JobCentre Plus needs staff

No, they’re not advertising. I just know this to be the case.

I’ve been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for a few months now, and as part of the agreement, I have to agree to notify them if my circumstances change.

On Wednesday last week, I started a full-time (but temporary for 2.5 weeks) job. I don’t want to be done for fraud, so what’s the quickest way of notifying them of a change? I’d say the phone.

Wednesday afternoon I called them on the number advised by Direct.gov. I sat on hold for 10 minutes on an 0845 number, listening to 20 seconds of a crappy version of some classical music on loop (you NEVER hear the whole tune), before I hung up. Why should I be paying daytime peak rates to call them and not even speak to anybody?

I phoned again on Thursday, and after asking on Twitter if JobCentre Plus were on there, I finally got through. I was immediately told that despite choosing options to notify them of a change of circumstances, the number I actually needed was an 01934 number belonging to the euphemistically-titled “in and out department” (*snigger*).
An 01934 number which would have been part of my inclusive-mobile-minutes and wouldn’t have cost me anything to call it. So that’s two wasted phone calls I needn’t have paid for.

I dialed that 01934 number, and got through to an answerphone, basically saying they have no staff available to answer the phone, and to leave my name, National Insurance number, and phone number, and they’ll call me back. I figured as it was about 4.30 (they close at 5), I’d just call them back the day after, rather than leave a message.

So Friday, I had another go on the new number. Straight through to answerphone saying their staff were unavailable, etc. so this time I left a message with my name, NI number, and phone number, as asked.

I did this around 3pm, and then I had to go to get a car tyre fixed. While inside the garage, where I was for maybe 20 minutes, I for some reason had no mobile reception whatsoever, so that’s obviously the time they called me back. They left a message thanking me for my call, and asking me to call them back.

I got my tyre done, drove home, called them back and… recorded message, no staff available, please leave a message, etc. I left another message saying I was returning their call, yada yada, but it was 4.20, and the line closes at 5, so I didn’t get a call back that day.

This morning, I missed a call while I was having a lie-in (my temp job is Tuesday-Saturday and very early starts), and I got a message saying two things. Firstly, that they hadn’t been able to make a note regarding my situation, as I hadn’t left my National Insurance number. The last time, no. The time before that, YES I DID. Maybe JobCentre Plus would like to start keeping some records of who calls, and what they say.

And the second thing she added, was that all I needed to do was fill out my ES40, and return it to my local JobCentre Plus office. (The ES40 is basically a book that has my name, National Insurance number, sign-on time/date, etc. that they use to find me on the system when I go in.)

I figured I’d phone them back to give them my details again, then do the form thing, as at the moment I would guess that NOBODY has any record of me attempting to tell them about my change of circumstances, despite the five times I have now attempted to call their various departments to do so. 3pm, no staff available, please leave a message. FFS! Make that six times.

This raises several questions to me.

  1. How come the number to dial to start claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance is freephone, whereas the one for queries, is an 0845?
  2. Why does Direct.gov tell me to phone an incorrect 0845 number, to notify of my change of circumstances?
  3. Why do the 0845 number operators tell me to phone an 01934 number, which is unable to take any phone calls?
  4. How come the first message back while I was having my tyre done, wasn’t “you don’t need to call us – just take your book into JobCentre Plus”? Why bother telling me to call back at all, if the end result is still that I need to take this form to a JobCentre office?
  5. And if that is the case, why does the 01934 “in and out” department exist at all? The 0845 operator explained I’d be signed off while working, then I would call back for a “rapid reclaim” when my temp job ends. Fine, but given that it’s a freephone number to start claiming, and apparently no -available- number to stop claiming, what is the point of the 01934 department, given that I’ve called now on four separate occasions, they are always too busy to answer the phone, and ultimately tell you to go into a physical branch?

Maybe anyone without a job should start sending speculative letters to JobCentre Plus, as they clearly need the staff to either answer the bloody phone, or rewrite the instructions available, replacing them with some accurate versions of what to do.