Tag Archives: dwp

Some potential measures to improve welfare & unemployment

As you are probably aware, I have been unemployed for the majority the last 6 months. This has given me, amongst other things, some time to watch the goings on at the party conferences in late September through to early October. As a left-wing christian, I fully support the idea that society should look after it’s more vulnerable members, whether they be children, the elderly, the jobless or the disabled. When I post views such as these on Twitter, I often get responses from trolls (or maybe genuine conservative apologists) who sometimes suggest I ought to come up with a perfect welfare system, fully costed, in 140 characters. So in this post, I plan to explore some ideas of how improvements could be made. I am not, by myself, a full government department which ought to be looking at these things, so any figures I use are reasoned estimates.

My first point to note is that job seekers’ allowance (JSA) is not enough to live on. It covers food costs and, when considered on a daily cost basis, utility bills. But it doesn’t cover all the cost of rent or travel to and from interviews. Also, costs of living vary around the country. So it is nonsensical to even ask for ‘a number’ that would suffice for JSA. I have seen no evidence of any costing behind the £71 per week that it currently is.

Instead, I would propose a reimbursement of living costs. That is, make claiming JSA more akin to claiming expenses from an employer. Lay down rules about what can and can’t be reasonably claimed and reimburse when evidence is presented for those claims. For example, for my rent I could present my lease contract, for my travel I could present train tickets and emails confirming dates and locations of interviews, for food I could present a till receipt from Asda.

The second point is about reducing unemployment. I have been to interviews and lost out to people who are moving from one job to another. All this time they are working, gaining experience and making themselves more attractive to potential employers. So it’s a virtuous circle for some, but a vicious circle for others. The longer I spend unemployed, the worse it looks on my CV and the less attractive I am to employers.

So I would I would propose an incentive to companies to encourage them to employ those who are currently unemployed. How would I do this? A tax break. At present, the expense of hiring someone and paying their salary reduces a company’s profits which lowers their tax bill a bit. i.e. if you hire someone on a salary of £30k and have a £5k recruitment fee, in that year you will get a tax benefit of £35k multiplied by the rate at which that company pays corporation tax (which depends on how big their profits are). I would propose that the amount that is tax deductible by increased if that person has been unemployed, the evidence for which would be a P45 from the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP). So as an example, let’s say the multiplication factor is ‘W’. This would be effective for any recruitment costs and the first year’s salary. After that, no additional tax break could be claimed.

At present, for employing someone at a total cost of £35k, the company has a tax deductible amount of £35k. But if they employ someone who has been unemployed for a month, then their tax deductible amount would be W x £35k. The difference is of course, £(W-1) x 35k. If the company pays corporation tax at 24%, then they get an additional tax benefit of £(W-1) x35k x 24% = £(W-1) x 8.4k.

How would this be funded? It would be self-funding as the newly employed person would no longer be claiming JSA and would be paying income tax and national insurance. Assuming there are no complications in their tax affairs, a person on a salary of £30k would pay roughly £4,379 in income tax and £2,689 in national insurance. There would also be a contribution for the employer’s NIC of £3,107. This make a total contribution back to the treasury of £10,175. So by employing someone, even if they were unproductive, that’s what they would contribute. But if they’re no longer unemployed, they wouldn’t need to claim JSA. A year’s worth of that costs 52 x £71 = £3,692.

So let’s work out what W would be to break even.

(W-1) x 8,400 = 10,175 + 3,692
W – 1 = (13,867/8,400)
W = 2.651

So we could in fact give a tax break to companies by allowing a tax deductible amount that is exactly double the actual cost and the net cost to the treasury would be less than the revenues raised.

Of course, this is one example, with many other variations possible, such is the complexity of life. I’ve done some testing for other W figures based on other salaries and they tend to be about 2.3-2.8.

This is not an incentive to create employment, merely a way to encourage companies to take on those who are currently unemployed. It’s not a panacea, but I think it’s a small improvement on what we have now.

I hope I’ve shown that this is an idea worth pursuing. So those are some of my ideas. What measures do you think would help improve the benefits system and reduce unemployment? Please be constructive.

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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…

A Big Personal Announcement

I’ve got a job!

Having been searching for 4 months and having been unemployed for over 2 months, I’ve finally been able to bring the days of jobhunting to a close. I am writing this in the period between when I accepted the offer and when I started, as I didn’t want to jump the gun and announce things before I had a signed contract.

Of course, as this blog is personal, I will not be revealing the name or precise location of my new employer, though I will say that it entails me working again in London. I had hoped for something more local, but every major decision in life requires some level of compromise.

The interesting thing is that job offers came like buses. I had worked and waited for many weeks and then 2 came along at once. I received the first offer on a Monday (what I shall call ‘job A’), just after I had left an interview for another job (‘job B’). The people offering ‘job A’ asked for a quick reply: they gave me 24 hours. However, the interview for ‘job B’ had gone well and I thought there was a reasonable chance that I might receive an offer for that role. So I was able to persuade the recruitment consultant for ‘job A’ to give me an extra half a day to think about things. Meantime, I let the other recruitment consultant know that I had received an offer and that I had a short deadline.

I’m not a fan of the “hard sell” as I’ve learned from this through painful experience. However, I didn’t think a day and a half was too short a time to consider it, though I was aware that I was putting pressure on another potential employer, effectively saying “offer me this within 24 hours or you’ve lost me.” That made me feel a little uneasy, as I try to be empathetic.

My plan had been to keep it all under wraps and not tell anyone, but as I was now presented with a choice, I felt I had to consult others in such a big decision, as I was looking to ensure that my next move would last at least 5-10 years. I was aware that my CV didn’t have a job on it that I had kept for more than 4 years. Also, I value some stability as this allows for better long term planning. So I asked a few people to grill me and get me thinking about questions that I hadn’t thought about, to ensure I looked at it from several angles. I spoke to my dad and to the pastor of my church. I had hoped to get the view of my former finance director, but he was off sick at the time.

