Category: Jobseeker’s Agreement

Jobseeker Sanction Advice

 

 

This looks to be very useful – and interesting to see they give Jobseeker Agreement advice too… bad Agreements can set you up for sanctions if you’re not careful.

The lovely wibbly wobbly old lady

Posting this because people may find it useful

Link to the site here:-   http://jobseekersanctionadvice.com/

Jobseeker Sanction Advice Home Page

Job-Centre-ImageHello and welcome to the website of the J.S.S.A.

Now we wouldn’t blame you for wondering, who are JobSeeker Sanction Advice?

So let us give you some background information.

The organisation is ran by Denise Symonds, Andrea Nicholson and Jean Calvert.

One thing we’re most certainly not, as is made clear throughout this site, is to have any connection whatsoever with any government agency, neither are we solicitors, so, with who we are NOT out of the way, let’s focus on who we ARE.

We’re a small network of 3 disgruntled ex, Department of Work and Pensions civil servants who left the service for a variety of reasons, not least of which was our dissatisfaction with the pressures being placed on staff to achieve what many of us saw as targets…

View original post 979 more words

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More Sanctions – And Some Ideas For Fighting Them

> Received via email…

I am a keen follower of your blog and thought you may be interested in this
story…

*I have recently helped a Jobseeker (I’ll call him John) to win an appeal
at the First Tier Tribunal after his benefit was stopped for allegedly
failing to ‘actively seek’ work*.

*About me *

I am a semi-retired business woman and I initially got involved in helping
benefit claimants due the significant and negative impacts of the new
Welfare reforms on some of my family and friends.  My deep concern led to offering my services as a volunteer at the CAB and now as a ‘Welfare
Champion’ on a part-time basis.  I do this work mainly on a private basis
and receive referrals from various sources.  I could not cope with lots of
readers contacting me (I am easily traceable), so for this reason I will
refer to myself as ‘Mary’.

*About John*

John has worked from the age of 15 and for over 24 years with a few short
breaks, so no-one could ever describe him as a “skiver” or a “shirker”.
However, due to the economic downturn he found himself unemployed for
longer than expected and could no longer afford to run his car; regretfully
he has had to turn down a number of job offers due to the lack of transport.

> I’ve noticed an increasing number of vacancies – usually shiftwork – require the applicant to have their own transport. 
At the beginning of 2013 a new Jobseeker Agreement was imposed on John; it required him to take at least 14 steps to look for work – it previously stated 3 as per the current legislation.  It also required him to seek work on-line 7 days per week and to register with the DWP Universal Jobmatch site, which incidentally is not mandatory, nor is it a condition for receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance despite what Jobcentre Advisers might tell claimants.

*Jobcentre errors in law and procedure!*

John took 10 strong steps, which included applying for 4-5 jobs to help him
secure employment each week during the period in doubt, but the Jobcentre thought this was not good enough and his benefit was stopped for 4 weeks!

From my experience unless a claimant fulfils every detail of their
agreement the majority will be sanctioned.  This is wrong, both legally as
well as procedurally!   In this particular case I uncovered numerous
procedural, policy as well as legal mistakes.

*The impact of the Jobcentres mistakes!*

John was completely stunned and bewildered by the sanction; the impact was immediate and significant.  He had no money and was unable to source a food parcel or any assistance from Social Services, so he was completely
destitute for 2 weeks.

The regulations do not allow access to an immediate hardship payment if you are not in a vulnerable group I.e., you are sick or, have dependent
children.  The hardship payment he received after 2 weeks was £43.02pw (his usual payment is £71.70pw) for the remainder of the sanction period.

He was already struggling financially and feeling low due to being unemployed for over a year and Christmas was on the horizon.  Those feelings darkened and he felt suicidal at times, due to his mistreatment by Jobcentre Plus.

He could not pay his bills or afford to eat properly and he certainly could
not afford to buy his children any Christmas gifts.

And, to this day he has still not recovered from the loss of his benefits
(his arrears are pending).  The sanction has not made him any more
motivated than he was previously; it has just made him very angry and
mistrustful of Jobcentre Staff, hence the reason he was keen to help others
by sharing this story.

*Sanctions are only used as a last resort!*

The government keeps claiming sanctions are only applied as last resort and if a Jobseeker wilfully does not to keep to their side of the bargain (the
Jobseeker’s Agreement).  This certainly is not true in John’s case, so what
is the real reason for the sanction….performance expectations (targets to
you or I), reducing the unemployment count, saving money or all 3?

*Jobseekers being set up to fail by Jobcentre Plus!*

An ex DWP employee has confirmed:

“But the truth is that benefit claimants are being deliberately set up to
fail in order to achieve sanction quotas without regard for natural justice
or their welfare . Staff are being asked to behave in a manner that is against the department’s values of integrity and honesty.”

