Monthly Archives: June 2015

Job Centre bans man for making complaint, admits they sanction claimants even if they apply for enough jobs

On 22/06/15 at 10:34 (my laptop had to be repaired, hence the delay in reporting this) I saw a Job Centre advisor tell a “customer” (as the DWP calls those forced to attend the Job Centre) that he was now “banned from this Job Centre” for making a complaint against one of the staff. She informed him that the ban would be in effect “while the investigation into [his] allegations” is processed and he would have to sign on at another Job Centre approximately 20 miles away. When I asked my advisor about it, she just said she didn’t know and couldn’t discuss it. She didn’t deny that the Job Centre would do that or find the idea ridiculous or slanderous.

This is deeply concerning. It’s an attempt at censorship- exercise your right to complain and you’ll have to be inconvenienced. The complainant is punished by being banned, instead of the staff member who is the alleged perpetrator. Punishing people for engaging with the DWP (which helps to improve the quality of the services) and exercising their rights is completely unethical and possibly illegal. Even if he’d been banned as a result of the incident that caused the complaint, and not for complaining, surely the ban should be stopped until the investigation is over and he’s proved to be in the wrong and deserve the ban.

After my advisor interview I left the Job Centre and then went back to get more information. My advisor told me that even if a JSA claimant has applied for enough jobs per week, they can still be sanctioned if they didn’t apply for a job that they could do. (I saw this happen when I was undercover in another Job Centre but I never thought the problem was so widespread). The only reason I wasn’t sanctioned today is because the jobs I hadn’t applied for hadn’t closed yet. Whether a job has closed or not is a ridiculois way to determine whether or not to sanction somebody. It’s also unclear if this involves just local jobs; if I regularly apply to jobs far from my local area, it would actually make sense to sanction me for not applying to jobs all over the UK. And why stop there? I’ve applied to jobs abroad; why not sanction people for not applying for every job in the world that they can do?

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Job Centre Refuses To Let Man Make New Benefits Claim And Sanctions Woman By Mistake

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Today I saw three things happen at the Jobcentre. It’s a bit weird that this happened just after I finally launched the ebook. I wasn’t trying to observe anything, it was just a routine interview. I wasn’t even expecting to see anything because my advisor is fine and so, if I were the sort of person who would covertly record, I would have long ago stopped secretly recording Jobcentre staff every time I go. Again, if I were that sort of person, I would only have recorded this particular advisor twice, compared to the 16 or 17 covert recordings of other staff members which I would have if I had ever audio recorded in the Jobcentre.

At about 11:35 Work Coach ‘Allen’ was on the phone to a Work Programme company.

“I’m taking action against him,” he was saying, “Because he hasn’t done a job search in the last two weeks…no this was from a long time ago…12th May.”

Now I’m not disputing that according to DWP policy, this guy deserved the sanction. But it seemed as though Allen was treating the fact that another human being would have no money for two weeks, and thereafter only around £30 a week for months, in a very casual manner. He seemed unaware that this guy would not have enough food to eat or any way to pay for electricity and gas. I didn’t record this.

Then I had my advisor interview and went on the computers to look up the Civil Service Movement Into Work Scheme (work experience placements in government departments which JCPs can refer you to) which I previously used to observe the Jobcentre and write the ebook. I was trying to get my advisor to refer me. She didn’t even know that the Scheme includes all Civil Service agencies and not just the Jobcentre, which shows the sterling quality of Jobcentre training. This is the second time a Jobcentre staff was unaware of Jobcentre initiatives. The first time, I was told that the staff member didn’t know about it until I was on the Work Programme (and therefore not eligible) because “it’s up to you to get off your arse and do things for yourself”. I felt like I was being blamed for researching internship opportunities myself and expecting professionalism and support from Jobcentre staff. When I worked my bosses would never have let me get away with the kind of disorganisation that they get away with. (Come to think of it, my advisors were keen to try to push catering courses and workfare on me, but didn’t deign to breathe a word about the Scheme or internships that would’ve actually been useful.)

Then she found out I’m no longer eligible anyway because I’m now over 25. Though it is great to be not allowed to work for them on the ground of age instead of the ground of which country’s name is on my passport, when that is entirely the fault of the government itself for withholding citizenship from me when I was born- born here, but apparently not British enough to even harass people in the Jobcentre. (Only UK citizens can work in the Civil Service- including in Jobcentres- but anyone can do the Movement To Work Scheme). But I digress. Anyway, the age thing shows how damaging the Work Programme can be. When you’re on the Work Programme you’re excluded from all Jobcentre courses, opportunities and funding. If the Work Programme didn’t exist I could have taken advantage of the Movement Into Work Scheme, perhaps even more than once, doing placements in different departments.

