Tagged: independent legal adviser

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…