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.)