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From pillar to post

A personal story: signing on for Job Seekers' allowance:

In a recent series of excellent posts, Louise Whittle has been charting her experiences on ESA as welfare reform changes have begun to take effect. In this latest post, she talks about signing on for Job Seekers' allowance: 

Listening to Vivaldi and waiting for my call to be picked up by a human at the benefits centre while watching the seconds tick away…. An automated voice tells me that “all the advisers are talking to customers and if I prefer I can phone back later”…

Is there ever a good time to phone the benefit office (possibly dead on 8am)?

Eventually, a voice responds. I tell them that I have received a letter this morning informing me that I qualify for contribution based Job Seekers' Allowance and was wondering when I would be paid. After the usual security questions, I was told that when I signed on last week, it hadn’t been properly inputted on their system - therefore I needed to contact the Jobcentre. I did as I was told….. there was a quicker response in answering the phone, but then sheer confusion...

Indeed, they inputted the last signing-on date on my record, but when I asked about a “fast track payment” I was told, “We don’t deal with that as we are only a small Jobcentre”.

I was told to ring the the benefits centre. More Vivaldi. More waiting. I eventually got through and the date of my last signing on had been dutifully inputted. I told the adviser that Jobcentre didn’t deal with fast track payments. I could hear a sharp intake of breath, then a sigh and a suppressed laugh - “It is their responsibility”! They made a note on my record and told me to …… yes, you can guess, to ring the Jobcentre. Spending over an hour on the phone losing the will live…. I duly rang the number and spoke to someone who took my details and yes……

“It’s the benefit centre's responsibility for payment”..

Me: “I am confused myself as I gone around in circles and being told so much misinformation.”

Them: “Sorry about that but it is their responsibility”

Me: “Well, who deals with the fast track payment”?

Them: “Payment department”

Me: “OK, will I be paid then?”

Them: “I will pass the information onto the department. Give me a phone number where they can contact you in the next 3 hours.”

My head hurt as it felt like being bounced backwards and forwards, from pillar to post and none the wiser!

About an hour later I got a phone from the payment department.

“Yes, you will be paid in the next couple of hours. Unfortunately, Jobcentre was bloody late in inputting your last signing on date. Sorry about that”…

Indeed they paid me. But what a palaver. What bureaucracy. Nobody taking responsibility in paying me. The advisers were polite and helpful but nobody could specifically tell who the hell was meant to be dealing with this.

I don’t blame the staff. They have experienced cuts and loss of staff. The benefit centre act like factories when processing forms. There seems to be chaos in applying the changes to benefits - such as the benefit cap in disarray and not being applied properly. Even on a personal level - when I signed on two weeks ago and handed in my form, there was confusion regarding the fact I had an ESA claim that came to an end on the 30th April and that I was now applying for the contribution based JSA. There was whispering between the admin staff as to what to do with it (and I think there had been other similar claims that morning). Helpful and polite staff in disarray.

The ones I do blame are the architects of welfare reform from New Labour to this government. Knee-jerk reactions and poisonous populism create hideous legislation like the current Welfare Reform Act - but as it’s an ideological attack, little thought has been put into the practicalities of implementation. It’s chaos, cuts and confusion - staff under pressure while being shafted, and claimants bewildered while also being shafted.

I am sick of listening to Vivaldi.

Crossposted from Louise Whittle's Harpymarx blog.

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