A load o’ shite


At our advice stalls we always try to ask people leaving the jobcentre if they need any help. “Any bother?” we asked one guy. “Nah. It’s a load o’ shite!” he said, rapidly retreating.

The interaction was brief. The man’s comment illustrates the general level of frustration at the system. It also demonstrates a more worrying phenomenon: claimants expect bad service from the DWP. It is a short step from expectation to acceptance. When you are routinely faced with bad service, it is easy to accept it as normal. That is of course what the UK Conservative government want. Their belief is that if they make the system as obstructive as possible, people will either give up complaining, or simply not apply for benefits in the first place. The SUWN is a voice for these people.

Jimmy is was also at this week’s stall. He is an older man, close to state pension age. He is on Universal Credit and had the standard grumbles, including the meagre allowance and the initial five-week wait. He contrasted it with when he’d last been unemployed. Unemployment benefits have never been generous, but Jimmy seemed almost nostalgic about the old welfare system. Listening to him was a bit like chatting to a veteran telling his old war stories. He thanked us for our work.

Aidan is somewhat younger. He also told us he was signing onto Universal Credit. He is handing in sick lines, and waiting on a Limited Capability for Work Assessment. He has been told he has to use a computer to look for work, despite being dyslexic and not knowing how. With regards to his health issues, we told him he was probably also eligible for PIP.

Brenda is an older woman who must be in her eighties. Her daughter, Anne, is herself coming up to retirement, having missed out when the retirement age for women was increased. (The WASPI generation). Anne has specific health issues and is unable to work, but because of a moderate amount of savings she is not able to claim Universal Credit. We advised that she may be eligible for PIP, which is not means tested.

Thanks to Jock, Tony, and Garry for helping at this week’s stall

DWP’s mistake – your problem

19-10-06 Sorry - DWP

Daryl had been given incorrect advice from an inexperienced advisor. He’d presented a ‘fit note’ saying he was too ill to look for work. His advisor had told him he did not have to take any further action. Two days before he was due to be paid, he discovered his Universal Credit claim had been shut down, as he had not been completing his work-search activities. He has had to open a new claim, and take a £300 Advance Payment, despite his advisor admitting his mistake. We advised Daryl to put in an appeal and make a formal complaint, as you can’t live on an apology. If you are ill and on UC (either ill temporarily, or long term and waiting for an assessment) you can still be expected to look for work and carry out other activities. You can, however, argue – with the help of your GP – that there would be substantial risk to your health if you were treated as fit to look for work or made to do certain things, and it is not ‘reasonable’ to expect you to do these. This should be agreed with your ‘advisor’ and recorded, so they can’t go back on what they have said!

Altogether, the first day of October was another busy day for the stall. There was a nip in the air that suggested winter was definitely on the way, and the chill seemed to have set into the DWP. Business was brisk. We had a number of the usual questions and complaints about Universal Credit. There were also a few cases, such as Daryl’s, that were more complicated.

Graham had been made redundant earlier in the year, and wanted to talk about the stupidities of the system. His contribution-based (or New Style) JSA was coming to an end, and he was now faced with the five-week (plus) wait for his first Universal Credit payment. He’d also had difficulties when making the UC claim, as the DWP had judged him as having savings over the £16,000 allowed limit. These were long term savings for his retirement that he couldn’t easily redeem and use. He’d managed to sort the situation out, but he was rightly angry that he’d taken the old-fashioned approach of saving for a rainy day only to find he was ‘too rich’ to be given help when he needed it most.

Alice is a young mother who spoke to us about a couple of problems. Her Universal Credit had been subject to a sanction for a missed appointment. The sanction was imposed despite the fact she’d informed the jobcentre well ahead of time, and she’d had a good reason. Alice’s other problem was in some ways more serious. She had black mould growing in her flat which was irritating her asthma and making her ill. She rents from a private landlord, who has refused to deal with the problem. We told her to seek help from Shelter, who would be able to advise on her housing issue. They would also be able to give her help challenging the UC sanction.

Martin was with his son. He suffers from mental health problems, and is suicidal. He recently had to leave work due to stress and anxiety. His son is very concerned about the suicidal tendencies that Martin has exhibited. The good news is that he has a good doctor who is on their side. While there was little we could do for Martin’s health, we could advise him on benefits. The jobcentre had told to him apply for the Limited Capability for Work element under Universal Credit. This was almost certainly incorrect advice. It looks as though Martin has enough National Insurance contributions to be able to apply for contribution-based (New Style) ESA, which is generally better and takes the pressure off right away – avoiding the issues that Daryl was going through. We suggested that Martin also apply for Personal Independence Payment.

Shellie was in a similar situation. She been bumped from ESA onto UC. With her health problems increasing, we advised her to approach Dundee City’s Welfare Rights team, who would be able to help her with her Limited Capacity for work and PIP claims. As with Martin we gave our well-worn advice: Get help filling in the form, and go into the assessment with a witness.

Norma, Tony and Duncan were at this week’s stall.

Erratum: During a recent blog post we made reference to Brandy the King Charles Spaniel. Apparently, Brandy is a Cavalier King Charles, a related but separate breed. We apologise to Brandy for the error, and are now happy to set the record straight.