More everyday problems at the jobcentre – a stall report


Barry is recently out of prison and has anger management issues. He can’t cope with a computer and confessed that the resulting frustration made him likely to throw the machine across the room. But the jobcentre had made no allowances for this. We had to explain that they are actually required to take account of a person’s situation and what they are able to do.

Kate had been on ESA before but had decided to see if she could manage a job. When her epilepsy proved this impossible, she had had to sign onto Universal Credit, where she was expected to produce doctor’s notes explaining why she couldn’t work. When she read our leaflet she realised that she should have been given a UC35 form as the first stage for getting the UC equivalent of ESA. This form is meant to be given to you after you have been on doctor’s lines for more than four weeks, and she had been handing in notes for much longer than that. When she went into the jobcentre she asked about this and was simply told to request the form via her online account – but no one had mentioned anything about this before, and it is supposed to be automatic. Getting the disability element of UC would not only ensure that she was not under pressure to look for work, but also – if she is put in the support group as she was when on ESA – she will get more money.

Helen is also on UC and having to produce doctor’s lines to say that she is not fit for work, but she was understandably confused by the DWP’s abuse of the English language. She couldn’t understand why, when she was clearly unable to work, she had to produce ‘fit notes’. We had to explain that this is DWP-speak for a sick note.

John told us that he was in the middle of a prolonged dispute with the DWP over his Claimant Commitment. This required him to take five jobsearch steps each week, but one of these steps had been altered from applying for three jobs to applying for five. He had argued that this was not reasonable as some weeks there wouldn’t be the jobs to apply for, but the DWP had refused to retreat and he had ended up having his claim closed. He was determined to fight this all the way, and to do so himself without any help.

We were also able to tell a man who was waiting for his first UC payment that he could get a benefit advance (it didn’t seem to have been mentioned), and we gave two others details of the Welfare Rights drop-in sessions, including one man whose partner is on ESA, so – as we made clear to him – he is eligible to be part of a joint claim.

All in all, it was still a relatively quiet two hours at the stall – but even so we have to wonder what happens to folk on all those other times when we’re not there.

Thanks to Tony and Gary – and thinking always of our friend Norma, who lost her son on Mother’s Day.

PS – Disgusting, but no longer surprising, news that Glasgow South MP, Stewart McDonald’s, private member’s bill to end unpaid work trials was talked out by a Government minister who had promised that they would not do this and would allow it to be discussed.


You wouldn’t Universal Credit it – a stall report


In preparation for the demo that got snowed off, I looked through our blogs since the full UC roll-out hit Dundee, and found case after case of DWP mistakes. So I suppose we shouldn’t really have been surprised to meet yet another person who had been wrongly told to apply for universal credit when he had just lost his job and had been paying National Insurance. We explained that he was entitled to 6 months contribution-based JSA and gave him the JSA New Claims number.

Brian was also having problems with UC, having received only one payment since he applied in October. Again the nature of his problem was not unusual. Like for so many others, his claim was being delayed because the DWP required some further paperwork. In Brian’s case, the delay had been prolonged by the jobcentre’s inability to specify clearly what it was they needed. He told us that he had been instructed to provide a letter from his landlord, but this had taken three attempts before the DWP agreed that the letter he had given them was of the correct form. Since UC has combined everything into a single benefit, any delay leaves you with no income at all. Brian had exhausted his allowance of Scottish Welfare Fund grants, but the foodbank was recognising his continued needs and not applying limits, and his landlord was showing a rare patience. He hoped that his paperwork was now acceptable and that the money would soon come through, but we pressed him to get professional help if it didn’t!

Otherwise the stall was remarkably quiet – and sunny! Quite a contrast from the previous week, when the Courier reported people panicking that they would be sanctioned after they had turned up to find the Jobcentre closed due to the snow. Some people were told about the closure, but we are not surprised to find that others weren’t!

Thanks for help on the stall to Jonathan, Kat, Gary and Tony

Defending the right to be accompanied – again!

18-03-04 Livingston Jobcentre

We have just sent the letter below to the manager of Livingston Jobcentre. Please let us know if your jobcentre is also depriving people of this basic right.