I also wanted to make sure that I could be totally honest about my reasons for picking one over the other, so I paced up and down my flat a lot rehearsing what I would say to each recruitment consultant and trying to determine which sat most easily with me; to make sure I wasn’t trying to kid myself as much as anything.

As mentioned in some of my earlier posts (scan through my history to see which ones) I’ve made much of the fact that I would be needing to live off unemployment benefit. Though the truth is I didn’t. In all the time I was unemployed, signing on at the job centre once a fortnight, I never received a penny of jobseekers’ allowance (JSA) from the Department For Work And Pensions. I don’t honestly know if I will receive any. Instead, I was eking out an existence on what remained of my redundancy package. But JSA certainly isn’t enough to live on. I would have needed 11 weeks’ worth of claims before I would be able to afford 1 months’ rent on my 1 bed, unfurnished flat, such is the cost of living where I presently reside. That’s without considering council tax, utilities or food.  I do intend to write a full account of this and send it to my local MP, with a request for him to forward it onto a minister in the relevant department. When I do so, I will be copying my correspondence on this blog for all to see; I shall also inform him of my intention to do so.

At the time of writing this, I am in an interregnum between accepting the offer and signing the contract. There is some hold-up in obtaining references from one of my former employers, though as I will not post this until after I have started, by virtue of the fact that you are reading this, I can assure you that such references have been received.

Onward ho! Onto a new chapter of my life….

The infuriating stupidity of the DWP

This will be a rant, so if you’re not in the mood for reading my foul-tempered outpourings then now would be a good time to go elsewhere.

As many of you will have read over the course of the last few months, I am currently looking for work having been made redundant from my previous role near the end of April. As well as looking for work, researching roles and company, attending interviews, etc., I have been claiming job seekers’ allowance (JSA) from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). When I last claimed, as a graduate, I didn’t have a very good experience which you can read about here.

On Friday (the 18th) I had an appointment to go and sign on and talk to one of the DWP’s advisors who would try to give me advice on how to give myself the best chance of finding a job. I don’t know if the chap was new in his role or if, somehow, he found me intimidating, but he was noticeably shaking during our meeting. We went through and confirmed a few points, as well as having a brief discussion over what I was currently doing to look for work. Under the agreement I signed, I have to do 3 things per week in order to not have my claim stopped. I do a lot more than that, so even the edited highlights in my booklet had about 15 lines in the last fortnight.

However, just as we were booking in my next meeting in a fortnight’s time, the computer threw up a problem. My claim wasn’t coming up on the system. He looked at a few forms on the computer screen (which I could see at the same time) and it transpired that my claim had been stopped.

Why was this so?

Well, we’ve got to back a few weeks. When I initially made the claim I had to answer a lot of questions. One of these related to the amount of savings I had. I was asked to provide evidence of these savings. As most were in e-savings accounts, I didn’t have bank statements for them so I had to go to the bank and get them to print and stamp the relevant documentation. I can’t remember the precise date, but this information was handed to my local Job Centre Plus on either the 2nd or 3rd of May.

My claim was stopped on the 14th of May, with the reason being cited as “you have not given us the information we asked you for.” On the screen that I could view, there was a note on the 17th to say that documents were received, but this did not mean the claim would be reopened.

So why the delay?

Well, I delivered the requested documents to the Job Centre, but they are only the “shopfront” rather than the main benefits office. That is located elsewhere, about 30 miles away. So if it left on the 3rd of May, then the average speed of the documents was about 0.089 miles per hour. No reason was ever actually given for why it took so long. From the point of view of the benefit office, they would be right if they said they had not received the documentation by the 14th, but their statement that I had not given it is false. It had simply not been sent on.

To me, this level of incompetence is staggering. Yet, it could be argued, it gets worse! The fact that the system recorded that the documents were received on the 17th should make things simple. They could acknowledge their blunder and re-open the claim now that the relevant benefit office is in possession of all the desired documentation.

As if it would be that simple!

I was instructed by my advisor (remember, I am still in the local Job Centre at this time) that I ought to phone the relevant benefit office. I was directed to use one of the phones in the office, which I duly did so. They told me that I needed to ask for a “rapid reclaim” but that they couldn’t process this for me on their system. Instead, I had to phone the number for a new claim and request that they process the “rapid reclaim.” This I duly did, but the operator was confused since my records showed that I had an appointment booked for a fortnight’s time. She asked if there was anyone around I could ask, so I called a member of staff at the Job Centre over to help.

The only help I was provided with was to be told that I wasn’t allowed to use a phone in the Job Centre to ring the ‘new claim’ number and that I would have to use a different phone outside the building.

By this time, my patience was being pushed to its limit and it seemed that the next course of action was not permitted in that building, so I went home for lunch. After I’d had time to eat and calm down, I gathered all my papers together and phoned the benefits claim line. The operator was still using the set screen in front of her, so I can pass no blame on her for having to take me through the whole registration process again, which took over half an hour.

The upshot is that I have an appointment to go back to the local job centre on Monday afternoon (the 21st) where I will be very much on the war path. I’m spending this weekend making multiple copies of the timeline and gathering all the letters and other documentation I have to hand so that I can go and show them just how incompetent they are.

All this is a nasty distraction. I’ve still got job applications to follow up on and a couple of interviews to attend. The more time I spend having arguments with the DWP, the less research I get to do into future employment.

I’ll keep you updated on my progress or lack thereof.

Past experience with Job Seekers’ Allowance

Source: US National Archives and Records Administration

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.