In a previous post I made about my job situation, I made a reference to assuming that I would not receive job seekers’ allowance (JSA). This was based on my experience of this 6 years ago, after I graduated from university.
Having had all but one of my applications to study for a PhD ignored (the other being rejected by the university I was already studying at), I tried to apply for a few jobs but these were all met with rejections. I think the reason was that I had not been properly prepared for “competency based interviews” which were all the rage then. Every question began “name a time when….” and you were expected to give an example applicable to a workplace environment when all I had experience of was academia. It was only through repeated trial and error that I eventually got a job offer.
However, by the time that happened, I had already graduated. So, being unemployed, I did what any 22 year old would do, I went to stay with my parents for a week or two. The trouble with that is that they live in a dead-end town with no decent transport links. There are no jobs within the town and if you get a job elsewhere you have to have a car. For a town with a population of 35,000 to not have a train station is scandalous. The nearest mainline stations are a 45 minute bus journey away.
I soon made my way up to my sister’s house where I was able to use her high speed internet to start filling in online application forms and sending emails all day long. It was while I was here that I tried to see about signing on for JSA. When I phoned, I was told I had to go to a local office to sign on. The difficulty with this was that my sister lived in a tiny village many miles from any large town. So I could not sign on while I remained here. Instead, I had to go back to my parents and sign on at the office in the town where they lived. My task was then to apply for jobs and to come back every fortnight, at a pre-arranged time to catch up on what actions I had taken. Knowing that it was pointless staying with my parents, I then went and moved in briefly with my other sister, who lives in a city which has good transport links. This presented a few new difficulties, as she had a baby and a toddler at the time, and I could not get over the feeling that I was a hindrence to them and a drain on their resources.
One of my interviews clashed with one of my appointments at the job centre. I informed them that I would not be able to attend but was happy to make the appointment the next day. The Job Centre weren’t having any of this. They took a very “rules is rules” approach and said I *had* to attend. The interview was 60 miles away from the centre where I originally signed on, and would take a couple of hours to traverse London in order to make the appointment. I suggested that I sign on at the centre nearest to where my interview was, which seemed to be the most logical solution.
They um’d and ah’d about this for a while before eventually agreeing, though it had to go through some form with a special name that made it sound like a generic mobile phone model. It was a Form XP27F or something like that. So I ended up going to an interview in a town I had never set foot in before, only to then go to the job centre there to sign on. It was very noticeable that I was the only person there in a suit! After further interviews, I did eventually get this particular job.
As soon as I received a formal offer, I informed the job centre to say that I would no longer be claiming JSA and could they please remove me from their books. In response, they told me that I shoul keep claiming up to the point I actually started my job, which was a couple of weeks’ away, but I didn’t think this was morally right, given that I was no longer seeking; I had found a job. They agreed, but thought I was an idiot for sticking to my principles.
In all this time though, I had not actually been paid. When I signed on, they told me that it would take a few weeks for the payments to start coming through, so it didn’t really bother me that much. Having just finished being a student, I was pretty skint. I’d had to move house and buy loads of stuff that I had not previously needed. The JSA would have come in very handy. In order to pay for a deposit and for my rail fares to get around the country I was borrowing money and relying on the hospitality of members of my family. After our first day of induction in the office, we had to travel up to the midlands to attend a conference for all the graduate starters in the firm. Even though we could claim this on expenses, I still had to borrow the money for the train fare to get there in the first place. To this day, I can’t remember if I have actually paid back all of what I owed.
Once I started to get paid, I forgot about the JSA for a while, as I was more concerned with the emergency tax code they put me on, which meant that more was being deducted from my salary than was actually due to the Treasury. It was only after I had been working for 2-3 months that I received a letter from the department of work and pensions “enquiring” as to why I was claiming JSA when I was currently in full time employment; in short, I was being investigated for benefit fraud. I sent them back a very strongly worded letter which laid out in a matter-of-fact way much of what I have written above. In response, they dropped the investigation and sent me a cheque for the full amount of JSA that I had been owed. This arrived just a couple of weeks before Christmas, which was also the time my tax code was corrected and I got a massive rebate from HMRC.
So in the end, it worked out OK, and I was able to get nice presents for all the family (I hope they like them!). So what does this experience mean for the future? Well, given the manner in which I am losing my job, I will be claiming JSA, provided I have not managed to obtain a job offer before that. However, I retain scant hope of it being paid in a timely manner and will not be relying on it at all.