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/dec/09/iain-duncan-smith-dwp-stop-benefits-whistleblower

Suspected criminals are treated more fairly in this country than the sick
and the unemployed; they are innocent until found guilty, receive swift and
free legal assistance, a bed, food, water and a roof over their heads.

In my view all these sanctions are unjustifiable and certainly do not match
the offence. A low level sanction of 4 weeks sanction incurs a c£200
penalty for people over 25 years of age like John, who is already living
well below the bread line according the EU

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/29/uk-benefits-inadequate-council-of-europe.

A speeding ticket is £60 to people who can generally afford to run a car
and the offender is given time to challenge the penalty *before* it is
imposed.

*What the law says…. *

The *duty to actively seek work* *is not to be found in the job seekers
agreement* but in S7 of the jobseeker’s Act. S7(1), which provides:

*“a person is actively seeking work if he takes in that week such steps as
he could reasonably be expected to have to take in order to have the best
prospects of securing employment.”*

More detail is set out in regulation 18 of the Regulations. Regulation
18(1) provides that:

*”… a person shall be expected to have to take more than two steps in any
week unless taking one or two steps is all that is reasonable for that
person to do in that week.”*

Mr Commissioner Williams held at para 10 & 14 of CJSA/1814/2007 (case law)

*”**That is illustrated by this appeal. C was required by his Agreement to
take 6 steps each week and several other steps from time to time. That is
clearly more steps than the regulation requires of him to meet the test of
“actively seeking work”. And it is more steps than the Agreement asked him to record. On the facts, the secretary of state’s representative now
accepts that C took four steps in the week and that those four steps met
the test in section 7(1).”*

*”Further, there is nothing in the Act or the Regulations requiring that a
claimant must comply with everything in the Agreement. The reverse is the case. The agreement must comply with the law. To be valid, a jobseeker’s agreement must comply “with the prescribed regulations in force”: section 9(1) of the Act. The pattern of the legislation is that a jobseeker’s agreement must comply with the test of actively seeking work in sections 1(2)(c) and 7 of the Act and regulation 18 of the Regulations and not the other way round.”*

*The Outcome of this case – Success!*

Using this piece of case law the appeal was allowed, because the judge
determined John (the appellant) was actively seeking work as per section 7
of the Jobseeker’ Act 1995 and he took *significantly more than 2 steps to
in order to have the best prospects of seeking work *(Reg. 18 JSA Regs
1996)!

*What does this outcome mean?*

This result confirms that Jobseeker Allowance claimants are unwittingly
agreeing to unreasonable, thus unlawful Jobseeker Agreements (soon to
become JSA Claimant Commitments) and, as a result 1000s are being
sanctioned unfairly.

*However, this achievement is a hollow victory for the thousands of
Jobseekers expected to comply with their Jobseeker’s Agreements.*

This Tribunal ruling does not set a precedent for DWP to follow. As far as
DWP are concerned “it will be business as usual“.  DWP’s position will
remain that if an individual claimant wishes to challenge their Jobseekers
Agreements on the basis of this Tribunal ruling they will have to jump
through all the various hoops.

Most will decide it is not worth their while and I know from my own experiences how difficult it can be.  Further, the claimant must have the capacity to do so (many claimants are vulnerable) and they must also know that their Jobseekers Agreement is unlawful. The majority will not and as for the handful of claimants that do, DWP will cope with these people.

*What we appear to be dealing with here is, maladministration by the DWP on a grand scale affecting 1000s of individuals.  *

*What can people do?*

I would strongly urge those who have been affected to get in touch
with their MP to raise this important issue.

And, you *must* appeal.

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions/about/complaints-procedure

*Read the recent news reports about unfair sanctions….*

“70,000 job seekers’ benefits withdrawn unfairly, says think-tank”

*I believe it is significantly higher.*

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/03/70000-job-seekers-benefits-withdrawn-unfairly-thinktank

And:
*Rising rates of successful appeals have been seen as a sign that the
system for penalising those deemed to have broken job-seeker agreements is flawed.*

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/successful-benefits-appeals-soaring-says-scots-academic.23532954

Regards

Mary

 

> Thanks, Mary. My own Jobseeker Agreement battles are chronicled on this blog (Jobseekers Agreement section) but need  updating. I’m a bit behind because some of the things that have been happening need unravelling and making sense of – I start to think that every individual DWP worker has their own set of rules !

But suffice to say, I’ve been fighting my corner for 4 months now,  still haven’t been sanctioned and am now on my second adviser – I’m wearing them down slowly.

Mary has provided more ammo here, some that I shall certainly being firing in the next battle. And I agree that everyone who can appeal, should – after all, what have you got to lose, and if nothing else you’ll help stretch the system a little nearer to breaking point.

Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games – part 5

I’m indebted to A6er, who seems to have found an answer to a question left hanging in Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games – part 4.

In a letter to my Jobcentre’s manager I asked :

Independent advisers.  Should I feel it necessery, I assume there would be no objection to my having  an independent legal adviser accompany me to any Jobseekers Agreement negotiations. I would be grateful if you could confirm this.

Their reply :

Jobcentre interview are discussions between the claimant and their Personal Adviser. The interviews are usually completed unaccompanied and legal advisers would not normally be present a these negotiations. However, please note if you have  any concerns during you interviews that you can suspend the interview if you wish to seek independent legal advice and we will make another appointment to continue the review at a later date.

A bit ambiguous, you might think. They’re not actually saying you cant, they do seem to be saying “we dont want you to”.

However, A6er has located an up-to-date Freedom of Information request and reply from the DWP on the whatdotheyknow.com site.

View the full document at : https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/196795/response/486014/attach/html/3/Response%20634.pdf.html

The highlights, as they apply to this case –

DWP Central Freedom of Information Team
Annex A 
 
e-mail: [email address].  
gov.uk
 
Our Ref: 634 
 
 
634/ 
24 February  2014 
Annex A 
 
 
Dear  F. Walker, 
Thank you for your Freedom of Information request which we received on 10 February 2014. 
 
You asked:  
 
I’d like to know what the rules on taking support to jobcentre appointments, in particular signing on are. 

I suffer from anxiety and my doctor has given me a note saying I suffer from anxiety and should have someone at all jobcentre appointments. 

My advisor was unhappy with this and I would like to know if I am allowed support or not. 
 
Claimants accessing Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits and services can have someone to accompany them to act on their behalf.  
 
DWP will treat the person acting on behalf of the claimant with the same customer standards 
as the claimant. 

> That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it ? Judging by the sort of customer standards this claimant has witnessed…

The person acting on behalf of the claimant is expected to maintain the same 
behaviour standards as the claimant and treat our staff with courtesy.  
 
Claimants can have a variety of people accompany them such as Representatives, 
Appointees, Corporate acting bodies or Personal acting bodies. 
 
Guidance for staff includes the information provided below: 

Representatives.
 

A customer representative is any person or organisation acting on behalf of or making 
enquiries for the customer. The representative could be helping a customer in several ways, 
including progress chasing, helping them make a claim, seeking an explanation of entitlement 
and how it has been decided, representing them with a reconsideration or appeal, or helping 
them manage their finances. This can be at any stage of the customer’s business with DWP. 
Representatives may include: 
  advice or welfare rights organisations 
  professionals such as social workers, community nurses or doctors 


  family members or friends 
A representative is not an official appointee (Attorneys, Deputies), who should be dealt 
with as if they were themselves the customer. Please note

Yours sincerely,  
DWP Central FoI Team

There is quite a lot more than you can – and should – review at the link above, but this extract proves that yes, you can have a representive with you, and the inclusion of  advice or welfare rights organisations would seem to fit the category of independent legal adviser.

So – was I lied to by the Jobcentre, or do they just not know their own rules?

And which of those options do you think is worse ?

Jobseekers Agreement Fun & Games – Part 4

With a little time to wait before my next appointment, it was time to stir the pot a little and write a letter to the Jobcentre’s manager. Not a complaint or anything, you understand, just a request for information, a defining of terms…

Anyone can do this, or a variation of it. Part of the reason is to find out how much they know, part is to give them the impression that you know more than them and that you may be planning something.

Always request that they reply in writing, so that you have something that may be used in evidence at a future time. If you don’t, they may phone you instead. Get everything in writing !

Dear Sir / Madam,

I am currently negotiating a new Jobseekers Agreement at your Jobcentre, having recently finished Work Programme.

There are one or two points I don’t quite understand, so I would be grateful if you could supply answers – in writing – to the following questions at your earliest convenience.

1 – The status of the Jobseekers Agreement. It seems to me that the Jobseekers Agreement is a legal contract, and as such will be bound by the conditions of English common law pertaining to such contracts.

Could you confirm this, or, should you believe this not  to be the case, supply details of the legislation which removes a Jobseekers Agreement from the constraints of contract common law.

2 – Role of Jobcentre advisers. I would suggest that the role of an adviser is to advise, the title seems self-evident.

Bearing this in mind, if, hypothetically, during the negotiation of a new Jobseekers Agreement, I was to consider  the views of an adviser but then to reject them and decide on a different course of action, his/her role would be at an end – they advised, I considered and decided otherwise.

2 (a) Would I be correct in this summise ?

