worse.

As Douglas Adams once said, “nothing travels faster than light, with the possible exception of bad news, which follows its own rules” – coupled with Winston Churchill’s, “The British nation is unique in this respect: they are the only people who like to be told how bad things are, who like to be told the worst.” We get a picture of the British nation past and present. We are destined to continue to try to destroy our society. We thrive on the bad news. We want bad news and we want something to moan about. I sincerely hope Britain is happy with UKIP gaining more of a voice locally, it will certainly give us something to moan about when society is completely destroyed when they get a national role and by then it could be too late to stop the demise of decency. That charismatic strange little man and his minions will keep those who think different to them in fear and silence while they do their worst to create a more ‘pure’ society, a more self-serving one. Problem is, where does it end? Who decides purity?

Minimum Income Standards more than many can even hope for.

9 07 2012

BBC News just had a feature saying the Joseph Rowntree Foundation undertook their annual survey into minimum income standards derived from the minimum acceptable living standards in the UK. The findings, taken from research among the general public, say that a family of four must earn £37,000 before tax to meet the minimum income standards. A single parent with one child (and childcare costs) would need to earn almost £24,000 to meet the minimum standard, while a single person with no children must earn £16,400.

1 in 4, or 17 million people living in Britain today, do not meet this standard

What bothers me about this study is, that it is the general public determine what the minimum income standard is to be considered acceptable. That the costs that go towards devising this perceived standard are for the things people are deemed to be unable to participate appropriately in society without. The necessities. This is the very same general public who believe benefits recipients are receiving far too much from the state, and are living extremely comfortable if not luxurious lifestyles thanks to the great british taxpayer. Yet a family of four surviving on benefits will most likely not be seeing £37,000 a year and if they are, guaranteed the vast majority of that will go to Landlords in the way of Housing Benefit.

With restrictions on the income of families existing on benefits to be set at a maximum total of £26,ooo per year, including housing costs, it appears the country is contradicting itself. When the scarily influential Daily Mail is saying that families on benefits of considerably less than £37k a year are living in luxury, yet society believes we need far more to live to a basic acceptable standard, what does that say about a society who accepts and celebrates in reducing the quality of life for people on benefits?

When the minimum income standard is based on things that are considered essentials, what of those who cannot meet this standard? In a family with 2 children, the parents must earn an average of £18,500 each which is only just below the national average. This means the multitudes of families surviving on minimum wage jobs (£11,065 per year at 35 hrs a week) or zero hours contracts (no guaranteed hours a week) will be nowhere near meeting the minimum acceptable standards for living in the UK in 2012, even with tax credit top ups and child benefit.

Studies like this are interesting and important to gauge public perceptions of acceptability and income, but it is important to highlight the inequality in Britain and the growing gap between those who have acceptable living standards and those who do not. I’m not just talking about the gap between the very rich and the very poor but the gaping chasm between minimum acceptable standards according to the general public and the minimum amount the government say people existing on benefits need to live on.

The Minimum Income Standards as decided upon by the general public are far more than millions of people surviving on benefits can even hope for.

Welcome to Capitalism – Hell Mend Us.

3 07 2012

How is it right that one man gets a £20,000,000-30,000,000 golden farewell for being at least partly responsible for the latest banking scandal and my family of 3 have to live on only £100 a week before bills and food? The reasons behind why we have to live on such a small amount at the moment are personal and complex but we’re not eligible for benefits and we can’t find work. Anywhere.

On twitter people were stating what £20m-£30m could do for their workplaces. People claiming it would fund their project or department for X amount of years. I decided to work out how long my family could live, on our current income, if we had £30m to draw from.

Turns out we could survive for 5769.2 years.


Or it could support 5769 families on £100 a week, for one year

If he is unfortunate enough to only get £20m, that meager amount would keep my family on our current weekly income for 3846.2 years or keep THREE THOUSAND. EIGHT HUNDRED AND FORTY SIX families on £100 a week, for one year.

And this is only his golden farewell. It doesn’t take into account his previous bonuses, his salary and his shares.

How is it fair that one man, responsible for what most people are calling FRAUD and everyone is calling immoral business practice, can be given such a handsome payoff, when there are families forced to live on £100 a week?