Dear Sir/Madam

We have been very concerned to learn that people attending your jobcentre are being made to leave friends and relations outside and go to their interview alone. Many people need some support in what can be a stressful and confusing situation, and reducing the stress can only be to the benefit of all concerned, including jobcentre workers. I have observed, from my own experience in accompanying people to interviews, both the huge relief and help this can give to interviewees, and how it can clarify complicated situations. Depriving people of this support is upsetting, unreasonable and unnecessary; it is also contrary to DWP guidance.

The DWP’s Working with Representatives guidance, clearly states:

‘Customers have the right to ask a representative to help them conduct their business with DWP’, and that ‘It is important that we have good working relationships with representatives, whether they are from the advice organisations or are simply family members or friends so that we can give our customers the best possible service’.

While the JSA Interviewing Good Practice guidance, explains:

  1. Some customers will ask for a third party to be present at their
    interview, for example, if they:
  • need an interpreter due to language or hearing difficulties;
  • lack confidence and need someone there for support;
  • prefer to have a parent present; or
  • wish to have a witness there.
  1. In such circumstances, explain the purpose and confidentiality of the
    interview in a reassuring and helpful way.  If the customer feels they cannot
    cope alone, do not object to a third party being present.  Refusing to agree to
    a third party could provoke hostility and be counter productive.
    164. Remember, however, that it is the customer who should receive and
    respond to advice given, direct questions at them, not the third party.  Treat
    the third party with respect and courtesy, but do not let them control the

Matthew Nicholas, Employers and Stakeholders Director Jobcentre Plus, writing on behalf of the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Darra Singh, in a letter copied to Edinburgh claimants, dated 15 February 2010, wrote:

‘We accept that there will always be times when customers attending our premises feel the need to be accompanied by a friend or advice worker and we will always try to accommodate this where possible.’

And in response to a FOI request, dated 24 February 2014, the DWP wrote:

‘Claimants accessing Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits and services can have someone to accompany them to act on their behalf’ – which clearly implies that the person accompanying can (if the claimant wishes) speak to their case.

Please can you ensure that your staff are made fully aware of this situation and that no-one else will be deprived of their right to be accompanied to their jobcentre interview?

Yours Sincerely

Dr Sarah Glynn

for the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network


Pregnant? – then you can wait for Universal Credit

baby's bottle_000001

When Jan was 32 weeks pregnant she was told to move from ESA to Universal Credit. As a result, due to the delayed first payment, for her final weeks of pregnancy and early weeks of motherhood she will be on short rations. When Jan told us this we thought we should find out what was going on, and how many other new mothers might be affected. This is what we have learnt.

If you live in a Universal Credit Full Service area, as here in Dundee, then every new claim for a means-tested working-age benefit will be in the Universal Credit system.

If you are pregnant and on JSA, then you will have no choice but to change benefit. When you start getting maternity pay you are no longer looking for work, so no longer entitled to JSA. In the past you could apply for Income support; now, if you live in a Full Service area, it has to be Universal Credit, complete with delays.

If you are on ESA when you get pregnant, you can remain on ESA. Problems should only arise if you need to claim a new benefit – for example if this is your first child and you have to make a new claim for Child Tax Credit. Of course this doesn’t mean that the DWP won’t try and make you apply for Universal Credit when you don’t have to – so, before you change system, get professional advice if you can. (If you’ve been given incorrect instructions from the DWP, there is still scope for complaints and claims for compensation.)

*                      *                      *

When the chaos and devastation being caused by Universal Credit briefly hit the headlines in the Autumn, the UK Government responded with some minor concessions, but the great majority of the problems still remain. As a reminder of this, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) has called a national day of action on Thursday 1st March. Actions will include protests outside Dundee Jobcentre from 12 till 2 (called by the SUWN) and outside Leith Jobcentre from 1 till 2.30 (called by ECAP). So long as there are problems there will be protests!

(Thanks – again – to CPAG for clarifying things for us.)

‘We own your son’ – another stall report


The Work Programme may be winding down, but Triage seem determined to continue to toy with and torment those still completing their two-year stints. When we met Jane and her son at this week’s stall, she told us that Triage employees had even come and chapped on her door to inform her that until his time on the programme came to an end they ‘owned’ her son. She was actually less concerned by this dangerously warped thinking and intrusive behaviour than by the fact that, while he was stuck in the useless clutches of Triage, he was not allowed to go to other organisations that might be able to provide him with some real help in his search for work.