2 (b) If the adviser decided  not to accept my decision and then to actually try to  reverse it against my will, what would be an acceptable course of action for me to take ?

3 – Independent advisers.  Should I feel it necessery, I assume there would be no objection to my having  an independent legal adviser accompany me to any Jobseekers Agreement negotiations. I would be grateful if you could confirm this.

This third one was actually added as an afterthought, but it’s not a bad idea to put it in as a bit of misdirection – and anyway, it’s a valid question.

So the above was handed in to the reception at my local Jobcentre, around midday. Now get this – I got a reply THE VERY NEXT DAY !

Anyone who has ever tried to get information out of the DWP will  suspect me of stretching credibility here,  but true it is. Usually it takes weeks, often you have to resubmit your request, sometimes several times.

Not that the reply was particularly enlightening –

Thank you for your letter of [date] regarding your Jobseekers Agreement and the role of Jobcentre Adviser.

I am unable to provide you with a full response at present as I need to make further enquiries.

Well that doesn’t tell us much… or does it ?  It does actually seem to imply that the Jobcentre manager knows neither the legal status of a contract his workers try to enforce or, even more worrying, the role of the advisers he employs.

That was the end of the rapid response episode. It took about 3 weeks for a proper reply to arrive  (all punctuation, spelling, etc, as received) –

To respond to your concerns;

Firstly, the Jobseekers Agreement (JSAG) is a document to be agreed between the claimant and their personal adviser. It is purely a tool to set out the claimant’s availability for work and the jobsearch activities they intend to take that is hoped to offer the best prospects of securing employment.

Secondly you are quite right the role of the adviser is to offer advice and support to claimants but it is also their remit to ensure that the JSAG is realistic taking into account both the claimants skills, experience, capabilities etc as well as using their knowledge of the local labour market.

If however an agreement cannot be made about your JSAG your case would be refered to an independent decision maker for consideration. This could result in loss of Jobseekers Allowance at some stage.. If however, you are not satisfied with any decision made regarding your claim to Jobseekers Allowance you can ask for it to be explained or reconsidered or you can appeal to an independent appeal tribunal.

Lastly, Jobcentre interview are discussions between the claimant and their Personal Adviser. The interviews are usually completed unaccompanied and legal advisers would not normally be present a these negotiations. However, please note if you have  any concerns during you interviews that you can suspend the interview if you wish to seek independent legal advice and we will make another appointment to continue the review at a later date.

I hope this reply is helpful and that it adresses the issues you have raised. Should you wish to take the matter further please raise your additional concerns in writing which we will forward on your behalf to our District Complaints Resolutions Manager.

Yours sincerely,

(squiggle)

p.p.  Another Name.

What do we gather from this ?  Well firstly, and worryingly, the squiggle who signed the letter appears to be my adviser !  Also, the Another Name p.p.’d  is NOT the  Jobcentre manager, but some other unknown person. Did the Jobcentre manager ever see this reply ?

Otherwise…

– the Jobseekers Agreement (JSAG) is a document to be agreed between the claimant and their personal adviser. 

Well, yes, I knew that, but that wasn’t what I asked.

– It is purely a tool to set out the claimant’s availability for work and the jobsearch activities they intend to take that is hoped to offer the best prospects of securing employment. 

That wasn’t what I asked either.

–  Secondly you are quite right the role of the adviser is to offer advice and support to claimants but it is also their remit to ensure that the JSAG is realistic taking into account both the claimants skills, experience, capabilities etc as well as using their knowledge of the local labour market.

Well, that’s my point – the adviser is trying to make me include on the Jobseekers Agreement jobs which I have never done, do not have the skills or experience for – my point is that that is NOT “realistic taking into account both the claimants skills, experience, capabilities etc”.

It is, however, a set-up for a sanction.

– If however an agreement cannot be made about your JSAG your case would be refered to an independent decision maker for consideration. This could result in loss of Jobseekers Allowance at some stage.

Ah, the stick.  Complain and we will make life difficult.  I might add that the “independent decision maker “ is NOT independent, it’s the DWP’s decision maker.

– If however, you are not satisfied with any decision made regarding your claim to Jobseekers Allowance you can ask for it to be explained or reconsidered or you can appeal to an independent appeal tribunal.

Why are we suddenly talking about Jobseekers ALLOWANCE ? We’re supposed to be discussing the Jobseekers AGREEMENT.

– Jobcentre interview are discussions between the claimant and their Personal Adviser. The interviews are usually completed unaccompanied and legal advisers would not normally be present a these negotiations

Just because that’s what usually happens, is there anything to stop a person being accompanied if they so desire ?

–  if you have  any concerns during you interviews that you can suspend the interview if you wish to seek independent legal advice and we will make another appointment to continue the review at a later date.

