I am not a writer and I expect this is a bit waffly but please stick with it. I would like to share a recent experience of my local Jobcentre in Poole. I am 47 and have worked for most of my life since the age of 16 but since 2008 I have been unemployed except for a few weeks here and there temping. During this period I have also has spells on Employment Support Allowance due to depression which I have suffered from and received treatment for over the last 10 years or so. I have been on continous Jobseekers Allowance since November 2010 and have actively and genuinely sought employment but alas, I have been unsuccessful.
Two weeks ago, I attended my normal weekly interview at the Jobcentre. I was informed that I was under investigation for not attending an ‘open day’ at a local factory several months ago. I questioned this as I could remember attending something along those lines although it was for a job I could not not do (counter balance fork-lift driver) and, as it happened, the employer didn’t consider that I was suitable. I also queried as to why I had not been previously notified of this investigation. I was told that a letter explaining it all had been sent but I didn’t receive it beacause they forgot to put my address on it!
Unfortunately, the interview went downhill from there. I openly admit, I am a bolshy person. If I don’t agree with what a person is saying I will tell them. I also accept that I was angry and irritated but not aggresive as the advisor stated was the reason why the interview was terminated there and then. Shortly afterwards, I asked to speak to somone and the manager had a brief chat with me. It was agreed that, going forward, it would be best if I didn’t see the same advisor and I was told I would be sent details of my next appointment.
The next day I handed in a letter to the Jobcentre in response to the previous day’s interview. Admittedly it was a bit feisty but it’s primary purpose was requesting for written confirmation of the investigation and the implications. A week later I attended my normal interview and nothing about the previous week or the investigation was discussed.
On Tuesday of this week, I went to withdraw my fortnightly benefit from the cash-point but found no money had been credited. I kind of guessed what was happening so headed home to ask my neighbour if I could use the phone (I do not have a landline and it’s rare for me to have calling credit on my phone as I can’t afford it).
I phoned the Jobcentre and asked why my money had not been credited to my Building Society account and was told a ‘sanction’ had been placed on my JSA benefit for not attending a ‘job opportunity’. I then asked for how long and the reply was until March 2012. I was a bit stunned and thought I had mis-heard. But no, the sanction is in fact for 6 months. I asked why I had not been informed about this and was informed a letter was in the post. I am not shocked easily but have to say I was absolutely flabbergasted and headed straight for the Jobcentre muttering ‘6 months, no money for 6 months’ all the way.
Upon arriving, I explained the situation and asked to speak to someone. I was offered a form to fill out but again said I wanted to speak someone. The advisor then went off to check my details and said my benefit had been stopped due to a sanction. I said I already knew that, and a bit of a heated discussion followed ending with me stating that I was going no-where until I had spoken to someone. Eventually it was arranged for me to talk to the manager.
Perhaps it is my bad memory but I cannot remember help/reception areas being so obstructive in the past. In general, it seems nowadays they are not gateways to information but hurdles you have to jump!
Anyway, I spoke to the manager who was now aware of the situation and said I had 4 beefs:
1) The fact that I had not received anything in writing
2) I had attended the factory open day
3) Why was I made to go for a job I couldn’t do anyway
4) How the hell am I going to survive without any money for the next 6 months
The manager trundled off and made several calls. The outcome was he was getting the matter re-considered but it was out of his hands. To be fair, as far as I know, he did all he could and he also gave me a JSA hardship claim form to fill out. I was advised that either the manager or another office would get back to me the next day. Neither did!
However I did receive a letter stating the following:
A CHANGE IN YOUR JOBSEEKER’S ALLOWANCE
We have looked at your claim following a recent change.
We cannot pay you Jobseekers Allowance from 16 September 2011.
We cannot award National Insurance contribution for this period.
We cannot pay you Jobseekers Allowance from 5 March 2012.
I am still none the wiser and shall be taking it up again on my next visit to the Jobcentre. I try my best to be sympathetic to the task Jobcentre staff have to do, but sometimes feel that some (by no means all) take their role with too much fervour and a little empathy wouldn’t go amiss.
I am now in the situation where I do not know whether I will receive any benefits for the next 6 months. I will be visiting my Town Hall to find out if my Housing Benefit will be paid, and if it isn’t I will most probably lose my Council flat.
I can assure anyone reading this I am not after sympathy. By hook or by crook I will survive but should it really have to come to that. It is aimed at those who do not have any experience of living on benefits to show what kind of things happen. You scrape day to day to exist or as normally happens your benefit runs out and then time stands still while you go hungry and cold. It most certainly is not all it’s cracked up to be!
More importantly and utterly disgusting is that people on Disability benefits have been persecuted for the last few years. I expect many have gone through similar to my experience and most probably worse. Make no mistake, the attack on their benefits has not just happened under the coalition. It seems when it comes to Disability benefits, governments of all persuassions want to slash and burn!
The figure I have seen bandied about is that 0.5% of all Disability benefit claims are fraudulent. So why on earth is a complete segment of society suffering such a persistent and vicious assault. Especially as many are unable, or do not have the resources, to fight back. It is shameful and we the people must stand in Solidarity and shout from the rooftops this must not be allowed to happen.