John informed us that he had been sanctioned for missing an appointment due to being at a job interview. He had even gone to the jobcentre to warn them, but been told they were too busy to see him. He was no longer that bothered as he was about to start a job, but we tried to persuade him of the importance of still appealing the sanction decision. Not only should he get the money that he is due, but he also should avoid the risk that if his job doesn’t work out and he is back unemployed again, his sanction could continue. Ed, on the other hand, was determined to appeal his sanction. He had been late for an appointment as the road had been closed due to a traffic accident. He had brought the clipping about the accident from the local paper as evidence.

Demands to prove ID seem to be a growing problem and a source of major benefit delays. (See our earlier blog for examples of what counts.) James was full of well-focussed indignation at a system that had forced his severely disabled wife to come to the jobcentre to prove who she was so that his claim could be processed.

We haven’t put up a stall report for a bit, but looking back at notes from the last couple of weeks, I find that we seem to have encountered a clutch of problems from people who were carers. George had been receiving Carer’s Allowance for looking after his father, but since his father’s death he had put in for this to be changed to looking after his mother instead. When the person you are caring for dies, Carer’s Allowance should continue for a further eight weeks, but his payments had stopped after three weeks, and the transfer to being a carer for his mother had still not been processed. We suggested he ask for a Scottish Welfare Fund grant to cover the gap while everything got sorted. Andy was receiving Carer’s Allowance but was being put under pressure to apply for Universal Credit instead. There may be particular reasons why in his case this makes sense, but we advised him not to do anything without getting welfare advice and a benefit check, as the jobcentre are only too keen to get everyone signed onto UC. For Mark there was no choice.  He had been getting Carer’s Allowance to look after his father, but his father had had to move into a care home. Mark had no option but to move onto UC, and was now struggling to pay back the advance he had had to take out to see himself through the initial delay, as well as paying the bus fares to visit his father. He had already received two Welfare Fund grants but we suggested he might also be able to get some help with his heating and electricity from Dundee Energy Efficiency Advice Project. The low value put on carers and care work is a real indictment of our society.

And finally, a more pleasant surprise. Robert emerged from the jobcentre unusually happy. He had just been informed that, since they could see from his UC online account that he was doing what was requested to look for work, he only needed to come in monthly.

Thanks for this week’s stall to Norma, Gary and Dave.


The SUWN goes to Holyrood

18-02-01 Holyrood

The timing wasn’t great. We were invited to present our petition to the Scottish Government Petitions Committee the day after the 1st stage budget debate. The petition calls for the Scottish Government to spend more money mitigating UK welfare cuts, and to raise this through more progressive taxation. But nothing is set in stone yet, and the issues go well beyond this parliament, so we were determined to use the opportunity to make the case as strongly as we could.

The process is impressively thorough – which may account for why it took so long to reach this stage. The clerks provided a useful briefing paper for the committee members and everything has been fully recorded and written up. Like all parliamentary business, it was filmed, so you can watch me (Sarah) in my best frock and John McArdle looking rather hot because they insisted he kept his jumper on to cover his Black Triangle T-shirt. (No logos allowed, it seems, even if they are for the organisation you are representing.) The committee is made up of five MSPs. Johann Lamont, the former Scottish Labour leader is convenor, with Angus MacDonald from the SNP as her deputy. The other members are Michelle Ballantyre and Brian Whittle from the Conservatives, and Rona Mackay from the SNP. (I had efficiently made a note of their parties but it got buried under other documents.)

I had about five minutes to set out our arguments before the committee asked us questions. At the end they agreed to get a response from the Scottish Government and also flag the petition up to the Social Security Committee. And we have emailed them a bundle of supporting evidence. Now we wait and see what happens. But so long as welfare help is needed we will pursue this every way we can.

You can watch the whole session here.

And read the official write-up here.

My initial speech is reproduced in full below, and here is the supporting evidence: 18-02-08 EVIDENCE FOR PETITIONS COMMITTEE.

