There’s an old German joke: Three government bureaucrats are in a room, but only one is actually doing anything useful. Which is it? Answer: The desk fan. Dealing with the DWP’s bureaucracy is a constant theme in the cases we encounter, and this week’s stall was no exception.
Adam, who is on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), had attempted to hand in an indefinite sick line, but the Jobcentre hadn’t accepted it. The guidance for issuing ‘fit notes’ says that doctors cannot give a note for more than three months unless their patient has already had their condition over six months. Three months is also the maximum length of time that a person can be counted as unfit for work and remain on JSA. Adam’s doctor may not have looked up the rules, but that was hardly Adam’s fault. However, he wouldn’t have been given a ‘fit note’ if he didn’t need one, so there is no obvious reason why the jobcentre couldn’t have allowed the note to run for the three months. (If, after that time, Adam is still not well he will have to apply to be treated as unfit for work on a more long-term basis through the Universal Credit system.)
Rob was also having problems with paperwork. He needed to provide identification. If you don’t have the money to pay for a passport or driving licence, what do you use? This is an increasing problem, and one that we need to stay on top of. We advised Rob to approach the council, as anyone who is a council tenant or otherwise has dealings with their local council you should be able to get a National Entitlement Card.
Paperwork is not the only problem. More than one claimant has fallen foul of unintelligible regulations. Kevin claims Carer’s Allowance (CA). He approached us asking if we knew how many hours he could work without invalidating his claim. A call to CPAG provided confirmation that you are allowed to earn up to £120 per week, but there are, however, no specific restrictions on how many hours you can work. Kevin was over this £120 limit and had been called into the Jobcentre. Carers Allowance rules are complicated. If you earn over the limit you can lose your allowance for that week, but if you have irregular earnings it should be possible for these to be looked at over a period and averaged out. Faced with impenetrable regulations, Kevin had fallen foul of them. We wished him good luck as he headed upstairs.
Universal Credit (UC) has been widely criticised for its delayed first payment, which forces people to take a Benefit Advance – a loan that they have to repay from future UC instalments. Gordon is struggling to repay his loan as he now has £100 less a month than he would have otherwise. Jackie had to leave her job as a barmaid. She has had to put half of her £400 loan towards paying the rent.
UC is adding to people’s mental health problems. Martin left teaching after struggling with work-related stress. If that weren’t enough, UC is also contributing to his anxiety. He is now in the ridiculous position of having to claim limited capacity for work, as a direct result of the added pressure of constantly being forced to look for non-existent jobs under UC.
While the SUWN’s work outside Dundee’s jobcentre continues, we also get enquiries from all over Scotland. Mhairi asked for our help with her case. Her description of her treatment by the staff in Paisley jobcentre was appalling. The SUWN can claim some credit for the changed attitude of staff in Dundee, but Mhairi’s case reminds us that overall the job of changing attitudes is far from done.
Tony, Norma, Ronnie, and Duncan were at this week’s stall.