Can you ? That’s interesting. I may have to try that at some stage, just to see if it really works.

– Should you wish to take the matter further please raise your additional concerns in writing which we will forward on your behalf to our District Complaints Resolutions Manager.

After having read your complaint, probably copied it, and initiated any cover-up they feel necessery. Paranoid ? Me ?

So – no real answers to direct questions, but this exchange may prove useful at a future time insomuch as it proves  I tried to get answers to definite questions  and they failed to provide them.

To be continued…

Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games (Part 3)

Ok… round 2. I’ve now discarded the submissive attitude adopted for the initial interview and now its time to enter angry, cynical bastard mode (admittedly this seems to be pretty much my default state nowadays).

The adviser was allowed to play his hand in the first interview, and he proved himself to be one of those who would, if given the opportunity, steamroller the claiment into signing a Jobseeker’s Agreement  (JSAg) designed to set them up for sanctions, presumably with no qualms about the ensuing hardship their actions would cause.

Remember this, and remember it well – it’s YOUR life they will be disrupting, possibly destroying. They will continue on their merry way, drawing their rather good wage and probably basking in the praise they get for hitting their sanction targets at your expense.

So what are YOU going to do about it ? Because its  only YOU who can do anything about it.

Luckily its not so hard as you might think – or might be encouraged to think. Of course it helps if you’re a naturally stroppy person. Actually, I’m not, and once upon a time I’d have probably have allowed them to steamroller me too,  but the passage of the long, hard  years, etc – basically I’ve learnt how to play the part, studied how they play their parts, learnt the facts that they should know but so often seem ignorant of – pretty inexcusable when that knowledge should be central to the proper execution of their jobs, but there you go. It’s something you can use.

Knowledge is power, and can give you a little leverage – it’s up to YOU how you use it to best effect.

Archimedes said “Give me a firm place to stand, and I will move the Earth.”  That’s a little ambitious perhaps –  I’d settle for helping a few more cracks appear in the edifice – it may not be as dramatic as burning down the Jobcentre, but chipping away here and there has its effect.

Not much of one if it’s just me, but what if YOU join in, and YOU and YOU ?  And all the other YOUs who accept having deadly JSAgs foisted on them without argument, then whinge about it afterwards ?

If everyone refused to sign sub-standard JSAgs at the initial appointment and took the adviser to a second session, that would instantly impose extra strain on the system – and probably on the advisers too. More cracks for you to insert your metaphorical crowbar into.

But its down to YOU to act in your own best interests. All I can do is record how I’ve gone about things – hopefully it may inspire YOU and give YOU a few ideas.

Anyhow, enough about YOU,  how was I getting on back at the Jobcentre ?

Mr Submissive safely back in his box, Mr Bastard takes to the stage. As the adviser’s only previous experience of me is as the former, this apparant change of personality may throw him a bit.

Incidentally, I find it useful to take a few props along. Print out anything you think you might be able to quote at them, put them in a file, then add enough extra sheets (blank if you like) to give it a bit of weight so that it gives a satisfying thump when you dump it on their desk. If they query it, say  “Just a few notes…I’ve been looking into the legal implications”  or something on those lines. Leave it  vague – let their imaginations fill in the blanks, however erroneously.

A reporter’s notepad is also useful. Put it on  their desk to make sure they see it, but transfer it to your lap, out of their sight, to make notes. Actually, you dont even have to make notes – just appear to be doing so. doodle, scribble, whatever, it’s the fact that you appear to be making notes that is important. Once again, encourage their imagination to jump to conclusions. Oh, and dont forget a pen – you kind of lose points if you have to ask to borrow one of theirs.

The notepad can also be used to disrupt their flow, should you wish to. Just say “Sorry… could you repeat that ? I ought to make a note of that,”  and then scribble something on your pad for a while.

Mr Bastard also attempts to take control.  Mr Bastard is right in from the word go. He points out that the JSAg is a contract and that under English common law there are certain niceties that must be observed if it is to be  considered valid, does Mr Adviser not agree ? Mr Adviser has obviously never given a moments thought to the subject, is caught on the back foot, and resorts to umming and ahhing.

“Well it is, and it does,” Mr Bastard informs him, and moves on to the next issue.

You might recall from Part 2 that this adviser changed one of my specified employment fields on the JSAg to “assembly”, despite me pointing out that not only did I  have no experience in that field, I wasn’t even clear what “assembly” actually entails.

Mr Bastard  points out again that he knows nothing of this field,  and demands it is changed…but not back to the original job, instead he is willing to allow “Retail” to be inserted instead.

In actual fact, Mr. Bastard’s experience of retail is pretty much limited to working stalls at  markets and festivals – still, that’s 100%  more experience   than he has of  assembly. Mr. Bastard also knows that far too many retail jobs are part-time and zero hours, but he wont have to apply for those, as he specifies needing full-time work.

