More everyday problems at the jobcentre – a stall report


Barry is recently out of prison and has anger management issues. He can’t cope with a computer and confessed that the resulting frustration made him likely to throw the machine across the room. But the jobcentre had made no allowances for this. We had to explain that they are actually required to take account of a person’s situation and what they are able to do.

Kate had been on ESA before but had decided to see if she could manage a job. When her epilepsy proved this impossible, she had had to sign onto Universal Credit, where she was expected to produce doctor’s notes explaining why she couldn’t work. When she read our leaflet she realised that she should have been given a UC35 form as the first stage for getting the UC equivalent of ESA. This form is meant to be given to you after you have been on doctor’s lines for more than four weeks, and she had been handing in notes for much longer than that. When she went into the jobcentre she asked about this and was simply told to request the form via her online account – but no one had mentioned anything about this before, and it is supposed to be automatic. Getting the disability element of UC would not only ensure that she was not under pressure to look for work, but also – if she is put in the support group as she was when on ESA – she will get more money.

Helen is also on UC and having to produce doctor’s lines to say that she is not fit for work, but she was understandably confused by the DWP’s abuse of the English language. She couldn’t understand why, when she was clearly unable to work, she had to produce ‘fit notes’. We had to explain that this is DWP-speak for a sick note.

John told us that he was in the middle of a prolonged dispute with the DWP over his Claimant Commitment. This required him to take five jobsearch steps each week, but one of these steps had been altered from applying for three jobs to applying for five. He had argued that this was not reasonable as some weeks there wouldn’t be the jobs to apply for, but the DWP had refused to retreat and he had ended up having his claim closed. He was determined to fight this all the way, and to do so himself without any help.

We were also able to tell a man who was waiting for his first UC payment that he could get a benefit advance (it didn’t seem to have been mentioned), and we gave two others details of the Welfare Rights drop-in sessions, including one man whose partner is on ESA, so – as we made clear to him – he is eligible to be part of a joint claim.

All in all, it was still a relatively quiet two hours at the stall – but even so we have to wonder what happens to folk on all those other times when we’re not there.

Thanks to Tony and Gary – and thinking always of our friend Norma, who lost her son on Mother’s Day.

PS – Disgusting, but no longer surprising, news that Glasgow South MP, Stewart McDonald’s, private member’s bill to end unpaid work trials was talked out by a Government minister who had promised that they would not do this and would allow it to be discussed.


You wouldn’t Universal Credit it – a stall report


In preparation for the demo that got snowed off, I looked through our blogs since the full UC roll-out hit Dundee, and found case after case of DWP mistakes. So I suppose we shouldn’t really have been surprised to meet yet another person who had been wrongly told to apply for universal credit when he had just lost his job and had been paying National Insurance. We explained that he was entitled to 6 months contribution-based JSA and gave him the JSA New Claims number.

Brian was also having problems with UC, having received only one payment since he applied in October. Again the nature of his problem was not unusual. Like for so many others, his claim was being delayed because the DWP required some further paperwork. In Brian’s case, the delay had been prolonged by the jobcentre’s inability to specify clearly what it was they needed. He told us that he had been instructed to provide a letter from his landlord, but this had taken three attempts before the DWP agreed that the letter he had given them was of the correct form. Since UC has combined everything into a single benefit, any delay leaves you with no income at all. Brian had exhausted his allowance of Scottish Welfare Fund grants, but the foodbank was recognising his continued needs and not applying limits, and his landlord was showing a rare patience. He hoped that his paperwork was now acceptable and that the money would soon come through, but we pressed him to get professional help if it didn’t!

Otherwise the stall was remarkably quiet – and sunny! Quite a contrast from the previous week, when the Courier reported people panicking that they would be sanctioned after they had turned up to find the Jobcentre closed due to the snow. Some people were told about the closure, but we are not surprised to find that others weren’t!

Thanks for help on the stall to Jonathan, Kat, Gary and Tony

Defending the right to be accompanied – again!

18-03-04 Livingston Jobcentre

We have just sent the letter below to the manager of Livingston Jobcentre. Please let us know if your jobcentre is also depriving people of this basic right.

Dear Sir/Madam

We have been very concerned to learn that people attending your jobcentre are being made to leave friends and relations outside and go to their interview alone. Many people need some support in what can be a stressful and confusing situation, and reducing the stress can only be to the benefit of all concerned, including jobcentre workers. I have observed, from my own experience in accompanying people to interviews, both the huge relief and help this can give to interviewees, and how it can clarify complicated situations. Depriving people of this support is upsetting, unreasonable and unnecessary; it is also contrary to DWP guidance.

The DWP’s Working with Representatives guidance, clearly states:

‘Customers have the right to ask a representative to help them conduct their business with DWP’, and that ‘It is important that we have good working relationships with representatives, whether they are from the advice organisations or are simply family members or friends so that we can give our customers the best possible service’.

While the JSA Interviewing Good Practice guidance, explains:

  1. Some customers will ask for a third party to be present at their
    interview, for example, if they:
  • need an interpreter due to language or hearing difficulties;
  • lack confidence and need someone there for support;
  • prefer to have a parent present; or
  • wish to have a witness there.
  1. In such circumstances, explain the purpose and confidentiality of the
    interview in a reassuring and helpful way.  If the customer feels they cannot
    cope alone, do not object to a third party being present.  Refusing to agree to
    a third party could provoke hostility and be counter productive.
    164. Remember, however, that it is the customer who should receive and
    respond to advice given, direct questions at them, not the third party.  Treat
    the third party with respect and courtesy, but do not let them control the

Matthew Nicholas, Employers and Stakeholders Director Jobcentre Plus, writing on behalf of the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Darra Singh, in a letter copied to Edinburgh claimants, dated 15 February 2010, wrote:

‘We accept that there will always be times when customers attending our premises feel the need to be accompanied by a friend or advice worker and we will always try to accommodate this where possible.’

And in response to a FOI request, dated 24 February 2014, the DWP wrote:

‘Claimants accessing Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits and services can have someone to accompany them to act on their behalf’ – which clearly implies that the person accompanying can (if the claimant wishes) speak to their case.

Please can you ensure that your staff are made fully aware of this situation and that no-one else will be deprived of their right to be accompanied to their jobcentre interview?

Yours Sincerely

Dr Sarah Glynn

for the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network