If the ‘benefits’ system had been designed so as to ensure that someone released from prison was likely to be back there very soon, then it probably wouldn’t be very different from this.
Mike told us he had just signed onto Universal Credit after coming out of prison, and that he had been told he would get no advance to cover the 5-6 week wait before he received any payments. The reason given was that he had not informed the DWP when he went to prison, and so had gone on receiving benefits he wasn’t entitled to. But whatever he received has now gone, and he has nothing – not even a place to stay. He told us he was sleeping rough and would have to steal to survive. We directed him to the Shelter advice drop-in.
Peter had also had trouble with the law. He had been remanded in custody overnight, but was subsequently told that his benefits had been stopped because he had been in prison, which was not the case. He had been told to reapply, and was concerned that this meant another 5-6 weeks wait. In fact, he should get paid on the same day of the month as before, but there is still the problem of payment for the time he wasn’t signed on, and there may be a long wait till his next payment date. We directed him to Shelter, too, to get this sorted out and put in a complaint.
Richard had been thrown out of the Salvation Army hostel and had no place to stay or food to eat. Another one for Shelter.
Of course the vast majority of people were not caught up with the law, just the heartless mess of the benefit system, with its troubled computer system and inadequate training.
Ruth is yet another person who has been having problems getting the New-Style JSA she is entitled to on the basis of her National Insurance payments, rather than being put on Universal Credit. She had lost money, too, as she has a small pension that had been set against the Universal Credit payments but wouldn’t affect the contribution-based JSA. Her problems had started when she signed on online and was automatically redirected from JSA to UC, but she had been given a lot of wrong advice from the DWP since.
John had gone into the jobcentre to find his National Insurance number, which had got lost when he moved house. He needed to give it to a job-agency, but the jobcentre told him that now everything was computerised he had to request it online, and they were unable to give it him.
Joanne told us that her expected UC payment hadn’t come, and she had been told that she would get nothing till next week. But, as sometimes happens when people feel totally let down by the whole process, she refused our offer of help.
There were other cases too, in this busy, rainy two hours. And it was worrying to be told by two separate people that they had just been made redundant from construction jobs that were quite separate from the collapse of McGills last week.