Waiting for Maximus



Yesterday, David accompanied Isobel to Cadogan Street for her Work Capability Assessment. Nothing remarkable about that – except that this was the third time that they had made the journey. Isobel contacted us in July when she was waiting for her appointment – and then again in October when she had finally heard that they would see her on 1 November. So we made arrangements, and she made arrangements, but then, as David explained:

‘Isobel’s assessment was postponed due to the amount of time she was forced to wait in extreme discomfort. They knew about her injury and still kept her waiting, with the modern excuse of the “systems” were down. Eventually she felt she could no longer cope with the pain and, despite being “assured” it wouldn’t be long if only we’d wait, she postponed and a new appointment time for assessment is being sent out. They did say next time she’d be a priority. Nearly £5 on parking tickets and a lot of pain for nothing, and they definitely don’t like advocates much either. Very glad I was there as I feel they would have had her waiting all day. A “manager” came out to apply some pressure after I said we’d have to postpone.’

The new appointment was on the 23 November, and we made arrangements and she made arrangements but – as David explained:

‘Cancelled again!! This time after an hour of waiting in severe pain and discomfort only to be told the specialist she was due to see had left after a busy day. Isobel was meant to be a priority today, however the manager who’d assured us of that last time seemed not to remember saying that, and was again fobbing us off by telling us she’d be seen “shortly”. An hour later, and a different lady with a very apologetic nature gave us the news the specialist had left and Isobel will have to come back again. Told her I appreciated the apology but it’s not good enough and this would be the 3rd appointment made for someone in extreme pain. Noticed the words “priority” in black pen on her file so the manager appeared to be lying through his teeth. At this point a few people in the waiting room who were still to be seen started crying, as did Isobel . Shocking display of contempt for their “clients” and appalling mismanagement.’

Yesterday was third time lucky – at least as far as moving beyond the waiting room was concerned…

Shocking though this account is, it is, in fact, not particularly unusual. Although the person applying for ESA – who by definition has health problems – is expected to get to their appointment on time or provide very good reason, the assessment centres are always cancelling at the last minute. Sometimes they manage to let people know before they actually turn up – though after they have suffered the anxiety of preparation; and sometimes, as in Isobel’s case, they only find out after they have already been waiting. But this callousness is symptomatic of the whole way ESA is administered.

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It’s been fairly quiet outside Dundee jobcentre recently, but our chilly stall today demonstrated a distinct lack of Christmas spirit within those walls.  One person told us that despite a previous agreement that she could pay back a loan in small increments, the jobcentre had taken it upon themselves to deduct £46 a week from her benefits (we advised her to ask Welfare Rights or CAB to renegotiate this). Another said that he had been told that he could get his interview travel costs repaid at a standard mileage rate, but that they then only allowed him the cost of the petrol and made him pay back the difference (we advised him to put in a complaint). And another person told us that he lived in Brechin and his doctor was in Dundee, but when he handed his doctor’s line into the jobcentre in Dundee to be scanned they grumbled that he should be taking it to Forfar, which is 11 miles from Brechin and 14  miles from Dundee.

Happy Christmas!




Over a barrel



The Claimant Commitment is presented as though it were a contract agreed between two freely consenting parties, but that is far from the case. If you don’t sign the Claimant Commitment that the jobcentre has prepared for you then there is no benefit money, so your negotiating position is pretty fatally undermined from the start. There is provision to get a second opinion, but only from another jobcentre worker who can simply back up their colleague – as these two cases demonstrate.

John, from central Scotland, contacted us last week. He was not unnaturally concerned that the document he was being made to sign effectively required him to promise to do anything he was asked by his ‘jobcoach’ or by the Work Programme. He will have to sign this to get his benefits – though he can push for a change in the wording afterwards. This is bad because it increases the risk of a sanction and of all the worry that goes with that risk, but if he does get sanctioned his Claimant Commitment shouldn’t actually affect the legal requirement that all demands made of him should be reasonable and that everything that is actually mandatory should be clearly signalled as such. If what he is asked to do doesn’t fit these criteria, then he should win an appeal – but only after he has gone through the inevitable hardship first (see our advice on Universal Credit). And he can still refuse to sign documents given to him by his Work Programme Provider because that is a data protection issue (see our advice on surviving the Work Programme).

Aisha’s case from the west of Scotland shows the jobcentre using its powers to carry out much more flagrant abuse – in fact, in this instance, clear religious discrimination. The Claimant Commitment is meant to be a general agreement rather than anything to do with specific jobs, however Aisha’s jobcoach, who has given her trouble in the past, included a requirement that Aisha attend an open day for a particular company. She included it because she knew Aisha didn’t want to go, and one of the reasons she didn’t want to go was because it was primarily a debt collecting firm and lending money for interest is not allowed in Islam (Incidentally, the jobcentre is supposed to respect ethical objections too, not just religious ones.) Aisha refuse to sign the document and her benefit was stopped. She has now had to reapply for Universal Credit and go through the initial waiting period all over again. To make it worse, though the jobcentre told her when she asked that by not signing the Claimant Commitment she wouldn’t jeopardise the benefits she was due before that day, this was not actually the case. Universal Credit is worked out on a monthly basis so she ended up receiving no payment for the previous three weeks too. In fact she has now received nothing from the DWP since the beginning of October, and although the Scottish Welfare Fund has enabled her to keep going, this hasn’t covered the rent, and she is being threatened with court proceedings for eviction. She has submitted both a Mandatory Reconsideration letter and a complaints letter about the way her previous claim was ended and she was hoping that her payment would come through by the end of the week – but everyone she speaks to at the DWP gives here contradictory information and advice for every question she asks.

(Thanks to our good friends at Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty and the Child Poverty Action Group for their help with these cases.)