A woman with Parkinson’s disease has hit out at being sent a £100 fine for claiming free NHS dental treatment – after being told by the NHS website she was eligible to claim.
Charlotte Allen, of Houghton-le-Spring, says she is angry that the online checker led her up the garden path, as the dental treatment she had done is a consequence of her condition, which causes issues with oral health.
“Getting the benefits you are entitled to is always a constant battle when you have Parkinson’s, said Charlotte, 54. “According to the NHS website, I am entitled to free NHS treatment – including dental work – and that’s what I want.”
Read more: ‘I’m not going to get better’ – Woman with Parkinson’s hits out at DWP for nine-year hell to claim benefits
Her ordeal began when she used the NHS eligibility checker after she was awarded the enhanced rate of PIP earlier this year. Using the online checker, as instructed in her letter from the DWP, she put in details of herself and her partner, Russ Bradford, who also has Parkinson’s disease.
The website told her she was able to access free NHS dental treatment, so she went ahead and had some initial dental work done, worth £62.50. But a few days later, she received a letter demanding the £62.50 for the treatment she had received, plus an additional £100 penalty for accessing dental treatment she was not entitled to.
Charlotte contacted the NHS Business Services Authority (BSA), which issued the penalty, who said the eligibility checker confirmed she was entitled to free NHS dental treatment, and offered to waive the £100 penalty, but not the charge of £62.50 for the treatment.
When ChronicleLive contacted NHS Business Services Authority to try to clear up the confusion, a spokesperson admitted that they were unsure why Charlotte was not able to claim back her dental costs, and suggested she speak to Jobcentre Plus to check her details are up to date. The spokesperson went on to say that she risked another penalty fine if she claimed any more dental treatment or prescriptions before checking with her Jobcentre.
The problem seems to be around Charlotte’s partner, Russ’s, claim for Employment Support Allowance (ESA). Charlotte says she has been told verbally by NHS BSA that she must be included in a claim for ESA to claim free healthcare, and this was confirmed by the NHS BSA authority spokesperson contacted by ChronicleLive, who said: “The eligibility checker provides a personalised journey for the user based on their answers. For example, if you select that you live with your partner, the subsequent questions include you and your partner.
“If you then select that you or your partner get a certain benefit which entitles them to help with health costs, it will assume that both you and your partner are included and named in this award and thus entitled to help with health costs.
“This is because when someone lives with their partner they should apply for their benefit as a couple rather than individually. As for the assessment, partner means they live together as a couple, they do not have to be married or in a civil partnership.
“However, as Ms Allen selected that she lives with her partner during the eligibility checker journey, we are unsure why she is not included in her partner’s benefit and recommend she contacts Jobcentre Plus to check their information is up to date on their system. We advise Ms Allen to do this and to recheck her eligibility for free treatment before claiming further free NHS prescriptions and dental treatment to avoid any possible penalty charges.
“The eligibility checker questions were developed following Government guidance and have gone through extensive user research to ensure that they are correctly worded, easy to read and accessible. The checker offers correct advice for the circumstances provided in the answers by the user. We have passed Ms Allan’s case onto the team responsible for the eligibility checker as feedback.
“The NHS Business Services Authority provides Exemption Checking Services on behalf of NHS England and NHS Improvement to recover unpaid patient charges for NHS prescriptions and dental treatment. We’ve recovered over £107m since we began checking exemptions in 2014 which has all been paid back to NHS England and NHS Improvement. In Ms Allan’s dental case, we have waived the penalty charge, however as she is not entitled to free or reduced cost NHS dental services, the charge for her treatment remains.”
Charlotte, who works in her own recruitment business, said: “This is typical of the runaround both myself and Russ – and many other sufferers of degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s – have to live with all of the time. According to the NHS BSA’s own website, I am eligible for free NHS costs, except, apparently, I am not. And no-one seems to be able to tell me exactly what the problem is. I am not happy with the penalty being cancelled as I want what I am entitled to according to the NHS’s own website.
“The whole process is utterly confusing. When I was awarded the higher rate of PIP it recommended to look into what other medical help I could be entitled to. The eligibility checker indicated I was entitled to this, I was not trying to claim entitlement unlawfully. People with Parkinson’s suffer from dental problems caused by the condition itself and the drugs used to treat it. The NHS website is giving misleading information and this once again has turned into a fight.”
Charlotte, who has suffered with the disease for 18 years, earlier this year called for the Government to change the way it assesses people who are living with degenerative diseases, after battling with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) for the past nine years. And although Charlotte’s benefits have been reinstated after ChronicleLive took up her case with the DWP, she is still angry that it has taken so long to get there and is concerned for others in the same boat.
The mum-of-one, who moved to the North East from London in 2019 to live with Russ, wants the DWP to award everyone who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s the higher rate of PIP automatically, as she says reviews and assessments are a waste of time and money, because the disease will only get worse, never better.
Charlotte is concerned about the 145,000 people living with Parkinson’s in the UK, as she says not everyone is in a position to fight for what is rightfully theirs.
“I don’t want to have to fight and navigate hurdles all the time for all these things that people living with Parkinson’s should be automatically given. The DWP and NHS and their current processes are destroying families,” she said.