However, the important thing is that Mr. Bastard  is seen as willing to compromise and allow the Mr. Adviser to change one of his designated jobs (albeit one that he did not himself designate to start with). Mr. Bastard makes sure Mr  Adviser knows that he’s  making compromises, that he’s willing to do business. All bullshit really, but this perceived willingness to negotiate will look good should you need to take your case to independent appeal.

Still pushing the illusion of being Mr Compromise, Mr Bastard also states that he’s going to allow the total of  6 compulsory job applications per week to stand – a 100% increase on the existing JSAg. Mr. Adviser upped it from 3 to 6 at the initial appointment.

Six applications a week may not seem much, but taken in the context of the North East’s job opportunities… some weeks it’ll probably mean applying for 5 jobs I know I’m not going to get. The one bright spot is that email means I dont have to waste money on stamps and stationary anymore.

Mr Adviser did attempt to rally behind his assembly fixation – what the hell is is with him and assembly work ? If its so great, why isn’t he doing it ?  And, being Mr Bastard, I asked him that very question. He didn’t answer, but stated that assembly was where all the work is  locally.

Aha !  said Mr Bastard, who had spent a profitable and instructive 15 minutes prior to the interview printing off jobs from the Jobcentre’s jobpoints.

“Funny you should say that,” says Mr Bastard, “I’ve just been working my way through the top 100 local jobs, and guess how many assembly jobs I  found ?” 

Mr Adviser is not up to guessing games, but Mr Bastard tells him anyway – “Two !”  He dumps the job slips in front of Mr Adviser and goes on to point out that both require previous experience and arcane qualifications, neither of which Mr Bastard – as he has repeatedly pointed out – possesses.

Mr Adviser shrugs. But there’s more – Mr Bastard dips into his other pocket and extracts a far larger wad of job slips.  “By way of comparison, in the top 100 jobs on your job points I found no less than nineteen vacancies for self-employed leaflet distributors.”

And that’s the way of it folks – 2% assembly jobs, 19% leaflet distributors. In fact its probably worse than that – had I counted several other door-to-door, catalogue selling, commision based non-jobs in with the leaflet non-jobs, they’d have accounted for at least 25% of  work available on the Jobcentre’s (and thus the government’s) own job points.

Its the unpalatable fact that they wont acknowledge – last August the Financial Times highlighted a survey of vacancies by  Adzuna.co.uk,  described as   “a search engine that collects every online job vacancy.”

According to this survey, London and the southeast accounted for 46 per cent of UK vacancies… compared with just 3.3 per cent in the North East.

Anyone having to live on benefits in the North East knows this. Anyone looking for full-time work knows it’s even worse than that – once you’ve weeded out the part-time jobs, the zero hour contracts, and the 25% of “self-employed” scam non-jobs – what’s left ?

Very little.

We know it , they must know it too, but refuse to acknowledge it, and insist we continue to chase vacancies in which we have neither the specified experience or qualifications, which we know before we even send the application  that we wont be considered for.

If you wanted to design a system that seems  guaranteed to destroy self-confidence and morale, look no further.

Mr Bastard makes these points, but Mr Adviser is obviously not interested. After all, he has his job, his little bit of power over the plebs, and is fulfilling the the trust invested in him by Iain Duncan Smith admirably.

The session petered out around now, with Mr Adviser saying that he will have to book a double-session for next time, as Mr Bastard has to agree to the revised JSAg or it will be refered to a decision maker.

WE have to mutually agree on a contract, subject to English common law” Mr Bastard reminds him, and exits, feeling he’s  probably come out on top – and still hasn’t signed the JSAg.

To be continued …

Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games (Part 2)

So there I am with an invitation to attend an interview with a Jobcentre personal adviser as part  Post Work Programme Support (PWPS).

“Now you have completed your time on the Work Programme”  I am informed, “your personal adviser will assess the support you will need, based on your needs and skills, to help you find work and stay in suitable work.”

Readers may wonder what the hell the point of the previous two years of Work Programme (WP) had been, if not  to “assess the support you will need, based on your needs and skills, to help you find work and stay in suitable work.”  Apart, obviously,  from making money for a bunch of private companies (Ingeus in my case) who couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery.

Anyhow, off I trot to the Jobcentre. I always think it’s a good idea to play it cool on these initial interviews,  let them take the lead. There are good reasons for keeping your powder dry during these early encounters. For one thing, you might be lucky enough to have drawn a decent human being as your adviser – it can happen.

My previous Jobseeker’s Agreement (JSAg) had been drawn up prior to my starting WP by one such decent adviser, who listened to my points, agreed they were fair enough and we quickly put together a JSAg we could both live with. Everyone was happy, no conflict or stress.

