Are the benefits departments this rubbish on purpose?

It’s something I’ve been pondering over the last few days.
Since December, I’ve been miserable, signed off unfit to work because of stress, depression, and now (according to government assessments at least), I’m suitable for work again. This means leaving incapacity benefits and switching temporarily to “Jobseeker’s Allowance”.

I’ve claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance twice in my life. This is the second, but there’s been an 8 year gap in between, and some things have changed it seems. Also, I’d never claimed housing benefit before, as last time I was unemployed for a long period, I was living with my parents.

At the end of March, I had an assessment that said I was ready to return to work.
It’s conducted on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions, by an outside company called “ATOS”. It’s a funny name isn’t it? I can’t believe nobody noticed before they had their letterheads printed.
“Dave have you called ATOS? Just give ATOS a cal…wait..that sounds a bit odd”.

The results of the assessment uses wording that made me laugh, so I’ll quote you some here from my “About your limited capacity for work assessment” sheet.

“[Ben has] no problems meeting and mixing with new people or going to new places.”

I think it’s safe to say nobody at ATOS has seen me at a party or in a nightclub.

“[Ben’s] behaviour does not cause problems for [him] or other people”

and

“[Ben has] no problems getting on with other people, and they have no problems getting on with [him]”

I should photocopy this and send it to the two girls who complained about me joking about their religion, and behaving in an apparently “lecherous fashion” in my last job.
If anyone was wondering, I didn’t cop a feel – just had a look at her ample cleavage. What sort of world are we living in where a man can’t have a look at a semi-attractive girl’s cleavage without getting a written letter of complaint about it? That’s another blog post, for another day.

As I said, I’ve never claimed housing benefit before.
When I initially filled out the forms for it, which were posted to me, I reached a section which said “please tick the forms of identification you are submitting”. It didn’t state which ones I needed to send.
Then it told me I should bring the completed form into the benefit office. They didn’t tell me where it was.
I tried my local Jobcentre Plus, but they said it went to the council offices at College Green.
When I got there, the security guard told me that wasn’t right – and I should take it to Amelia Court.
Third time lucky, Amelia Court took my documents, and happily signed for them all.

A few weeks later, I was surprised therefore, to receive a letter stating I must bring forms of identification into Amelia Court, as they didn’t have them.
Despite my written receipt, signed by them, they still claimed I’d never given them to them.
In I went, took them in again, and all fine.

When my “Employment and Support Allowance” (aka incapacity benefits) ended in March, I thought this might affect my housing benefit, as it’s a “change of circumstances” sort-of.
I phoned them up and asked if I had to do anything, given I was switching from one benefit to another.
A guy on the phone (I should have written down his name) told me he didn’t know, and wasn’t sure if he should log that I phoned anywhere, in case it did make a difference to my claim.
I mean what the hell are you meant to do with that? You’re telling them, but they won’t log it in case they’re not supposed to.

On the 14th April, I was delighted to receive a letter stating:

“We have recently received information in respect of your claim, which has raised a doubt over your entitlement to Housing/Council Tax Benefit. As a result, I have suspended your claim, and subsequently no further payments will be made.”

Always nice to enjoy a letter like that over your Weetabix.
Clearly when a claim stops, they feel the need to notify all and sundry, but when you apply for another claim, nothing gets logged.
One change in my circumstances results in all benefits being suspended.

More forms, and proof of earnings (bank statements) taken in, and signed for. As of 30th April, I’m still waiting for any confirmation/money.

Back to jobseeking, this week I had my first signing on day. Sadly, I missed it, because I thought it was Thursday (2 weeks after my work interview), when in fact it was Tuesday (2 weeks, less 2 days, after my interview).
On Wednesday, I found my notes and realised I’d missed my appointment. Essentially I got my days muddled. It probably happens to other people sometimes.

A phone call to the jobcentre, tells me I have to come in “immediately”. She actually used the words “how soon can you get here?”
It was a life and death kind-of situation, where I should ignore all speed limit signs and go literally like the wind.
I hadn’t showered or brushed my teeth yet that morning, but this was clearly more important, so I grabbed my keys and ran off to the jobcentre.
When I got there, I was sat down and asked to wait. 10minutes later, I spoke to another person, who booked me an appointment for 3 hours later, to sign-on.
I’m still unsure why I had to go in at all, if they were just going to book me an appointment anyway?
I can only guess this was some kind of payback they hand out to wankers who miss their appointments. I’m a bastard of the highest order, clearly.

Fast forward to the actual meeting.
I’m miserable, seriously pissed off at myself for getting my days muddled, with the pain that this will undoubtedly cost me, lingering in my mind.

Turns out, as I was 27 hours late for my actual signing-on time, this means my benefits stop.
I have to fill out a form detailing why I didn’t turn up, and unless I have a very good reason, they post it to Plymouth who “make a decision”.
If found guilty, my sentence is to lose all Jobseekers Allowance from the time I was meant to come in, til the time I actually came in.
That’s right – if found guilty after all these procedures, I lose 27 hours money. That’s £8.57. I’ll also have another load of forms to fill in to start a “rapid reclaim”.

As a former taxpayer, I’m slightly annoyed that they bother to go through all these checks, admin, posting forms from Bristol to Plymouth and back, and don’t just dock the money to start with? I mean it’s £8.57 for fuck’s sake.

The other thing about the jobcentre is that you’re never told the same thing twice.
When I had my original work interview, I was told I needed to specify some types of jobs I’d be looking for, to enable them to track my progress.
The woman conducting the interview stated I needed three, as that was the number of boxes on her screen.
I could only think of two, so two went down.
However, I was assured by her that IF I didn’t fill out a third, in the first 13 weeks of my claim, all my benefits would stop.

By the time it came to my signing on day, I had come up with a third. Go team Ben!
So I asked the man who I had my emergency signing-on session with, if I could add it.
After a lot of blank looks and confusion, and him telling me I had already done more than three things to look for work, we weren’t getting anywhere.

Then by pure chance, he clicked a button and we were on the very two/three-box screen.
I was moderately excited.
“THERE!! Look! That space! There’s three boxes but only two things filled out! I need a third in there!”
“Oh that doesn’t matter”, he tells me in a very relaxed manner. “You can apply for anything you want”.
I’m not convinced, so protest “but I need a third? I don’t want to have to go through all this again “
He tells me if I’d like to amend my job plan, he can make me an appo
intment to see someone else, and I can come back to amend the third box, but that I really can apply for anything I like.

We’ll see.
If, god forbid, I’m still claiming by the thirteenth week, and my benefits stop because of this, I’m writing an official letter of complaint.
That letter of complaint will then probably be posted from Bristol to Plymouth, where they will photocopy it, and then send it back to Bristol again, before both original and copy, is shredded.

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