I was persuaded to apply for Jobseekers Allowance earlier this year, when a job I’d been offered last December was abruptly withdrawn in February after a pitiful process that would make for another angry blog post entirely. It would be my first experience of claiming a benefit, after nearly 20 years of work.
So, having pre-applied for JSA online in mid February, I went to my interview at the job centre. Given the nature of the generic forms, I had a query about a pension I’m paid, which is the result of my first wife’s premature death from a brain tumour – it’s her teachers pension paid to me as a spousal benefit. It wasn’t clear to me whether I should declare it as an occupational pension, given it was neither my pension, nor my occupation.
On the basis of my completed online form, along with a quick check on the process of my online application on the system, my interviewer told me that my claim had been refused and I wasn’t entitled to JSA, and my pension would almost certainly rule any payment out. She asked me if I wanted to withdraw my application, and I left her to do that.
Less than a week later, I received a letter from the Stratford office of the DWP to say that my application had been approved, and I was sent details of how much it would be and where it would be paid. I assumed that my interviewer had not withdrawn the application, and I rang Stratford to query the pension, which I’d not declared when I filled in the online form. They had to ring me back after checking but, no, the pension had no bearing on a contributions based JSA payment, at least for the first six months of payment. I was still entitled.
Less than a week after that, I was told that, owing to my non-completion of the application, I wouldn’t be getting any JSA.
After more to-ing and fro-ing, I reapplied for JSA on March 7, had another interview, declared my pension and waited for a response. I also appealed to have the JSA backdated on the basis of my first interviewer giving me misleading information about whether my claim would be successful. Again, over the phone, I was told that I was entitled to JSA.
In the meantime, I was attending the Job Centre (dehumanising, sparse, and unwelcoming places at the best of times) to sign on. I declared a day’s work to them. I explained that this wasn’t a job, but a one-off, single day for which I would be paid. I filled in a form – an A15C – to explain all this, all the time waiting for payments on my JSA.
It seems that, despite having it explained twice, they didn’t understand the concept of a day’s work, and I was sent another A15C – with no note or explanation attached – and asked to fill it in again. I made another call to Stratford for an explanation, and they seemingly wanted a start date for the day’s work, assuming it was a job. It’s not a job, I said, and they settled for an explanatory note, faxed to a mysterious lady in the New Claims department called Elizabeth. This was late March – still no JSA decision.
The joy of the making all these calls is that, despite each letter from the DWP giving the phone number of the Stratford office, you can’t actually call the Stratford office (I’ve been told that it’s, ‘not public facing’). You actually get a call centre, where the operators have no access to the details of your case, or the letters you’ve been sent, and can’t actually help you. You have to arrange with them for someone from the Stratford office to ring you back. It rather puts you off ringing at all. And, of course, each call is charged.
On April 3, I actually started a job and closed my claim for JSA. I assumed that this claim would be resolved at some point but, up to yesterday, it had not and I decided to risk the call centre and chase it. Apparently, a note had been put on my file on April 23 seeking information about my occupational pension to be provided, ‘when I call’. Not only had the Stratford office not bothered to write to me or ring me requesting the information, but they’re requesting information that they’ve already seen at my second interview at the job centre in early March, and had dismissed as being irrelevant to the claim in late February.
You can draw your own conclusions about this tiny, one person experience of the benefits system, but I find it long-winded, unsympathetic, inconsistent, unhelpful, obstructive and frustrating. Good luck to any scroungers. I admire your patience and perseverance.
My claim remains outstanding.