Thinking about it, I realised that I hadn’t seen him around the jobcentre for some considerable time, so perhaps he was sacked for not sanctioning enough people, or perhaps quit in disgust at the way things were going. He was a gentleman, and there are all too few of them in the DWP.

So, as I say – hold back at first, see which way the cookie crumbles. If your adviser is a wrong ‘un, they’ll think you’re another subservient sanction-fodder and will start to take liberties. Give them enough rope now and later you’ll be able to, if not exactly lynch them, at least give them some severe rope-burns to remember you by.

So I sat and watched him instantly tear into my existing JSAg, took notes and laid my plans accordingly.

He didn’t like anything about it, starting with the three “types of job I am looking for”. Now this bit always annoys me – we’re constantly being told that we must be flexible, willing to consider all types of jobs, etc… then they demand that you limit yourself to three ! Where’s the logic ?  I always point this out to the adviser, then put three jobs I have done and feel confident that,  if I should get an interview for one tomorrow,  I could go along, walk the walk, talk the talk and generally appear to actually know something about the job.

Not good enough for this guy, though. He immediately erased one of my choices and replaced it with ‘Assembly’.  I pointed out (meekly, still playing that role) that I had no prior experience of assembly work and indeed wasn’t even quite sure what it entails. Not important, apparently. He wanted Assembly on there, and that was that.

At this point it might be useful to refer back to an article in the Guardian a couple of years ago in which a DWP whistleblower lifted the lid on some of the tricks advisers use to sanction people. In particular –

He said staff had different ways to ensure they could stop benefits for a set amount of people. “So, for example, if you want someone to diversify – they’re an electrician or a plumber, they may not want to go into call centres or something. What you do is keep promoting such and such a job, and you pressure them into taking it off you, the piece of paper. Then in two weeks you look at the system, you ask them if they applied for it … they say no – you stop their money for six months.

I think that was what this adviser was up to.   (Read whole Guardian article here – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/apr/01/jobcentres-tricking-people-benefit-sanctions  )

Of course, the joke is that my CV is probably one of the most diverse you’ll find anywhere. Starting with A for Archaeology and working through the alphabet to W for Warehouse (my dream job would be in a zoo, so I could really claim an A-Z of job titles) – although it should be pointed out that at no time did this adviser enquire about previous experience or ask to see my CV. I might well be able to work in assembly (whatever it is) for all I know, and I’m not ruling it out you understand – but replacing a job I have a track record record in with one I know nothing about, well it just doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it ?

Except, of course, as an instrument of sanction.

And so it continued – he went his merry way, changing just about everything, ticking boxes, all with no discussion with me. I sat back and watched him have his fun.

Then it was my turn. He printed off two copies of the revised JSAg signed them, then  gave them to me to sign. I took a minute or two to read through it, then said:

“No, sorry, I can’t sign these.”

Wonderful ! You’d have thought I’d just punched him in the face (something I had admittedly been thinking about while watching him deconstruct my JSAg). I think these bullying individuals have become so used to pushing through these dodgy JSAgs that it comes as something as a shock when somebody tells them “no”. Playing the meek role encourages them to over-reach themselves, as they feel there’s nothing to stop them.

The interview time was just about up by now and his next victim was waiting, and so, after a bit of huffing and  puffing he said we’d have to continue this at our next meeting.

 “Fine,” I said, “Look forward to it”.   He looked less than enthralled at the prospect.

As I was walking away I remembered something, so turned back.

“I assume that my original JSAg is still in force ?”

He didn’t seem sure, but then decided “No, as you haven’t signed the new one, you have no JSAg at the moment.”

Hah ! Caught you in a lie !

In fact, until such a time as a new JSAg is signed by both parties, the old one remains in operation. It’s worth remembering that, and asking them the same question. If they tell you no, then that’s something to note down for use in a future appeal.

To be continued…

Jobseekers Agreement Fun & Games (Part 1)

Ah yes… the Jobseeker’s Agreement (JSAg). What exactly is it ?

The JSAg form itself informs  us that : “This agreement sets out my availability for work and the things I will do each week to actively seek work”, which all sounds reasonable enough, and indeed would be if that was all it was.

Unfortunately, since the Jobcentre’s role has shifted from “helping you to find work” to “stopping your benefits by any means”, it has become another instrument of sanction, with advisers pushing claiments into signing JSAgs which effectively set them up for sanctions.

YOU SHOULD BE VERY  CAREFUL WHEN SIGNING A JSAg.

If you dont agree with what they present you with, don’t sign it. Your Jobcentre adviser may give you the impression (or even tell you outright) that you must sign it or face a sanction. This is not true. With a little determination you can negotiate something you feel you can live with.

