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
e-mail: [email address].
Our Ref: 634
24 February 2014
Dear F. Walker,
Thank you for your Freedom of Information request which we received on 10 February 2014.
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:
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
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 ?
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…