For older people, claiming benefits can be a hugely unpleasant experience where only sheer determination gets results. Robert Mair spoke to Fred Churchman about his experiences.

For many older people and people with disabilities, claiming benefits can be a maze of form filling and official bureaucracy that can fail to get any results. When Fred Churchman first applied for a disability benefit more than 10 years ago to help with his acute arthritis, the process was so tortuous he simply gave up.

Nevertheless, when his wife Violet was recently diagnosed with angina he was determined to give it another crack, if only for her sake. More than 10 years on, however, he still found the system confusing, hugely bureaucratic and peopled by unsympathetic officials.

Firstly, the doctor who carried out Violet’s benefits assessment deemed her fit and healthy and told the couple they would not be receiving any benefits for her condition. Ironically, Fred claims his wife had a mini-stroke while she was being assessed by the doctor, who repeated during her ordeal that she would be fine. “It was like he was saying there was nothing wrong with her,” Fred says.

But by this time Fred knew something was seriously wrong and two days later she had a major angina attack and was rushed to hospital.

Despite the worsening of Violet’s health, amazingly Fred still could not secure any attendance allowance – which is a benefit to give frail older people everyday help.

Nevertheless, Fred remained determined and this time appealed to a charity's benefit’s advice programme for help. As well as providing practical advice, the charity also assisted him with filling in forms, taking some of the burden off Fred, who was now caring for a frail and very sick Violet.

By now as well as angina, arthritis and her mini-stroke, Violet was also suffering with a serious stomach complaint that needed urgent treatment. “The doctors told her she needed this operation otherwise she’d die,” Fred says. “And even if she did have it, there was a very good chance she could die.”

Incredibly, Fred’s application was rejected once again. “The forms just contradicted themselves,” laughs a bemused Fred. “It would say how far can you walk on a good day? Further on it will ask you how far can you walk on a bad day? It’s very confusing. How would I know how far she could walk on a good day?"

“You could end up putting the wrong things down or you could fill something in wrong. You might not be lying, but you might put the wrong answer down and that would lead to a rejection.”

But he refused to give up and instead asked the charity to appeal on his behalf. It was a case of third time lucky: “We’ve not just got attendance allowance for her,” Fred says. “She’s also got a blue badge, which helps when she goes to hospital and a little bit knocked off the council tax.”

In total, the couple are now £66 a week better off – or £3,500 a year. It’s a relatively small sum, but one the couple desperately need to make ends meet. For Fred, seeking advice greatly helped his claim – and he’d urge others to do the same: “I’d definitely say you should... ask for help if you need it.”