What to Know When Accessing Services for the First Time

Featured image description: White text on a pink background that says: “What to Know When Accessing Services for the First Time”. The words “Accessing Services” are larger and curved upwards like a smile. On the right is the a logo for the blog ,”Trans Autistic Feminist” (a gold neurodiversity helix on a black trans symbol) with the blog name in purple.

Content warning for discussion of systematic ableism, gaslighting

Hi all,

Navigating services in 2020 is a huge challenge, as people who have been following politics and issues concerning marginalised people will be aware of. Here are some things to know when navigating services as a multiply marginalised person. This article is aimed primarily at people who need to access support for the first time and have no previous experience dealing with it first hand.

Know what you are getting yourself into.

People who engage services often have no other choice. Hence, due to how dire the situation is with services, it is often seen as a last resort. This will affect how much of a priority you are seen as by services – and this is even further complicated by those with additional support needs or marginalisations. Hence, you need to do research in relation to how said services treat people who fit your marginalisations. This is so you know where to go and where to avoid. Likewise, research local laws such as the UK’s Equality Act 2010 so you can understand your rights regarding what you need help with.

Sites of large organisations are a good place to start, as they explain relevant laws and concepts in plain English and other language equivalents. However, other recommend sources are actually service users as well as user-led organisations. This is because they can explain the situation on the ground away from positive marketing and any secret backroom deals major funders may place on services (this is one reason the UK’s largest disability charities do not hold the DWP to account properly).

There will be a lot of waiting and a lot of rejections

Before I go on, I want to clarify that the behaviours outlined by services below is NOTHING personal against the users by the service providers in many cases. Many staff members want to help, but the awful process of accessing support is the result of government policy that forces them to make difficult decisions on who gets help. It also means they often wait until peoples circumstances get worse before they will help. Service users basically need to answer the following question implicitly asked by each service:

“Why do we have to help? Why can’t anybody else?”

It will be a fight to get anywhere. This will drag out far longer than necessary, so don’t set yourself an expectation of a date where you hope you have what you need. This is because it is very likely what you need won’t happen promptly at best.

Why do services reject people?

Services will often reject people for many reasons. A lot of it will come down to trying to reduce their workload so they don’t have to deal with as many people as the funding they have doesn’t allow it. Hence service users need to keep persisting as much as possible. Rejections usually despite good intentions as often services just cannot help somebody properly, however bigotry is sometimes the case. Some ways these rejections happen include:

  • Misinterpreting the law on purpose to justify gatekeeping – this is where services relying on service users not understanding the law or having the energy to fight back even when they do understand it. One example is not giving somebody the correct priority for a service, such as denying emergency accommodation to somebody that is sofa surfing and could be on the streets at anytime.
  • Citing requirements not made clear before initial contact – This is where sometimes a service user discloses something that leads the service to state that they can’t help someone regardless of how true it is. This is even when conversations initially go well, and support is promised. I had this happen repeatedly when I tried to access services, usually after I disclosed that I was homeless. Another scenario is when your eligibility criteria is changed over time, following a separate or related appointment that someone is told to report feedback on. This also happened to me. It was not made clear to me that anything said at the appointment could affect my elgibility. Because it was, I was ejected from the service with no chance of appeal. Services can get around this by being more clear at the beginning at the request, however I suspect they don’t do this partially because the ambiguity allows them to dodge accountability.
  • Nitpicking – this is where they purposely reject people for very minor reasons or for how they think could react in situations very unlikely to happen. Or if they do, they do not consider that people already have action plans to counteract them nor attempt to find out before rejection.
  • Nonsense – this is basically where services can make up reasons to justify their rejections that is legal to do, but is obviously nonsense to the service user. One example is blaming an autistic person’s mental illness on them being autistic to deny counselling and discharge them, when this is untrue. They know it doesn’t matter if its lies, as long as it’s legal to do so they will get away with it.
  • Not responding to initial contact or following up (ie. A callback) – I am told this is essentially a face-saving act for the service, so that services indirectly let people down rather than have to deal with bad reactions from people when they know they are not eligible. Other times emails, calls etc. are genuinely forgotten about due to workload, but then by the time people find it again, they decide its not worth addressing due to how long it has sat there.

Accessibility needs will often not be met

Services will wrongly assume that every person can use the phone and act accordingly. That means some of the most vulnerable people will struggle to access services. You will often have to repeat your access needs to people countless times before they finally understand and respect them. This is discrimination but like with rejections, services will often get away with it. What I did to mitigate this was write multiple paragraphs in my email signature to pre-emptively stop these conversations. While nobody should have to take steps like this, it works.