OUR PETITION is a response to an immediate and severe need. Put simply, if our Parliament can’t protect Scotland’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, then of what use is it?

Here today you have representatives from the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network and Black Triangle. We have also discussed this petition with people in Westgap in Glasgow, Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, and Inclusion Scotland. We are all of us only too aware, from the people we work with and help, of the devastation that so-called ‘Welfare Reform’ is causing.

 As a nation, we have become accustomed to newspaper stories of benefit decisions that have left families in fear and destitution. These aren’t the result of glitches or bad apples. They are examples – and not always the worst examples – of what happens when a system that was established to provide a measure of social security is transformed into a form of social control. Some indication of the scale of suffering this is causing is given by the rising demand for food-banks – a form of charity that should have died out with the establishment of the Welfare State.

What the UK government has called ‘Welfare Reform’, is often described simply as welfare cuts. The cuts are huge – and that is primarily what we are here to talk about – but we are also seeing a very deliberate qualitative change: a return to the Victorian belief that individuals are to blame for their own misfortune.

We have been pleased to see the Scottish Government publically rejecting this approach. There is much talk about ‘dignity’, but this is of no help if folk are still left to struggle for survival.

Last week, the European Committee of Social Rights produced yet another report pulling up the UK Government for the meanness of their benefit system. In the post-war years, benefit rates rose in line with earnings or prices, whichever was greater. Then, in 1980, they were tied to prices, and while incomes and living standards rose, benefits were left far behind. And now we have had almost two decades of cuts and freezes. People on benefits are excluded from more and more activities that others take for-granted: school trips, everyday socialising with friends, a good varied diet, decent heating, a home computer. And that’s when the system is working smoothly.

As the papers prepared for this committee note, the Social Security Committee has commissioned research that gives figures for the benefits lost to people in Scotland since 2010 as a result of Welfare cuts. By 2020-21 these will add up to over £2 Billion a year. You can also see the losses resulting from different benefit cuts, both to individuals and altogether. Some are very large, and some households are suffering from several of these cuts simultaneously. In addition, vast amounts of distress and on-going complications result from what we can only describe as a criminal level of negligence in the workings of the various DWP bureaucracies. Benefit delays are the cause of many requests for extra help from the Scottish Welfare fund or from food-banks.

People are astonishingly resilient, and generally that’s a good thing. But it is frightening to see how people’s expectations adjust to surviving in a world where options are always constricting. And this has its own consequences, feeding into an epidemic of mental health problems, physical health problems and isolation.

 This petition is deliberately not prescriptive about how best to mitigate this misery. What we are calling for is an acknowledgement of the need to put more money into the system to help those affected, and for this to be done in a holistic way. Every cut translates into personal and social disasters, and each has generated a call for the Scottish Government to mitigate it. These need to be looked at together or it will be too easy for all these different desperate needs to be set in competition with each other.

We would, though, be happy to answer questions about some of the areas where more spending could make a real difference, and we’ve got a lot of evidence on that: more help with discretionary housing payments, extra money for child benefit, more for the Scottish Welfare Fund, more for advice, more help for sick and disabled people, more help for people who’ve been sanctioned.

It is a pity that this session is taking place so far into the debates on the Scottish budget, because the other side of the coin is the need to raise more money. Now that the draft budget has opened the door to more progressive taxation, and people have got used to the idea, let’s make it really progressive and raise enough money to make a significant difference.

We also noted the potential for replacing Council Tax with a Land Value Tax. That would need a session of its own, but we would refer you to the work already done on this by Andy Wightman for the Scottish Greens. Andy’s report was written in 2010 and anticipated that the system could be up and running in five years.

We appreciate that there is an understandable reluctance by the Scottish Government to spend money on things that should be being looked after by Westminster. It is galling when there is so much more to do. But when it comes to welfare it is very very necessary: even a matter of life and death. What more important role does parliament have than to protect a country’s most vulnerable citizens, and help create and preserve sustainable communities?