Another pointless rule was explained to me today after I used a JCP phone to call a court about doing work experience there (I have a Law degree). My advisor says that if I do intern in the court, the DWP will only pay my travelling expenses if I’m referred to the placement through the Jobcentre. Otherwise they won’t, and I can’t do it, because it’s over two hours away so it costs too much. The Advisor Discretionary Fund (now combined with the Flexible Support Fund) which provide funding for things to help you back into work only pay for things arranged through the Jobcentre.

But to get back to the story: there I am clicking away at an unnecessarily oversized monitor paid for with taxpayer money, when someone pops in to ask Allen why she was sanctioned. Allen says it’s because the Jobcentre didn’t receive her job search. She explains about a mix-up, a conversation which I’m not able to hear well because of other loud conversations taking place. Allen appears to accept her explanation. He tells her to call the decision maker and explain it to them. Which means she was sanctioned by mistake. It’s unbelievable. (Didn’t record this either.)

Then a man came in and sat at another computer. Lauren (who first appeared on this blog in this delightful interaction) told him to move because that computer was only for making new claims. She repeated this a few times in a rude manner. He pointed out that he was indeed making a new claim. Lauren told him to leave and he asked to be allowed to make the claim. They then argued about him having to sign on at another job centre. He asked her for the bus fare to travel there if she was making him go to another JCP. She kept refusing to pay his fare. So he asked to make the new claim here and she said “Go and come back when you’ve calmed down. Go or I’m calling the police.” He went. (If I was inclined to take videos, I don’t think the video’s audio quality would be good enough to justify posting it on here or on YouTube- I was filming from a distance).

Anyway, on a completely unrelated note, here’s a completely unrelated video of a completely unrelated place.

I Just Published An Ebook- JobCentre: Confidential Is The True Story Of Being Undercover At The DWP

Jobcentre- Confidential3

Back in March I asked the Job Centre to let me do work experience. It’s something the DWP routinely does. They paid my travelling but not lunch but I was happy with this; information usually comes at a price, even if that price is only effort and time. This was the culmination of a two-year long plan to get them to let me intern in a Job Centre so I could blog about it.

I’d originally imagined blogging every day- a sort of journal of my observations. But when the work experience rolled around, I thought it’d be safer to collect all the data first and then release it on the web- or to a paper or news site. But the Job Centre staff were criticising the unemployed and disabled all the time. Even before my work experience officially began I was witnessing unfair sanctions, and ridiculous sanctions and narrow escapes from potential ridiculous sanctions kept happening. Only two days- the first Thursday and Friday- went by without much incident. I was getting way too much information for a single article. I thought about doing a series of blog posts but even that seemed a bit of a waste and I didn’t know if people would want to read post after post. So I made it into an ebook.

Doing the observation was fun. It was more than fun. I don’t know of any single word to describe it. It was like living your dream and doing what you were always meant to do, and expressing yourself- all at the same time! I’d been observed and monitored often as a child and teenager so I was familiar with the process of it; noting down dates, times, patterns of behaviour. And unlike my enemies who’d observed me, I actually cared about getting the facts right. That meant that if Staff Member A told me something, I’d ask Staff Member B the same thing for confirmation. I talked to staff at different grades and doing different jobs- the manager down to the security. I also asked them to let me sit in on advisor interviews, which they granted.

It required a lot of focus though. I’d often have to check the time for accuracy and I was always hungry when I was there, no matter how much I ate for breakfast (no idea why). I had 4 hours- usually three and a half- to collect as much information as possible. I would memorise it and write it on my phone at lunchtime. We had an hour for lunch so by the time I’d bought food and returned to the Job Centre canteen I’d have about 30 minutes at best to eat and write. And that’s if I didn’t use some of the time to chat to any staff whose break coincided with mine- which I often did. I kept it subtle- I didn’t just join their tables on the first couple of days. But I soon discovered that they weren’t cliquey and the social bonds between most of the staff were not strong- they were happily colleagues, but not friends. (This may have something to do with the fact that some staff members were doing Universal Credit training and were absent from normal activities). Remembering every detail and the stuff I had to follow up on was hard. I’d email the notes to myself on the bus home.

My work experience was meant to last 4 weeks. It was stopped after two and a half weeks, for vague and nonsensical reasons (detailed in the ebook). I suspect it’s because the manager found out what I was doing. He used to be my advisor at another Job Centre two years ago and knows my views about the DWP. He also knows about this blog. For all I know he’s reading this.

The manager didn’t say I was being chucked out for potential whistleblowing or conspiracy to commit undercover journalism. But he did say “You’re not allowed to blog about this”. I assured him I wouldn’t, and I didn’t. I wrote an ebook instead.

It’s called JobCentre: Confidential, and it’s here.

I also wrote this article for Guerilla Policy and this one for The Fifth Column.

Thanks to Rick B for the title (its working title was “DWP Undercover” but I thought that sounded a bit dramatic).

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