We were so greedy in the good times we didn’t care what the bankers were doing as long as we could get easy access to money and the material possessions it buys. Well aren’t we all suffering for it now. Welcome to Capitalism – Hell Mend Us!

*Guest Post* Our Joint Claim for ESA

2 07 2012

I was going to blog about this myself but one of the people involved asked to do so instead. This is her account of trying to claim ESA for her sick partner. I was present during both phone calls made and was disgusted with the result. I have not been so angry in a very long time. This guest post is written by my real life friend and Dragon Dictate, spell check by WordPress and me. Names changed.

EDITED TO ADD: we have no idea if what Thomas’s partner was told by the DWP call centre is actually correct and haven’t been able to speak with anyone yet to have the situation clarified. If you can clarify please do so in comments at bottom of page. Can do so anonymously. Will update when we know more.

Our Joint Claim for Employment Support Allowance.

My partner, Thomas, recently became severely ill with a relapse of Bipolar Disorder. He had been getting more and more hyper and one day he woke up and was psychotic. I had never seen him like that before and was shocked at how quickly he changed. He couldn’t move for fear of everything real and imaginary. He was diagnosed Bipolar over a decade ago but hadn’t been too ill with it until recently. He was unable to work and lost his job and it was suggested by Citizens Advice that he applied for Employment and Support Allowance to tide him over until he was well enough to return to work. I, myself, am in receipt of Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living allowance for degenerative illnesses and disability.

Thomas made the phone call to apply for ESA using our mobile phone as we do not have a landline. We are waiting to see how much it will have cost us. It took almost an hour to complete the call and when he hung up he broke down in tears. Throughout the call he was holding back tears as they asked him violating and very personal questions about his illness, his work, his income and everything else. Oddly they asked about my illnesses too, and my inability to work and my income. Not once was Thomas told why they needed my information, even when he asked the lady direct. When the application arrived a few days later we both looked over it and a lot of the information was wrong. They also wanted letters of proof from both of us on income matters. I did not understand why they wanted my income proof so we called the ESA line again to ask for advice.

I spoke to the most helpful man I could have hoped to get. He bent the rules quite openly and was honest about a lot of things relating to ESA that I didn’t expect from a member of DWP staff. At first he didn’t understand why they had asked for my information too but eventually he discovered that it was a joint ESA claim. Something we were never informed of at the start of application or by Citizens Advice when they told Thomas to apply.

The DWP man asked what Thomas’s illness was and then said this joint claim was a really bad idea. He told me that someone with Bipolar Disorder wouldn’t pass the Work Capability Assessment so we would both lose our money, regardless of how ill I was. He said we would probably have to wait for an appeal before Thomas would be awarded ESA and that would take about 6 months, and that my illnesses would not be taken into account. After checking with his supervisor he suggested cancelling the claim and adding Thomas to my Incapacity claim as we would be financially safer and better off and that we would not be put through the stressful assessment until I was to be transferred. He then put me through to the Incapacity Benefit people.

The lady working on the Incapacity Benefit line was less than helpful. Her attitude was completely different. She was rude, abrasive and always on the defense. She wouldn’t let me talk or ask my questions and instead got angry at what the man on the ESA line said. While she did apologise for the false information the ESA line gave me, she did so with a sense that somehow I was at fault and was stupid and not them. She told me I could not add Thomas to my claim, that the ESA department had their information all wrong and we would have to apply joint for ESA. She also told me that there was no way the man on the ESA phone line could have known whether Thomas would pass or fail the Assessment. I’ve read the stories, I know who I believe, I know she is technically right but I felt the ESA phone line were being more realistic and honest with me. She also told me we had to put in a joint ESA claim and that we would be better off doing so. I tried to ask her about the make-believe situation where if Thomas failed the Assessment would I lose my money too despite being ill? She would not answer this make-believe situation, instead repeating we don’t know Thomas would fail and giving me confusing information about me still getting Incapacity Benefit credits while claiming ESA. When I asked would I still receive my money? she would not answer and kept giving me information faster and faster making it harder for me to keep track of what she was saying. I told her countless times I was getting confused by all this but it didn’t make her give me information any slower or in clearer words. She also told me that I wouldn’t be on Incapacity for very long anyway as everyone was being transferred to ESA, so why was I worrying?

