For a downloadable pdf, click 17-07-13 Know Your Rights
(and for a printable booklet version 17-07-13 Know Your Rights booklet)
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS, DEMAND YOUR RIGHTS – AND THEN DEMAND SOMETHING BETTER!
Unemployed workers are facing more rules and restrictions than at any time since the Second World War. Jobcentres blame people for being unable to find work. They punish people rather than helping them. Jobcentre workers are instructed to ‘challenge’ benefit claimants. They are told that the number of people they sanction and leave destitute has to come up to DWP ‘expectations’. Our rights are being taken away.
This has been written to make folk aware of the rights we do still have, and of how we can make sure they are respected. Everything here has been checked and referenced. If you need help arguing your position, please ask us.
BRING A FRIEND You can bring someone with you to any jobcentre or DWP interview. This is your legal right, and we recommend you use it. Your friend may speak on your behalf – including asking questions – if they think this would be in your best interests. We would be happy to come with you to your interview – just contact us through phone, email or facebook – and try not to leave it till the last minute.(1)
MAKE YOUR OWN RECORD OF YOUR MEETINGS AND KEEP COPIES OF EVERYTHING You need to know and be able to prove everything you have or have not been told. Ask your advisor to write down everything they are asking you to do. You may need this as evidence if you are sanctioned as a result of a mistake that is not of your making (e.g. if a meeting time has been changed without telling you). You, or your friend, are allowed to take notes, which you don’t have to show the jobcentre. You can also make an audio recording of your interview. You are entitled to make a recording for your own use (2), but the DWP can be obstructive, and it is generally easier to do this covertly. Lots of documents get ‘lost in the system’ resulting in delays in benefits, and even in sanctions. You need to be able to prove you are not at fault. Keep all letters from the jobcentre. Record or make notes of all phone calls – send a letter or email afterwards confirming what was discussed when you can. Make copies of all letters or forms you send or give to the DWP. (If you have a camera or smartphone you can photograph these.)
BEWARE UNIVERSAL CREDIT This is replacing Jobseeker’s Allowance for increasing numbers of people – generally to their disadvantage. If your area is not yet fully converted to Universal Credit for all new or changed claims, it is worth checking if you are in one of the qualifying groups as the DWP can make mistakes (see 3 – it’s complicated). You won’t receive your first Universal Credit payment for 6-8 weeks. Meanwhile, you can ask for a Short Term Benefit Advance. You have to prove your financial need, and you will have to pay the money back by deductions from future payments. If you have asked for an advance and been refused you can ask your local council for a grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund.
MAKE SURE YOUR CLAIMANT COMMITMENT IS REASONABLE AND REALISTIC This – which used to be called a Jobseeker’s Agreement – states what you will do in order to receive your benefits. It should not make unreasonable demands, such as applying for an absurd number of jobs each week, and must take account of your circumstances, e.g. care arrangements, ill health, disabilities, problems with reading or using a computer. Don’t be pressed into agreeing to something that can be shown to be unreasonable, and if you think that’s already happened ask to renegotiate (we can help). You can try and suggest your own choice of voluntary work or courses. Most people on Universal Credit are expected to agree to spend 35 hours a week in jobsearch activities, but if it comes to appealing a sanction, remember that the law only requires you to ‘take all reasonable action for the purpose of obtaining paid work’, even if that takes less than the stipulated number of hours. (4, p51 clause 95) For possible jobsearch activities see 5.
CHECK IF ACTIVITIES ARE MANDATORY AND ‘REASONABLE’ For mandatory activities outwith your Claimant Commitment, you should be issued with a Jobseeker’s Direction. Anything you are made to do is supposed to be reasonable in your particular circumstances and the DWP must follow strict procedures; if not you have grounds for complaint. (6;7)
AVOID UNIVERSAL JOBMATCH The DWP’s computerised job search contains large numbers of jobs that don’t exist, are out of date, or are simply duplicates. Like most tasks, its main purpose seems to be to use up time rather than help find work. The DWP and jobcentre will do their utmost to include UJM in your Claimant Commitment or issue you with a Jobseeker’s Direction to sign up, but the manual for Jobcentre staff (the Universal Jobmatch Toolkit) states that they can only make you use UJM if it is ‘reasonable in terms of improving the claimant’s employment prospects and the claimant being able to use the service’ (3:46). They have to consider your health, language and numeracy skills, and internet access. You can try arguing for UJM to be taken out of your Claimant Commitment, but if you have said you’ll use it and don’t you may be sanctioned. Data Protection law states that you can never be made to allow the DWP access to check and spy on your account. Even if you have already set up an account you can un-tick the boxes that let them see it. You can, though, be asked to provide a screenshot to prove that you have used your UJM account. You can never be made to sign up to UJM on your own computer or phone. (8, Chapter 3, 43-94)
IF YOU MISS AN APPOINTMENT OR ACTIVITY – EXPLAIN WHY To avoid getting a sanction, you need to give ‘good cause’ within 5 working days. Give your explanation to the Jobcentre in writing (keep a copy).
