Thursday, 8 March 2012

OK, now I'm pissed.

Let me tell you a story about a boy, a girl and a sprawling mess of hapless, disgraceful incompetence.

The boy and the girl are unemployed people in their early 20s living just outside of London. The sprawling mess of hapless disgraceful incompetence is Job Centre Plus, part of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Anyone who has had experience dealing with the Job Centre Plus will know that things rarely run smoothly (and will be thoroughly sick of Vivaldi's "Spring"). That's to be expected, unfortunately. But no level of expectations was low enough to pre-empt the total fucking nightmare myself and my partner have suffered over the last 6 weeks.

My partner and I have been signing on at the JCP since last September, until January 25th when I found some short term - and I mean really short-term - temporary secretarial work. I'm talking 8 days. I was covering for someone who had gone on holiday. I was offered this work the day before they wanted me to start, so before I accepted it, keeping in mind that the work was only for a short period, I decided to call the Job Centre Plus, declare the work, and find out what it would mean for our claim.

As our claim had taken over a month to set up I didn't want to risk having to wait that long with no money coming in for the sake of a few days' pay. I was assured that we could do a "Rapid Reclaim" once the work had finished to ensure that the payment was set up again quickly "when I started looking for work again" (I've been offered 8 days temp work and you think I'm going to put my feet up? Really?). They told me to write a letter detailing the days I would be working, the hours, the pay and the name and address of the company I was doing the work for, sign and date it, and hand it into the Job Centre Plus as soon as possible. As I wanted things to run real smooth-like I made a mad dash to my mum's house as I don't own a printer, printed off the letter, and my partner handed it in the next day.

So I finished the work on 3rd February. The next time I went into the Job Centre I asked my advisor if there was anything I needed to do, as I had just finished work. She told me that there wasn't anything I needed to do and our payments should start again with adjustments made for the work. Stupidly, I believed her.

We gave them a bit of time, but once two JSA payments that were due failed to materialise with a third one due soon after, we decided to give them a call to find out what was going on. My partner confirmed the exact amounts I had been paid on the dates that I was paid it, and they told us they would look into it and somebody would call us back later. Then later on we received a call telling us they were still looking into it and somebody would call us back the next day.

No one did.

I then received a letter on 23rd February explaining that my claim had been closed on 14th February (Happy Valentine's Day!), almost two weeks after I had FINISHED the work. As I was confused by this we called them again, and they told us in slightly impatient tones that they had been waiting for a form which we had been asked to fill in on the 17th. This was categorically untrue. This call, on 23rd February, was the first time we had been told about any form, despite having visited the Job Centre THREE TIMES and spoken to them twice on the phone since I'd finished working. The end of the month was fast approaching and we had stretched my last payslip from here to the moon. Nothing had been done, no progress had been made and we had bills to pay. I can't remember the last time I lost so much sleep due to simple, pure worry.

The following Monday we visited the Job Centre and filled out the form. My new advisor noticed that something was up with my claim, and called me to tell me as we were filling the form out. We explained the situation to several members of staff and made some phonecalls, and no one could make any sense of why this had happened. An hour and a half later, we went home, leaving the form in the ever-capable hands of Job Centre Plus. We were told it would take four working days to process it.

Four working days later we called up again, and were told the form had not yet been processed, but "if all goes to plan" the form should have been processed by noon on Monday and we should receive the payment later that day, as it was a "Fast Track" payment. We tried again on Monday at noon. We were told that they had received our form the previous Tuesday but had yet to process it, and that someone would call us back. Again, no one did. We tried again on Tuesday, and were told that lo and behold, our form had been processed. The payment should be released the next day.

Wednesday came. The payment didn't. When I called again I was told that the form had been processed, the "Fast Track" payment had been cleared, and the money should be available to us on Thursday morning at 9:00. Then guess what. Still no payment, still no food in the fridge. If I didn't have family members to support my broke ass we would have incurred £60 in bank charges alone. That's not even counting the unpaid bills themselves. I'm one of the lucky ones.

Today we were finally told that there had been an error and our payment had been processed late. We were also informed that contrary to what literally everyone we had spoken to had said, this was not a Fast Track payment. In your own time, Job Centre Plus. No rush here. We could expect to receive it on Saturday, at the absolute earliest, but it would probably arrive on Monday.

Today I had to cancel a pre-screening job interview as I don't have the money to travel to it. I can't reschedule it as I don't want to risk cancelling again. It turns out that when JCP say the payment will go through has no bearing on when it will actually go through.

And I'm just so pissed about it. Yes, because of their incompetence. Yes, because of constantly being fobbed off with what now seem like total guesses, speculation and lies about when we would receive payment. But most of all because now I just wish I had never taken that work.

If you feel that this is in any way not cool then share, RT, do whatever you like. My aim is to shame the organisation that has thoroughly shafted someone who was just trying to go by the book and not cheat the system. To shame the staff who care so little about their customers that they decided telling me that I needed to fill in a form was too much effort. To shame the department who have the gall to say that they want people to be better off in work. To shame every single person that we spoke to at the JCP who didn't call us back, or who knew about our claim but did nothing, just left it to us to take action.


This last bit is totally irrelevant, but so many of their staff type with two index fingers it actually makes me want to beat myself about the head with their ergonomic keyboards.