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I have Signed Off!

March 28, 2014


Well, I completed my two year mandatory Work Programme commitment last week. I had my final appointment with them on Monday, two days cover teaching, then a long signing on session on Thursday, as I had to produce evidence and fill in AC15 forms (which the JSA person I’d spoken to and who was based near Manchester told me were needed when I’d rung the JSA 0845 number quoted, after A4E), picked up from the Job Centre the day before that, and B7 forms to reassure decision makers or some such somewhere like Newcastle (I’m in Southampton) that I hadn’t been overpaid or been paid without declaring.

That took three hours, done half in the “new” extension of the Job Centre designed for Work Programme claimants, and the main Job Centre, without assistance apart from the security guy making sarcy remarks about how I was ‘trying to be clever’.
I did my bit but that situation wasn’t resolved when I turned up, back at the Job Centre , at 9am on Friday for what I was told by letter, was my Work Programme Completion Interview, with my final paperwork from A4E, and three CVs, one for each area of work I target.
That was barely looked at, the CVs not at all, assistance and advice regarding the ongoing frozen benefits situation refused (“Call DWP”), and then, rather than being congratulated for my two year’s with A4E, I was given a booklet, “My Work Plan” and a piece of A4 Headed “My Claimant Commitment”.
My interviewer
, who’d just told me he was my Coach, said, “It’s not my responsibility to find a job for you” but did want me to sign up to 9 conditions at once, one of which was to ‘log into my Universal Jobmatch account to look for and apply for jobs, on a daily basis.
You may be aware of the dubious repute of Universal Jobmatch – phoney jobs, due to be closed by 2016 etc – and I have previously and cautiously looked at their job list and applied elsewhere if I saw anything I fancied.

I didn’t want to sign this sword of Damocles until I was fully aware of the implications. However, Coach was very gung ho and eventually resorted to the old argument, he had other customers waiting, had spent twenty minutes on what should’ve been a ten minute meeting, booked me in for the following Monday at 3.45 and I left, as uncommitted as possible.
Talked to Newcastle, or Manchester or somewhere, that afternoon, resolving the will I get paid on Tuesday question, and attended the Monday meeting with my “Job Coach”.
“I would prefer you to commit to this” was my Coach’s argument in favour of logging into Universal Jobmatch every day. Unfortunately SARC (Southampton Advice and Representation Centre) is closed on Monday, so I had no further information to reassure me, and I shared my conclusion that I should sign off, live on the JSA payment paid as acknowledgement of my having fulfilled the Jobseeker’s Agreement in the two ‘Benefit Weeks’ up to then – though the possibility of some overpayment having been made will still be assessed – and the pay for two day’s teaching done the previous week, to be received on Friday, and then research what rights I actually have before making a rapid reclaim when I need to, in a week or two, unless this burgeoning economy of ours saves me by providing adequately paid or even full time work.
I was a little hesitant to take this drastic step, and was moved away from my coach’s desk so he could tell his next customer that his benefit had been stopped, with a little form to fill in with my concerns, for posting to Decision Makers up North.
Luckily, at the last moment, I remembered the magic words: “I would like to speak to your supervisor”.

Then I was spoken to by a nice person who had been tucked away in a back office for such occasions, spoke more patiently and did assure me that, while UJobmatch is mandatory, one does have the right to refuse DWP access to one’s jobmatch account, provided evidence of job applications is proffered.
And with that and some other assurances, I signed off as of last Thursday and left, not having signed this latest noxious “Agreement”.
On the way out I met a young woman who was close to tears, as her payments had been delayed for reasons she couldn’t comprehend or have explained to her properly. It seemed she’d left a job that hadn’t paid her enough to live on.
The system is complicated, and it seems less and less help is being offered to negotiate one’s way through it.

Signing off feels like capitulating to endless browbeating but I could certainly do with a break after two years of this, once I’ve sorted out the effect this move will have on Housing Benefits and attended a job interview which I managed to source in the midst of the wrangling.
So I am still looking for work and a job, but may have a little more time for writing for the next week or two.


One Comment
  1. Classic line from the JSA Wolverhampton, received in a letter today: “We cannot pay you an allowance from 21 March 2014, This is because
    You do not want to claim an allowance any more.”
    Surprised they don’t want to make this sound more like a postive development, and happy to reclaim if they;re missing me already.


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