For those who believe Scotland’s future lies in devolution, then that devolved parliament must be put to full use. For those who believe that devolution is not enough, then it is important to use all the powers we have in order to demonstrate the need for more. And for those who can’t see beyond the bottom line –well, when it comes to benefits, the phrase a stitch in time couldn’t be more true. Help now can prevent family and social breakdown, which brings much greater financial costs, as well as personal tragedies. And it can put money into deprived areas where it can have the greatest positive impact on the economy.

The approach currently being followed by the Scottish government may seem to be cautious and pragmatic, but unless it does more to help those at the sharp end of Welfare reform, we will be left with poor people and poor economics.



ATOS doesn’t do irony – but…

Atos dreaming

PIP award rates vary significantly between different areas, and Dundee again loses out in this postcode lottery (as shown in this Scottish Government report, see tables 6 and 7). This should be prompting further investigation and action by the UK Government, but we’re not holding our breaths. Meanwhile, reality can’t be allowed to get in the way of corporate image.

The basic reception space in Dundee’s tin shed Assessment Centre has acquired a sugar coating of signs that should make you feel nauseous even if you weren’t already. Ahead, as you enter, is a photograph of a beach with a big heart drawn in the sand. So far so kitsch, but your eyes are then drawn to the inspiring message painted on the wall to the left of the passage that leads to the assessment rooms. It reads ‘Hundreds of Languages around the world but a Smile speaks them all’. Of course few people entering this place have much to smile about, but if, out of instinctive politeness, you do force a smile, you can be pretty sure that it will be interpreted as an indication that you are not as ill or disabled as you claim to be. To the right of the passage a poster reads ‘RESPECT DIGNITY COMPASSION’. The only nod to reality is provided by the yellow danger sign, coincidentally fixed to the wall beyond.

When ATOS Healthcare changed their name to Independent Assessment Services, it was widely assumed that this was a response to the toxicity of the ATOS brand after running the brutal tick-box Work Capability Assessments. But now they seem so caught up in their own corporate spin that this has been forgotten. Another poster on the wall by the entrance seeks to reassure those waiting with the message ‘all that’s changed is our name’.

Getting out of Universal Credit


When Universal Credit was brought in it was described as a lobster-pot system: once you were in there was no way back onto the older benefits. BUT for people in areas that have not yet had the Universal Credit Full Service roll out, there is a possible escape route, especially following the changes brought in at the beginning of this year. In those areas, anyone making a new benefit application now makes it through the old system. If you are unemployed you apply for JSA, if you are unable to work you apply for ESA, if you don’t have to work due to caring responsibilities you apply for Income Support, and you apply for Housing Benefit separately from the local council. This should mean that if you are on UC in one of those areas and close down your current claim and make a new one, you would go back onto the old system. There doesn’t appear to be anything in the legislation to suggest that this wouldn’t work, though we don’t know of any examples of people who have tried it.

You would have to survive the initial unpaid week, and then there is always a risk of delays in any benefit application. Also, we would never suggest closing down an ESA claim and risking another assessment. But this might prove a useful route for some people – e.g. if you are on UC and have become unfit for work and would rather apply for ESA than UC for people who are sick or disabled; or if you want to escape the jobcentre altogether and just apply for Housing Benefit. Of course there are a few people for whom UC actually works better; and, if you are still needing benefits you will have to go on UC eventually, which will mean – assuming they haven’t improved the system – another long wait for the first payment. You would need to think what the advantages and disadvantages might be in your particular circumstances – and discuss your options with a welfare advisor if you can – but this could be a useful hole in the lobster pot for some. Please let us know if you’ve tried it!

You can find whether you are in a relevant area here. It will be described as Universal Credit Live Service (as distinct from Full Service). And you can find when the Full Service rollout is due to come to your area here.

[24 February 2018 – just discovered a much fuller examination of what is possible here.]

Universal Credit problem number a million and one – or thereabouts


A few grassroots activists can only directly help a tiny proportion of those who need assistance, but we hope by writing about what we do we can reach a few more people with similar problems, and also make a wider public a bit more aware of the realities of life relying on the DWP. The following two cases came to us by phone and internet. (The number in the heading is just a wild guess, but with 660,000 people now on UC it could be an under-estimate.)

Leanne rang us because she was planning to set up her own small business and she wanted to know whether to follow the jobcentre’s advice and move from Income support onto Universal Credit. Of course individual priorities will vary and ultimately the decision is hers, but we could tell her to start with that the DWP likes to encourage people to sign up to Universal Credit, but that very rarely is it to their advantage.

