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August 2, 2013

[I risk going into tedious detail with the following account because, after ten weeks of stress, worry and laborious effort, I won! I would like to dedicate it to the people who are currently engaged in a similar struggle. It shows how much trouble one has to go through to be recognised as something more than a drain on resources and to obtain the level of support that is not only appropriate and just for themselves, but conducive to the best result and least overall cost for society as a whole.

My heart goes out to those less able to defend themselves, deal with all the paperwork, amass their own evidence, understand exactly what they’re being accused of and to construct a coherent argument to the contrary, often at just the time when they are at their most vulnerable. They should not be treated with hostility and easy assumptions, but listened to and respected.

Don’t give up! The system and the way it is applied can seem pretty intimidating and laborious but it is that way for many reasons, some of them good, and if your case is good, you will eventually receive justice.]

On Monday 20th May this year, Pentecost Monday, Victoria Day in Canada, I received the following letter, dated the 17th, from my local Jobcentre, sorry, Jobcentre Plus Office:

Dear Mr Goodman

A doubt has arisen on your claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance as it appears that from 03.05.2013 to 16.05.2013 you may not have taken sufficient or appropriate steps to find work.

  • A decision will be made about how this affects your claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance

  • Until this decision is received Jobseeker’s Allowance cannot be paid under the normal rules.

  • You will be notified of the decision as soon as it is made.

  • We will let you know what effect the decision has on the payment of Jobseeker’s Allowance and/or the award of National Insurance Credits.

The enclosed leaflet explains how to apply for payments under the JSA Hardship provision. If you think you may be entitled to such payments, please contact this office as soon as possible.

As long as you are still looking for work, you should continue to provide signed declarations as instructed on your ES40.

Please see the enclosed leaflet ESL48. It is important that you read it.

Yours sincerely,

Etc etc.

And so I learnt that the JSA I was expecting to be paid into my bank account the next day would not be.

This fortnightly payment of roughly £142, usually described as “how much the law says you need to live on”, is to cover such unavoidable expenses as £18.98 – two weeks heating charge on my council flat (not covered by Housing Benefit, which doesn’t include mandatory “service charges”), utilities such as electricity (roughly £10 per week in my case), phone and broadband (a monthly bill due that week of £22.96), water and so on. Thanks to recent cuts in Council Tax benefit a further £6 a month is to be put aside from this, before tackling things like food.

You may imagine that I was thrown into quite a panic by this sudden withdrawal of the funding I expected to get me through the next two weeks, cover running expenses such as those described above and moderate the debts that inevitably accrue when dependent on such a moderate income.

So I went into town (by bicycle as usual, the return bus fare now being around £3.00) to the Jobcentre Plus Office, “guns blazing”, to enquire what was going on.

From the busy reception desk, the place where the previous Thursday I had handed in my two Actively Seeking Employment sheets, I was referred to another Customer Advisor, who said, “The decision’s been made (by a nameless figure in Newcastle, where Southampton’s Benefit Office is conveniently located), you will receive a two week sanction (withdrawal of benefits).”

I’m afraid I pressed rather too emphatically for a fuller explanation, until I was told, “There’s nothing more I can tell you, the decision’s been made, you’re raising your voice, get away from my desk or I’ll have you removed”.

Eventually I found, if memory serves, the Welfare Officer or some such person, who testily explained that I had been judged as not actively seeking work for that period and advised me to apply for Hardship Based JSA (the “money you need to live on” reduced to £43 per week), which would take about two weeks to come through, and fill in an application for a reconsideration of the decision I was told had been made against me, though I had not yet received written confirmation or details of this, and then to go to Gateway, the local housing office, to explain my change of circumstances and, perhaps, request a Crisis Loan to cover the period before I could expect to receive any money (in fact these have been abolished).