Have you considered what the JSAg is on a legal level ? I was wondering about that and have been trying to work out exactly it’s standing is, and how that might affect us, the potential sanctionees.

I must say outright that I have no legal background, and everything herein is just how things appear to be to me, having researched the subject to the best of my ability – if you have experience that counteracts anything here please add it to the commments. However, I am in the process of testing the theory right now in my own JSAg negotiations (I’ve stretched them out to 3 sessions so far !) so I am at least putting my money where my mouth is.

That said, it seems to me that the JSAg is a contract, a legal document, and therefore subject to English common law. This is important, because it gives you certain protections. Your adviser is not above the law (although they may seem to think they are) but they probably have little or no understanding of what they are actually doing legally. This gives you at least a little leverage.

In order for a contract to be formed, the parties must reach mutual assent  – that means you have to agree to it. If you dont, refuse to sign and attempt to negotiate the points you dont like.

Basically, it seems to boil down to this –

A party must have capacity to contract –
The purpose of the contract must be lawful
The form of the contract must be legal
The parties must intend to create a legal relationship
The parties must consent

I think we have to assume that you (and your adviser) are mentally competent, and that the form of the contract is legal. The purpose of the JSAg and whether both parties intend it to be legal are grey areas.

The last one is the most important here – the parties (plural) must consent. So if you dont, for whatever reason, do not sign.

There are what are described as a  “ variety of affirmative defenses that a party may assert to avoid his obligation”. These are –

Mistake
Incapacity, including mental incompetence and infancy/minority
Duress
Undue influence
Unconscionability
Misrepresentation or fraud
Frustration of purpose

Duress, Undue Influence and Misrepresentation  seem the most likely reasons for refusing to sign a JSAg in my experience. Indeed, the adviser I’m currently negotiating mine with has attempted all three !

Some people will suggest that you write “signed under duress” on any JSAg you sign but dont agree with. Better by far NOT TO SIGN AT ALL, but I realise people react differently and you may not feel able to stand up to a bullying adviser. Hopefully this may help give you some confidence, knowledge is power.

Remember – it’s down to you. No-one else can do this for you.

Duress in the context of contract law is a common law defense, and if one is successful in proving that the contract is vitiated by duress, the contract may be rescinded, since it is then voidable.

Helpfully duress can be divided into  Physical duress and  Economic duress. Assuming your adviser hasn’t actually threatened you with a thumping if you dont sign,  economic duress is most likely to be your friend –

A contract is voidable if the innocent party can prove that it had no other practical choice (as opposed to legal choice) but to agree to the contract.

The elements of economic duress

Wrongful or improper threat: No precise definition of what is wrongful or improper. Examples include: morally wrong, criminal, or tortious conduct; one that is a threat to breach a contract “in bad faith” or threaten to withhold an admitted debt “in bad faith”.

   No reasonable alternative (but to accept the other party’s terms). If there is an available legal remedy, an available market substitute (in the form of funds, goods, or services), or any other sources of funds this element is not met.

They might argue that an alternative income is available by getting work. However,  you might counter that you  wouldn’t be claiming if you could find any, and would be left without an income without benefits. If the adviser infered your benefits would be stopped if you didn’t sign, then I’d say that was exconomic duress. But of course I’m not a lawyer.

The threat actually induces the making of the contract. This is a subjective standard, and takes into account the victim’s age, their background (especially their education), relationship of the parties, and the ability to receive advice.

This might be a viable reason for some, and advisers are known to target the more vulnerable.

The other party caused the financial distress. The majority opinion is that the other party must have caused the distress, while the minority opinion allows them to merely take advantage of the distress.

Misrepresentation has some potential too –

Misrepresentation is a concept in contract law referring to a false statement of fact made by one party to another party, which has the effect of inducing that party into the contract.

So if they say you must sign there and then – that’s misrepresentation.

Generally, statements of opinion or intention are not statements of fact in the context of misrepresentation. If one party claims specialist knowledge on the topic discussed, then it is more likely for the courts to hold a statement of opinion by that party as a statement of fact.

An adviser, I would think, certainly claims  specialist knowledge – its inherent in the term adviser.

Well, there’s some points there for you to consider. I repeat that  I have no legal training, but I think the above is correct  so far as it goes. At least it gives you a slight advantage (as your adviser probably knows none of this) and a slight leverage. It would hopefully give you an advantage if you go as far as an independent appeal (as I intend to do if necessery).

Remember – the aim is not to take the DWP to court – it’s to negotiate a JSAg that you can live with and one that’s not going to set you up for a sanction.

I’ll be publishing my on-going  JSAg negotiation  experiences  over the next week or so, check back to see how the theory fares in reality.