Out of the frying pan, into Universal Credit – a stall report


Frankie was a worried man. A week ago on Sunday he had started work at a restaurant as a kitchen porter. At least, that was the job that had been advertised, but when he got there he found he was expected to do everything, including cooking the breakfast and ordering the stock. He doesn’t know how to cook, let alone sort out the orders. He was given no training, but by Wednesday he was left to manage on his own. He was checking deliveries at the entrance at the same time as keeping an eye on the cooker and panicking about serving undercooked sausages. He told his friends that he was feeling suicidal with it all. Sensibly, he had left the job before any disaster struck, but now he was terrified about being blamed for not working, and so not being given benefit. He was so nervous, that I went into the jobcentre with him. He needn’t have worried about his treatment there. The woman couldn’t have been nicer, but (there’s always a ‘but’) she can only work within the system, and that has left him with two possible sources of further worry. Before he got the job at the restaurant he was on JSA. When he got the job he signed off, and now, signing on again, he has to be on Universal Credit, with all the problems that implies. And although the woman at the jobcentre helped him to make his new application, and stressed the importance of writing down all the details of what happened, it is not her who makes the decision about sanctions. Frankie must now wait for the verdict of the anonymous Decision Maker.

Pam was hoping to get Universal Credit to help with housing costs now that her husband’s hours have been dropped down to 21 a week. She was shocked when we warned her that, as he would be earning less than the equivalent of 35 hours a week on the minimum wage, he would be made to spend the rest of his time looking for more or better paid work. We suggested they get a benefit check done at Shelter, who would also be able to advise on possible options.

Jill had just signed onto Universal Credit having become unemployed for the first time in years. We told her that since her National Insurance payments will be up to date she should be on New Style (i.e. contribution based) JSA instead, and recommended she sort this out as soon as possible. The DWP seems to be very bad at spotting this one.

Andrew had just lost the chance of a job in the Midlands because the DWP had refused to help with the interview travel costs, even though these would be refunded afterwards. He had only recently signed up to Universal Credit and was shocked to have received no benefits on what should have been his first payment day. His final salary from work had been paid to him after he had applied for UC, and had been counted as income for the first month’s calculation. He was thus deemed not to need any benefit that month, and won’t get anything at all for a further month. (See how it ‘works’ here.).

Mark and Ruth were both applying to be recognised as unfit to work – so we impressed on them the importance of getting help with the medical form from someone (such as a welfare rights officer) who knows how the points system works. And we asked them to contact us later if they need someone to accompany them to their work capability assessment.

John had worked in security. He informed us – as he had previously had to inform the jobcentre – that security staff must wear visible name badges and shouldn’t lean over you when you are having a private conversation. Could be useful to know!

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