I’ll explain why I was worrying. The assessment rate for couples on ESA is less than I get claiming Incapacity on my own. If on our joint claim Thomas was found fit for work we would have no income. I’d have lost my incapacity benefit and we couldn’t claim Jobseekers allowance as our respective Doctors would never sign us both off as being fit for work. My conditions are never going to improve and I have been told I will never work again. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with this and the realisation of having no income at all terrifies us. The guilt of not being able to work or support my family is killing me.

The ESA phone line told me if I was the primary claimant with all my conditions we would not have this problem, as I would have no problem with passing the Work Capability Assessment but as I am currently on Incapacity Benefit we have to wait for the system to transfer me. He did say I could cancel my Incapacity claim but that it would take weeks for any new money to come through after reapplying for ESA and that he wouldn’t advise this.

In the end we stopped the ESA claim and haven’t tried to make any other claim. I do not understand how it can be right that a couple both with serious disabilities can in theory be left with no income because one person is deemed fit for work by a computer system. It seems unfair that the most ill out of myself and Thomas could potentially suffer because the person who can appear well occasionally would pass a Work Capability Assessment.

We could not take the risk of losing our entire income based on a dodgy assessment. Combined with the information the people on the dwp phone line gave us, we decided it wasnt worth the risk. We have decided that we will have to survive on my Incapacity Benefit alone as the financial stress of living off a meagre amount is less than the emotional and health related stress of living off nothing.

I’m disappointed that this is how sick people are treated. We have both worked all our lives until we became ill. We have both paid our taxes and contributed to society. When we need the help most, society is failing us. I’m just grateful for our family and friends who are helping us through this difficult time but we cannot rely on them forever.

I hate debt collection agencies.

23 05 2012

One of the reasons I decided to study law was the incessant harassment by debt collection agencies for debts I did not have or debts that were at best dubious failings by companies to do their job properly. Most “debts” were companies who had cocked up with cancellation procedures that had in the long run cost me money. I was left out of pocket and having to battle the Debt Collection Agency minefield. The rest of the DCAs to darken my doorstep were looking for a previous owner of my flat who didn’t leave any forwarding address and the door knockers and call centre staff would not believe I was not the person in question.

Out of the two, the latter were more frightening and there were times, steel toe capped boots were placed in my door to stop me closing it on the debt collectors. They wanted proof of who I was, in my home, and were threatening in how they went about it. Being pigheaded, I refused to show them my passport or driving license as I had no debt and was an entirely different person to the one they were after. In the end it was the police who dealt appropriately with the situation. It didn’t stop the phone calls, which continued 8 years for the previous owner.

These companies are vultures who rely on the fear of those in debt to do business. They present the debts in legal looking letters, often in a manner that suggests you are a step away from the high court. Letters appear to come from solicitors, although those you will deal with are merely administrators and not legal professionals. They deliberately plan letter delivery over long weekends and bank holidays, while giving you only seven days from the date of the letter to respond before they threaten court action. All this, regardless of its dubious legal position is designed to intimidate. It is important to remember with this 7 day deadline that for you it is date of receipt of the letter and not date of the letter being sent. A DCA will have to prove you received the letter from them, unless it is signed for recorded or special delivery this is near impossible for them to do. It is always advisable to remind them of this should they ramp up contact 7 days after the letter was printed.

The doorstep collectors above took it to a whole new level.

Of course debt collectors are generally exempt from harassment legislation, and they will rely on this fact when you complain about the five or more phone calls a day, the same number of voicemails and daily bombardment with threatening red letters. They don’t care or even want to know the story of how the alleged debt came to be or indeed that the original creditor (company providing the service) may have been entirely wrong in claiming it was a debt. The creditor/original company have sold on the debt usually to an independent company and from that point on its up to you to prove that it’s them and not you in the wrong.

The “debtor” has very little safeguard if a company decides you owe them money. Without trawling very dry and hard to access legislation and guidelines, it’s difficult to know how to fight these people. If the debt is a real debt, it’s a minefield trying to work out what you really owe and what the DCA has added on for it’s own fees. It’s an unfair practice designed to baffle and confuse ordinary people struggling with finances, especially in times of difficulty, as now. DCAs are profit making companies and have no interest in making things easier for you.