IF YOU ARE SANCTIONED – CHALLENGE THE DECISION, and if your benefit has been stopped, make a Rapid Reclaim (and check the council doesn’t stop your Housing Benefit). The first step in challenging any DWP decision is to demand a Mandatory Reconsideration. It will then be looked at again by another person within the DWP. Explain in writing why you think you should not have been given the sanction and give your letter to the Jobcentre – most have no special form. (Keep a copy.) You should also apply for a Hardship Payment –ask the Jobcentre for the form. This is even meaner than JSA, is not given to everyone and is rarely given for the first two weeks. If you are on Universal Credit, Hardship Payments are given as loans and not grants, and you have to apply monthly. You can ask the council for a Scottish Welfare Fund grant to cover the gap while you wait for the Payment. If the Mandatory Reconsideration doesn’t work you can take your case to appeal. It will then be heard by a tribunal independent of the DWP. Many people give up at this stage, but if you stick with it you have a good chance of success. Check if the DWP have followed procedure, and show that your behaviour is ‘reasonable’ even if you have not followed every step in your Claimant Commitment. There are set time limits for appeals etc., but if the DWP has not kept to the rules (e.g. not told you you have been sanctioned) then it is always worth putting in a complaint, even outside these limits. When sanctioned, you still need to keep signing on and doing the tasks set or you’ll be sanctioned further. If you are on Universal Credit, any further sanctions that you get no longer start immediately but get added on to the end of your current sanction.
AVOID ZERO HOURS CONTRACTS If you are on JSA (but not Universal Credit) you can’t be made to take jobs that have zero hours contracts. (9)
AVOID FORCED LABOUR (WORKFARE) If you are told to do an unpaid work placement, first check if it is mandatory – MOST NOW AREN’T. If it is not mandatory you can’t be sanctioned for refusing, but beware non-mandatory activities that you can’t leave once started – e.g. a Sector Based Work Academy placement. If you find your placement is mandatory you can still refuse to sign the documents that are needed for them to process it, so long as you show willing to do everything else. (Ring us for advice, or see 10.)
IF YOU HAVE BEEN REFUSED ESA, PUT IN FOR A MANDATORY RECONSIDERATION, THEN SIGN ON, AND GET A DOCTOR’S NOTE If you have been turned down for ESA because you didn’t get enough points from your Work Capability Assessment you can ask for a Mandatory Reconsideration (MR). While this is looked at, the only way you can receive any benefits is by signing on for Jobseekers’ Allowance – even though you know you are not fit for work! This won’t affect the MR decision. Put in the MR before applying for JSA, and once you are registered for JSA you can ask your doctor for a note to say that the pressures from the jobcentre are making your health worse and you are not able to work – what DWP logic now calls a ‘fit note’. (If you’re on JSA you can get a note for an Extended Period of Sickness of up to 13 weeks.) If the MR doesn’t work (most don’t) get a Welfare Rights worker to help with your appeal. When you are appealing you will be on ESA payments again. (If you are on Universal Credit and unable to work, see 11.)
ASK FOR THE EXTRA HELP YOU NEED When the DWP has left you destitute you can still get help. Charities provide cooked meals most days, and welfare advisors can refer you to food-banks for basic supplies. They may also be able to get you help with fuel charges, e.g. an advance from your supplier. You can ask your local council for help from the Scottish Welfare Fund. This gives crisis grants, generally in the form of supermarket vouchers. If you are only getting hardship payments, you may still be able to get an interest-free Budgeting Loan or Advance for one-off essential items from the DWP, paid back off future benefits. Ask the Jobcentre for a form, or download from 12.
When you ask for help this doesn’t just help you and your family. It creates a record of what UK government policies are doing and provides important evidence in the campaign against their attack on welfare. MPs and MSPs are a good last resort.
ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE Please talk to our activists, and pick up our list of advice agencies in your area. The rules are complicated and always changing, so ask for the advice you need – and get someone who knows the system to help you with any ESA or PIP medical assessment forms or appeals as this can make a big difference to your chances of success.
(Updated July 2017)