Tag Archives: redundancy

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…

The Last Day

As regular readers will be aware, I have now been made redundant from my job and am, for want a better turn of phrase, a gentleman of leisure for the time being. I began to write this piece in my head on the way home after my leaving drinks, though I did not start to actually type anything until the Saturday afternoon. I wanted to write fairly close to the day’s events so as to not start forgetting this, as I am wont to do. However, the lack of immediate internet facilities has delayed the publication until now.

The night before my last day was somewhat ambivalent. I have been ready to leave now for a good couple of months and in my mind I had already left. I was simply playing out the time, trying to make sure all loose ends were tied up and that I was able to hand over everything that needed to be handed over. I got the last train I could get that would get me into the office on time, so I arrived duly at about 8:50 and decided to go for breakfast in the canteen. Others who were down there were puzzled as to why I had come in any time before 11am; after all, who can really complain and what could anyone do about it? One late morning is not a sackable offence, so I wouldn’t have been risking my redundancy package.

The point, though, was that I always wanted to be, and to be seen to be, straightforward, honest and transparent. As an accountant, I believe that one of the best virtues you can have is to be accountable. This is why much of the work I have done over the last year has been to remove levels of obfuscation that my predecessors had put in place over some areas of the finance function. Of course, there is need for confidentiality, so when dealing with salaries, I would always lock my computer even if walking out of the room for 3 minutes to get myself a cup of coffee.

So, having started my day on time, even though I had not much to do, I set about writing my goodbye emails and saving them in a draft folder, ready to go out later that afternoon. I had to rack my brains thinking of who I might have left out so as to not unduly offend anyone.

As it happens, I had some time off in the middle of the day to go and speak to some more recruitment consultants. These ones were based in a new building called Heron tower, which seems to have been overshadowed by the Shard (not literally, they are about a mile apart!) and which is one of the tallest buildings in the country. I’d never been in before, but it was a bizarre experience. Outside the door was a guy in a long coat and bowler hat, who wanted to know why on earth I might want to enter. Once I’d got past him and through the revolving doors, there was another chap standing between myself and reception desk. My intention was simply to walk past him, but he stepped across my path to block me, demanding who I was going to see. This chap more than the bowler hat guy, had a serious US Secret Service inferiority complex. It seemed that his entire job was to stand in the lobby with a little wire in his ear and look cross.

Having negotiated my way to the reception desk I was finally able to get to make known who it was I wanted to see. Though it wasn’t until I had sat down to wait that I realised the entire backdrop to the reception was a giant fishtank. I didn’t have a measuring stick with me but at a rough guess I would say it was about 50 feet wide, 12 feet high and 7 feet deep. It was full of large tropical fish. It was like a much bigger version of the tank my parents have, and with supersized fish too, though some did appear to be a similar species/variety/genus (please forgive me, biology wasn’t my strongest point).

Anyway, the meeting went pretty much as every other meeting I’ve had with recruitment consultants. Afterwards, I headed on back to the office post haste. I finished clearing down a lot of old emails, as I had checked with work that they wouldn’t mind if I deleted emails confirming that I authorised a supplier payrun in Luxembourg in September 2010.

Throughout the day, I had the occasional person come up to me and wish me well for the future, which was really nice. The odd thing about my role is that I predominantly deal with people across Europe and in the United States. I have very little to do with the people who physically work in the same office as me. That’s not to say I never interacted with them, it just wasn’t anywhere near as much as they had with one another. I was just the quiet bloke sat in the far corner near the finance director and who drank a lot of black coffee.

After sending out emails spanning a reasonable part of the globe, I again got quite a few nice responses. Some weren’t aware I was leaving. This was particularly annoying as there was a small delegation from the US who were coming to the UK this week (w/c 23 April) who wanted to meet up, since we talk regularly on email and on the phone, and I’m just going to miss out on the chance to meet them.

There was small presentation for me at 4:30 with a couple of speeches. I didn’t prepare anything other than a wisecrack on our forecasting ability given that I had been there for 27 months on a 12 month contract! Oddly, though, at that point I still had not been informed that I would definitely be made redundant. Officially, it was still the case that my role was at risk of redundancy. So I still had to have a meeting with HR at 5:00 to confirm this.

Now, it is a truism that you should never trust HR with numbers. This was no exception, as I had calculated how much holiday I was owed, and knew that they would pay me for any unused holiday. They miscalculated and gave the figure too low. I picked up on this in an instant. So even on my very last day, I couldn’t leave on time as I had to wait for the official letter to be redrafted. That said, the extra 2.5 days is worth a few hundred pounds so that’s the closest I’ll have come to paid overtime during my tenure there.

After all this was done, we eventually managed to make it to a bar, where many many drinks were consumed and which I paid for none. Considering when I left my previous job, only one person showed up, I was dreading another no show. But quite a lot of people came out. However, I was standing just behind one guy who I heard saying “who was this guy leaving anyway” which I think sums up how ‘high profile’ I was. But most of the finance team and IT were there, who I do speak to every day. Once the drinks got flowing and the tongues loosened, an interesting portrait was revealed about who really thought what of whom. This is not the place to spread gossip and how much the strength of feelings may have been exaggerated by alcohol is questionable. But I did get more encouraging feedback from folks with comments like “you’re one of the good guys” or “whenever I needed help, you were the one who provided it.” As the evening wore on, the advice got a little more tenuous.

Several of them didn’t know that I wasn’t allowed a proper holiday last year. When you have a line manager who ignores employment law, compounded with a vague HR policy, all I could take was the odd day either side of a weekend, but not a full week at any point in the year. So I’ve still only been on holiday twice in the last 12 years. At this, I was told that I ought to travel to Thailand and “bang as many women as possible.” This was the point to call it a night. I’m not quite sure how I was still standing at this point, as I had consumed considerably more alcohol in the space of 4 hours than is recommended for a week.

I managed to get on the last train home and well aware that I was at risk of falling asleep and waking up in Brighton at 11pm, long after the last train back from there, I sent a message on twitter and to my sister to remind me to change trains at a 10:40. Spot on time, my sister phoned. I hadn’t fallen asleep (I don’t think) but I was able to get home fine and then randomly watch an episode of Father Ted on DVD before heading to bed. However, I was wide awake and stone cold sober at 5am on the Saturday.

So as I come to finish this now at just after 10:20pm on Saturday night, I’ve been up for a fair old while and am pretty tired, so I shall head off to bed and think about scheduling this for publication later in the week.