I have been lucky that I have never legitimately been chased by a DCA. It has always been a fault with the original creditor and I have always managed to have the alleged debts cancelled, even if the money the companies had wrongfully taken from me was never returned to me. Of course, DCAs aren’t quite as willing to chase these large corporations for debts on behalf of the little people and after years of trying to get back what is owed, most ordinary people will give up unsuccessfully.

My latest fight with a debt collection agency was ironically around universities fees from my first attempt at studying law. I was at a “new” university undertaking an accelerated LLB degree, which commanded fees of £6000 per year. For a variety of reasons of the universities doing, I was forced to leave. I had been clear about the learning supports, adjustments and information I needed to undertake the course and despite initial reassurances and a statutory duty, when it came time, the university were unwilling to provide me with any of it. I was a cashcow for them and they would say anything to get me through the door, once in it was a different story.

The final straw came when they refused advanced access (pre Christmas holidays) to the next terms timetable, despite knowing well in advance the problems of arranging adequate childcare for babies and my need for this information as soon as possible. It may not seem like much but with waiting lists in excess of 6 months and my daughter not having moved any on multiple lists, not being able to provide specific days and times to nursery meant that none of them could offer us a place. Timetables for term 2 were not released until two days before the start of term, on a Saturday. There is no way I could have sorted out childcare in that time. I had no option but to leave to look after my child.

I heard no more from the university about the fees due and given my letter explaining my reasons, highlighting their statutory failures, naively assumed that was the end of the matter. I was wrong (and yes I know stupid) to believe it was over.

In April 2012, 16 months after leaving university, I received a letter out of the blue from a debt collection agency called Incasso. They wanted almost £3000 but did not say what the debt was for, merely that it was in relation to said new university. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the university had sold the debt on, without so much as approaching me about paying it first. The letter was aggressive, delivered on a bank holiday weekend and gave me 7 days from the date of the letter to respond with a payment plan or face court action. The first working day back they started calling my partners mobile phone and being rude to both him and me. The lady on the phone felt compelled to say, “I know it’s you because your husband handed the phone to you” when I pointed out I had no husband she replied, “don’t lie to me”. So apparently now I married but noone thought to tell me. Her attitude was appalling and she was on the offensive from the start.

I refused to communicate in any medium other than written posted letter. This ensured I had a paper trail. All responses were sent recorded or special delivery, so I had proof of receipt, all at my own expense. I disputed the debt, quoting legislation and regulatory guidelines they are obliged to follow and requested they returned the debt to the university to allow us to negotiate the situation. They would only communicate via email except for threatening letters. Their communication consisted of “please call us immediately”.

Incasso did not respond to any of my letters and kept sending more threatening letters, each time increasing the debt by considerable sums. Of course I didn’t leave it at that. I contacted the university to request they stop Incasso from chasing the debt until we had discussed and investigated the matter.

I had a huge degree of success from the university. I presume they realised they were in a difficult legal position regarding their treatment of me and their unwillingness to make reasonable adjustments. As a gesture of “goodwill” they erased the debt completely. Far cheaper than have me take them to court under the Equality Act and all the negative publicity that would bring them.

Noone thought to tell Incasso. I have received more threatening letters since the university informed me of their decision to wipe the debt. The debt amount has risen.

I am no longer going to communicate with Incasso. They failed to respond to any of my letters, they failed in performing their duties under the regulations that govern their industry, they are chasing a non-existent debt and long may they continue to do so. I look forward to the letter informing me they are taking me to court and only then shall I provide all the evidence necessary, that I have undertaken all the duties required of me in trying to sort this problem out. This shall cost them money and I don’t care.

Morally I should do the right thing but I am under no legal obligation to do so and given the perpetual harassment of innocent people by the likes of Incasso, I shall let them do what they do best.

When I hear of debt collectors harassing people I get so angry. They rely on people not understanding their rights or the law and they play on people’s fear of the law. They are c**ts.

I cannot recommend enough the likes of The Consumer Forums in help navigating the debt collection minefield. They provide fantastic template letters and support when you are at your most panicky and worrying. If you have problems with debt collection agencies chasing for non-existent debts, I suggest you get help from the forums. Even if the debt does exist, I would still recommend getting advice there and speaking with the Citizens Advice Bureau on your rights.