Superficially, UC would seem to be helpful. You don’t lose almost all your benefit when you start earning some money, as Leanne would do if she stayed on Income Support; and you can get help with childcare. BUT, what the jobcentre didn’t tell her is that UC for the self-employed can cause some very serious problems, and although these have been pointed out for a long time, nothing has been done to rectify them. Firstly, UC, which is calculated monthly, is notoriously bad for people with irregular earnings. If you earn a lot in one month you will get little or no UC income; but even if you earn next to nothing the next month there is only a limited amount of benefit that you can receive, and there is no scope to average the earnings out. After the first year, the DWP will assume that you are always earning at least what you would get in a minimum wage job and working your full number of hours – normally thirty-five hours a week, unless, like Leanne, you have caring responsibilities. If you actually earn much less, your UC will still be calculated as if you were earning that full sum – and you can also be made to look for additional work and do other tasks, under threat of being sanctioned. Even before then the DWP can decide that you are not earning enough and must look for something else. And every month you are expected to submit your accounts.[1]

We sent Leanne a link to this powerful Channel 4 News report, and we also pointed out that at present she is relatively lucky. Her youngest child is three, and while she is on Income support, she will not have to look for work until he is five. However, under UC, single parents are expected to look for sixteen hours work a week straight after their youngest child’s third birthday; so, if she goes onto UC and her business doesn’t work out, she will be under pressure to work or search for jobs sixteen hours a week, or lose her benefit.

Not much incentive to set up on her own or go onto Universal Credit, then. What was that about ‘making work pay’?

Tina missed her Work Capability Assessment last September. Or rather, they missed her. Because of the extent of her problems she had asked for the assessment to be carried out at home. She couldn’t manage the first date that they sent, and they promised to send her another by post, but the assessor arrived without notice, and she was out – so the DWP closed her claim. (Failure to notify people about their assessment is not uncommon, and we have talked with people to whom it has happened more than once.) She put in a Mandatory Reconsideration and then an appeal – we had to help her with the appeal because the person she had been seeing at CAB had just left.

When, after two months with no income as she waited for the result of the Mandatory Reconsideration, she learnt that she could apply for Universal Credit, she applied for that too. And she asked for it to be backdated. The letter she got back from the Universal Credit people was quite bizarre. UC doesn’t really do backdating except for a month if you fit a set list of criteria. The ‘Decision Maker’ explained that Tina’s reasons for applying late for UC were ‘not unreasonable’, but couldn’t count as they didn’t fit the list. One of the listed reasons is having a disability, and Tina had previously been in the ESA Support Group with mental health problems. However the letter went on to explain that if Tina had done her Mandatory Reconsideration herself, then she was not too disabled – and if she had got help then her helper should have told her to apply for UC. On that logic, it is difficult to see how this criteria could ever come into play.

Tina can continue to try and get an extra month’s UC by appealing against this backdating decision, but she also wanted to know what would happen to her missing money if her main appeal is successful and she is eventually recognised again as not fit for work. Although CAB had told her that her money would then be backdated to cover the gap, this was not the impression she was getting from the jobcentre. We were glad to be able to confirm that, unsurprisingly, it was the jobcentre that was confused (or confusing). She is currently on basic UC. If she wins her appeal and is eventually found unfit for work she will stay on UC but not be forced to apply for jobs. And if she is also found unfit to do ‘work related activities’ then she will get an additional ‘limited capability for work-related activity’ element in her UC. If she gets found unfit for work then she should also get awarded backdated ESA for the gap before she applied for UC. (Thank you CPAG for clarifying this!)

For now, though, she is coping with the legacy of the gap in her benefits, plus reduced payments because of deductions for the advance that she had to take to cover the initial UC waiting period. We have suggested she ask for help from the Scottish Welfare Fund.

Meanwhile, back at last week’s stint outside the jobcentre (see above) we met yet another person who appears to have been wrongly made to apply for Universal Credit (complete with nine week wait) when she had just lost a job and should have been on contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance. (And we have just been contacted by someone who has had her PIP stopped because the DWP has claimed erroneously – for the third time in a row – that she had not sent in her renewal form.)

