An open letter to my MP

After my recent time unemployed, I have finally been able to have the time to write to my MP about the failures in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Below is the body of the email which I sent to him. Any links are inserted into this blog post, but were not included in the letter, though URLs which have been typed, were.

I am writing to you with reference to the failures of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which I experienced recently. At the end of January, I was informed that I would be made redundant from my role as an accountant in a recruitment company in London. This redundancy became effective near the end of April. I am happy to report that I have now found work, being employed by a different company in London, from the start of July.

In the meantime, however, I had to claim job seekers’ allowance (JSA). However, my experience of dealing with DWP has shown some significant failures which I think ought to be brought to your attention. If it possible, I would ask that you raise these concerns directly with a minister responsible for the DWP, or even with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan-Smith.

My experience was that of a department is in disarray, had terrible communication and very few internal checks. As part of my claim, I was asked to provide some documentation on my savings. These are, as are many people’s, held in ‘e-savings’ accounts that do not provide monthly statements. I stated to the job centre that I was perfectly willing to provide proof of my savings, by logging on to the online bank and showing them. They were, however, unwilling to accept this as evidence. Even though I explained that these bank accounts didn’t provide statements, I was asked for statements nonetheless. This demonstrates an inflexible approach that has not yet caught up with modern technology and ways of personal banking, which the DWP ought to be attuned to.

It took an extra couple of days for my building society to provide printouts that they were willing to stamp. I duly took these into the Crawley Job Centre Plus as requested. Interestingly, when I asked for a receipt, I was denied. This seemed extremely odd, as it would have been no significant effort on their part, but it denied me written evidence that I had the provided the documents on a timely basis. As it turns out, this was very important.

I continued to apply for jobs, attend interviews and sign on every fortnight as required. However, I did not receive my JSA promptly. Three weeks after my handing over of the relevant documents, I received a letter from the Worthing Benefit Office stating that my claim would be closed because they had not received my bank statements. Upon enquiry, it emerged that the Worthing Benefit Office did receive my bank statements, but it happened to be exactly one day after they closed my claim. This was two weeks after I had submitted the documents. Whether the fault lay with the Crawley Job Centre Plus or with the Worthing Benefit office, I cannot say. But between them, there was an evident lack of communication. I saw computer records at the Crawley Job Centre Plus where they recorded receipt of the statements, yet the Worthing Benefit Office was unaware of this. Either an integrated computer system or even something as simple as a single phonecall could have prevented this, yet this didn’t seem to occur to the staff.

Having discovered this, common sense would dictate that the claim could simply be reopened at the touch of a button. Common sense, though, is a quality severely lacking in the DWP.

The upshot was that I was asked to make a brand new claim. I was also asked to do a “rapid reclaim” to backdate to when I was first made redundant. I carried on applying for jobs, attending interviews and signing on. When I was eventually offered a job and accepted the role, I still had not received any payment at all. The first payment was not received until after I ended my claim and asked for a P45 from the DWP. This payment was allegedly at the full rate of £71 per week, but was only backdated as far as the second claim. Consequently, for the 10 weeks I was unemployed, I only received an equivalent of £41.59 per week. Given that my monthly rent (on a 1 bed, unfurnished flat, property band B) is £750 per month, I question whether the coalition government consider this enough to live on. I would have to receive 19 weeks’ worth of JSA in order to afford 1 month’s rent. That is, of course, before council tax, food and utilities.

I know that I am much more fortunate than the vast majority of JSA claimants, as my previous job paid more than the average salary and I was subsequently able to build up savings. It was these savings that I lived off during my unemployment, with effectively no help whatsoever from the DWP. Instances of those less fortunate than me are well known, and I’m sure you are aware of http://calumslist.org which documents the deaths in which DWP decisions have played a crucial role.