So I filled in the application for Hardship Based JSA and then the request for a reconsideration of the decision I’d been told had already been taken against me, without waiting for written confirmation of this. This would be responded to by the Newcastle branch of the JSA and, if that decision goes against you you can, once you’ve received written notification of that (don’t forget to request written details of the reasons for this!) you can write an actual appeal against the decision using a GL24 leaflet and then, if rejected again, request a reconsideration by a Tribunal.

After that I went to the Housing Office and found out Crisis Loans are no longer available in these circumstances, sought further advice, mostly from voluntary agencies available by phone and went home to see what food I had left before attending a Dr’s appointment and then, finally, resuming my Actively Seeking Employment activities which, if judged as inadequate a second time, could result in a second sanction, applied for a longer period than the first.

I finally received written notification of the original decision on June 1st, in a letter dated May 28, addressed from Newcastle and sent from Belfast. The deadline for appealing against it is given as a month from the date of this letter.

Before that I had the pleasure of meeting my new JSA Advisor, who slightly revised my Jobseeker’s Agreement and clarified my duties under that. This was a slight change of approach from Jobcentre Plus, which, previously, had been, “You’re on the Work Programme, so if you need any help and advice about finding work, ask them”. Most correspondence from the JSA continues to be sent from their Newcastle office, and that’s where their enquiry line switchboard usually directs you.

I think some of the difficulties described here stem from my individual case being split between the JSA in Southampton and in Newcastle and, in terms of my longer term job searching activities  as somebody enrolled in the Work Programme since March 2012, with the local provider of that service. In order to fulfil one’s Jobseeker’s Agreement , one must satisfy weekly conditionalities, while longer term career development efforts are handled separately, generally in monthly meetings lasting about 15 minutes.

As late as June 24th my JSA advisor expressed considerable doubt as to whether the original sanction had been raised by his agency or the Work Programme provider.

June 27th, I finally received details of the rejection of my request for a reconsideration, after numerous calls to Newcastle, or messages passed to them through JSA’s national switchboard, in the curious form of two sentences contained within three pages taken from a six page fax sent to the local Jobcentre Plus office from Newcastle, handed to me just before closing time after a more than two hour wait. I responded to these in the appeal I finally had a chance of submitting, just in time for the original deadline which I assumed, not having received anything more by post addressed to myself as requested, still stood, in a two page submission (try to keep it restricted to that, these people have many such appeals to deal with) which included the following words:


As my jobseeking activities have been under the auspices of the Work Programme since 22.03.2012 the jsag referred to here had not been revised or even referred to since that date until after this doubt was raised.

Subsequently I have sought advice from my JSA advisor and gained a slightly revised Jobseeker’s Agreement – signed by myself and this adviser 29.05.2013.

I believe that blogging, referred to so dismissively in this comment, and other social networking activities are a key aspect of my actively seeking employment. In fact blog columns posted and referred to in my ASE sheets covering 03.05.13 and related activities have led to the possiblility of a paid position as “Marketing and Education Officer”…Other potential employers…have responded positively to my speculative approaches to them, in light of these activities.”

[And why not, when even the JSA itself, not to mention the Prime Minister, incorporate Twitter into their day to day working activities!]

Note the laborious efforts involved in acquiring the necessary information, with long waits and short deadlines. Persistence, careful digging and rapid response are key to eventual success and vindication.

Finally, this week, with a typically impersonal and densely worded letter and an actual repayment of monies withheld, the case was decided in my favour.

I’m not sure if I yet have the nerve to include “Blogging” as a regular part of my Actively Seeking Work efforts, but I do believe that this will eventually help me to find suitable and long term employment.

Yes, persistence pays off in the end!

I wish the very best of luck to those who have to climb over such heavy obstacles and work their way through such tiny hoops, and have requested a written apology for being put through such a trying ordeal when I should have been focussed on activities more directly related to career development, which is not a matter of satisfying petty rules, but truly the work of a lifetime.


From → Critic

One Comment
  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog! And this blogging thing is such a tedious task! Just make sure to keep on moving forward with it and never allow anything to stop you if that’s what you really want! Many blessings!


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