(Thanks for the last two stalls to Norma, Gary, Tony, Gordon, Duncan and Dave)

[1] From April 2018 new (and complicated) rules will mean that extra money earned one month will be carried over to reduce the UC received the following months. You will be able to carry over actual losses too, but not low pay; and previous earnings won’t be taken into account when considering whether to make you look for more work – so this will solve none of the problems identified above, while adding an extra complication – 29/1/18.






‘This place needs blown up’ – a stall report

Wellgate steps

The verdict of one jobcentre ‘customer’ left us in no doubt of his opinion of the ‘service’ he had just received. (In these days of ‘terrorists’ under the bed I feel I should point out that this statement was rhetorical – we know of someone who was banned from the jobcentre for a similar comment.)

A look back at recent blogs demonstrates the huge amount of distress caused by jobcentre errors – what in any other organisation would be deemed culpable levels of negligence. That the DWP presides over a system so poorly structured and badly trained, demonstrates the official contempt for the people they are supposed to serve. Fran is another victim of the DWP’s bureaucratic incompetence, and when she first burst out of the jobcentre she was far too upset to talk to us. It was only after a long sit down with her daughter on the cold brick steps round the corner that she was clam enough to explain what had happened. She had been getting help from Welfare Rights, so we didn’t feel the need to go into the details of her case, but the DWP had been sending her from pillar to post, always demanding more paperwork. Meanwhile, she had no support for her teenage sons, who are at college, so that they were threatening to give up their courses and futures and join the scrabble for unskilled jobs; and the DWP were accusing her, without evidence, of a two week gap in her records. The last straw was the jobcentre’s refusal to sign a crucial document she had been given by Welfare rights. While there was no risk of anyone blowing up the jobcentre, I was more seriously concerned about her comments that life was no longer worth living.

When she had calmed down sufficiently, we rang her Welfare Rights officer who was able to see her again that afternoon and ring through to the jobcentre, insisting on the need for a signature. This time Fran emerged fro the jobcentre with a smile and a signed document. She told us that the man who had signed it observed, ‘I could have signed that an hour ago’.

Even when people are already getting professional help – and in our experience in Dundee increasing numbers are – it can still be important that when they are at their lowest after being processed by the jobcentre machine they can find people who recognise them as a fellow human being.

Tam should have been in hospital, but had checked himself out of his bed to sort his benefits. He is on JSA and we told him he should be able to get a thirteen week Extended Period of Sickness. He is returning to a further five to six weeks hospital care, where he hopes the social work team will help sort out the doctor’s line. Sean had also been in hospital, and in consequence had found his case closed for failure to attend, and was having to sign on again.

Arun has been homeless since April. A friend has offered him a flat in a few days’ time, but meanwhile the Council has decided that he has outstayed his welcome in their emergency accommodation. We went with him to the Salvation Army hostel and helped him fill in the paperwork to ensure he has a roof over his head.

We were also able to inform people about the possibility of getting a Short Term Benefit Advance, and other useful bits of information, and we could see the visible signs of relief on the faces of two women when we told them that we could accompany them to future jobcentre appointments if wanted. One told us that she felt ill before every visit.

Lastly, three bits of good news.

First, Westgap is going to be organising stalls outside Govan jobcentre from next week. If you are in the Glasgow area and would like to help, please get in touch with them:

Second, a recent Upper Tribunal ruling should make it much easier to defeat the sort of bureaucratic incompetence that Fran is suffering from. The tribunal decided that if the DWP fails to provide proof that they have done what they claim (such as send out a letter), then they won’t have a case to answer.  Of course most people would hope not to have to pursue their cause as far as an Upper Tribunal, but if you can demonstrate knowledge of this case, the DWP should be wary of insisting on making unsubstantiated claims.

And finally, the UK government has backed off from appealing against the high court ruling that changes to PIP rules made last March were ‘blatantly discriminatory’ against people with mental health conditions. Psychological distress must again be taken into account when looking at mobility, and the government will be making back-payments to everyone (up to 164,000 people across the UK) who was deprived of benefits because of the rule change.