Being unemployed is a very stressful time in one’s life. The DWP should be providing services that help to minimise this and to ensure a decent standard of living for those who are seeking work and those who are unable to work. But this ideal is far from reality. Consequently, I would like to propose some recommendations, based on my experience, that could be easily implemented to make others’ experience less stressful and would help to DWP staff to demonstrate a greater level of professionalism:

1) The Job Centre Plus should be permitted to provide receipts to benefits claimants, detailing what documents have been provided and when;

2) The Job Centre plus and the Benefits Office need to talk to one another. If a claim is being considered for closure due to a lack of documentation, it is plain common sense for the benefit Office to phone the Job Centre and ask them if they had received anything;

3) Payments need to be speeded up. Waiting more than 10 weeks for the first payment is not sufficient;

4) Payments need to be increased to reflect the cost of living. As it presently stands, they are not sufficient to provide even the most meagre of livings. This results in considerable financial and emotional stress which is not conducive to either good health or to employment prospects.

5) When a claim has been closed erroneously, and it can be easily demonstrated that the DWP were at fault, as in my case, then the bureaucratic form-filling that currently exists should be lifted, with an authorised manager given the ability to reopen the claim immediately, with no need for additional claims to be made.

So that you aware, a copy of this letter will shortly be published on my blog, which is publically available at https://sipech.wordpress.com where I have further documented my experience of being unemployed.

I’d be interested to know what you think of my letter…

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6 responses to “An open letter to my MP

  1. It certainly shows up the shambles that the DWP seems to be in – but then, is some of that to be expected when so many more people are claiming?

    Other than the grammar issues (a few missed words), I probably would have tried to pre-empt some of his answers, e.g. that you could claim housing benefit (you can’t as you’re under 35), or that you could move back home (you can’t as you’re now settled a significant distance away, and ‘home’ isn’t within commutable distance of the types of jobs you would be looking at).

    I’d also be more specific. JSA should be increased to what? If it were to allow for everyone to have ~£250 to spend on non-rent costs and £750 for rent, then you’ve just quadrupled the (JSA) benefits bill, which for ~8 million unemployed is now £8bn per month. That sort of money can’t just be created, so which areas of spending do you suggest could be cut back to allow for this? Or do you propose a massive tax-hike for those who fortunate enough to have work, to pay for this?

    • It might well be asked, that if more people are claiming then the DWP need to hire more staff to cope. Where would they find the extra staff? I wonder….

      I didn’t want to be too specific, as I haven’t done a full costing comparing living costs across the country. That ought to be overseen by a cross-party committee. They could even employ people to do the research! I was suggesting a possible move in the right direction.

      As for where to fund it, I would be quite happy to cut the Trident programme as well as tightening tax loopholes. Though I don’t think the 8m unemployed figure you give is correct. Yesterday, total unemployment was 2.56m (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19259913). Of those, only 1.59m are claiming JSA and possibly fewer than that are receiving it.

  2. Housing Benefit is not available to anyone under the age of 25, not 35 as stated by Joe. It gets better though, as the housing folk fail to communicate adequately with DWP.

    Not giving written receipts is so petty. I imagine if you were to record the event of handing over your evidence you’d probably get arrested under a counter terrorism act.

    As an aside I find having security guards at JCPs very threatening. I’ve seen one twirling numerous keys on a chain around as a prison guard in a seventies film would and they are very unhelpful: more determined to keep folk out rather than assist them. They are incapable of smiling and simply serve to intimidate and throw their weight around. Worse than nightclub bouncers in my experience.
    This could easily be improved upon at very little cost.

  3. Definitely 35:
    “From 1st January 2012 if you’re single and under 35 you can only get Housing Benefit for bed-sit accommodation or one room in shared accommodation.”
    http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/MoneyTaxAndBenefits/BenefitsTaxCreditsAndOtherSupport/On_a_low_income/DG_10018926

  4. I am sad to say that whilst the treatment you experienced is shocking, that I am not surprised.

    Over many years the jobless have been increasingly demonised and phrases such as ” carrot and stick ” in terms of “coercing” people into employment always presaged the justification of far more use of stick than carrot to the wise.

    Rhetoric from goverment has been for some time aimed at softening the general public to a gradual diminuation of unemployment provision and and I suspect, with personally little doubt, that barriers to a successful claim are a deliberate aesthetic, instigated at a top level to discourage the less insistant and savvy claimant from pursuing and receiving their benefits.

    If you have the energy I would urge you to pursue the unpaid backclaim owed to you as a matter of principle, but understand in consideration of the infuriating process this would doubtlessly be if you do not.

  5. Joe,
    Well if they will insist on moving the goalposts…