You will be forced to repeat your history which each new service you talk to

Many services will have their own assessment proceedures that staff at these services have to follow, which at best is incredibly annoying. This is because the assessments between each service are broadly the same in content, even though what each service provides can differ significantly especially when services are specifially for certain groups (ie. Many services for people my age will often have the following specialisms – Young people, Women, LGBTQ+, Trans-only, People of Colour, Asian, Muslims, Disability, Neurodivergent).

Unfortunately, a major downside of this means reliving trauma as people will not simply just reuse existing information for their own, they must follow the proceedures they have and ask for entirely new recounts of the same information. What I did to help mitigate this was to write an extensive summary of my situation and supplied that to help me communicate what I needed to and give them evidence to use for their assessment.

A lot of mainstream advice is cookie cutter, irrespective of marginalisations and individual needs

Systematic bigotry exists everywhere and default advice in the Western world centres the perspectives of white abled neurotypical cishet men. This is subconscious, because most people are uninformed on how suitable or not their advice. Usually it is because they are trained to give said stock advice and signposting . Hence, be prepared to hear the same well-meaning advice from services and for them to be unable to help you when you point out how it isn’t suitable. At it’s worst, it is unsolicited advice that is both deeply triggering and unsuitable especially as trauma stacks up over time. It is also often done when people are being rejected from services.

Some examples:

  • Telling a homeless people who has never managed a tenancy before they can go private as an option and enclosing a bunch of documents meant to help them on their way, but not helping them understand
  • Sending a list of phone numbers to call regarding mental health support, even though this doesn’t work for everyone and isn’t accessible
  • Urging people to contact the police so they can deal with abusers criminally, even though for many minority groups especially black people, this is not viable.
  • Telling disabled people to “chase up” services, even though said service contact methods are inaccessible and people there don’t respond to messages or call back
  • Encouraging autistic and LGBTQ+ people to “change who they are,” thinking it will help, despite lots of evidence to the contrary

This is why I mentioned getting facts from service users and user led orgs earlier as part of your research.

Some services gaslight to ignore systematic barriers

This is likely the most triggering pat of the article for many, so this is it’s own section. Services can also act in a way that is dismissive of legitimate systematic barriers towards marginalised groups when said cookie cutter advice from above is challenged. This is when services dismiss real and valid issues that affect a whole group as somebody’s personal fears or anxiety. Examples include:

  • Why BAME and black people do not trust the police and avoid all non-essential engagement
  • Why disabled people do not trust social security offices or doctors, so often do not get what they’re entitled to to survive
  • Why reaching out for mental health support can be dangerous for autistic and other neurodivergent people
  • Why a trans person outing themselves to single gender services like refuges can be dangerous

The way services will say it indirectly is “You feel that [this systematic barrier/danger] is an issue, but we don’t accept this. We will claim that all users are required to engage with [said systematic barrier/danger] regardless of personal or systematic barriers.” This is an attempt to absolve themselves of any responsibility of educating themselves and addressing their unconscious biases, but in reality signifies to service users they are not to be trusted. It is a warning sign of bad support. Do not engage services that do this where possible.

You may have to take drastic action upon being failed, including relocation to places where specialist support is

Outside of major cities (Like London, Glasgow and Manchester in the UK), there is little support for marginalised groups. Some support exists almost everywhere in developed countries, but in more rural, right-wing areas it is next to nonexistant. Only a few places exist across those areas and with very limited supply. This also factors into the gatekeeping and barriers marginalised people face in these areas, where service staff tend to believe myths perpetrated by the right. Hence, vulnerable people are not taken seriously and trauma is often compounded. Sometimes situations become unsustainable like mine was and disengaging from local services and/or relocating to try elsewhere are the only viable options left. Only once marginalised people move to a more understanding area after being badly failed, do they close in on the help they need. This is something I anecdotally heard is very common from providers regarding housing and LGBTQ+ support.

Do not face this alone

Trying to access services is EXHAUSTING. I almost gave up a few times myself, but managed to keep at it due to seeking help, such as:

  • Peer support from friends, both in person and over the internet. This can be directly elated to solving the situation or moral support.
  • Advocacy services. Many organisations do this in somecapacity such as Shelter, the LGBT Foundation and many user led groups have professionals that will help advocate for you for free.
  • Mental health support, mostly self-help support and techniques while more proper support is put in place, such as writing and gaming.

Self care is so important

It’s OK to disengage from the situation sometimes. It’s OK to take steps to look after yourself, such as engaging in a hobby sometimes. It is OK to buy yourself some treats when and where you have the money. It’s OK if you have to give up with or disengage from certain organisations that harm where it is feasible. You will get there.

I hope this series of tips will help you navigate the mess that are services.

Milla xx

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and have the financial means to do so, please consider sending a donation to me on my Ko-fi to help me stabilise my life and start my medical transition. If not, no worries. Thank you so much for reading!

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