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Monday, 18 March 2013

Freedom of Information and the Job Centre

If you've had the misfortune to become unemployed or sick, you've probably experienced “Jobcentre Plus” – the UK government's benefits and job-finding “shop”. They also do employee finding for employers too.

Your experience with this arm of government is probably mixed. Some of the staff are hardworking, knowledgeable, reasonable, helpful, sensitive and even kind. Unfortunately, quite a few are lazy ignorant bullies. I know this from being a “customer” a few times over the years and because my in my working/volunteering life I sometimes hear stories from other customers – mainly bad ones.

If you encounter one of the less pleasant staff, it's very bad news. They have the power to reduce your income to zero if you don't do what they tell you to do. Since last October, this could mean destitution for up to 3 years. You might think that such “sanctions” as they call them are reserved for “lazy benefit scroungers” but you'd be wrong.

 Say your “Personal Adviser” wants to get a load of unemployed people to attend yet another workshop to have their CV tweaked for the Nth time. There is no need to mess around explaining how helpful this is going to be or anything namby-pamby.  They just issue a load of “Job Seekers Directions” telling customers to attend on pain of destitution. There you are, sorted!

Except they can't. They don't tell you but they can't. Their website doesn't help either - nor Google. You need to look at the internal guidance for Job Seekers Directions.

How do you do that? Well, you follow the lead of one D Batters who made Freedom of Information request to the Department for Work and Pensions (via the WhatDoTheyKnow site) asking for the guidance and as you'll see if you follow this link, they answered. It tells us that Advisers must (amongst other things):

  • have a full understanding of the claimant's circumstances;
  • be aware of what action the claimant has already undertaken;
  • know why the claimant does not want to do the particular activity;
and the action must be:
  • linked to an action to improve the claimant's chances of finding work;
  • personalised and appropriate for that individual claimant;
So, there's no way an Adviser should greet a customer with a pre-prepared Job Seeker's Direction. There really should be a discussion and they need to establish that the activity is appropriate to you and your individual situation. If you don't want to take up their suggestion, they have to find out why. So, if you're being really silly, and declining something useful, you deserve and should get a JSD to help you stop being a burden on our taxes.

Trouble is, some Advisers either don't know or don't care about all this and are rather more generous with their JSDs. Without WhatDoTheyKnow, no one else would be any the wiser. There's loads of other useful answers to questions about government there. The only things missing are the answers to questions people haven't yet asked.

Sadly, the only way I can avoid being a customer of the  Department for Work and Pensions again is to die early. Perhaps they'll order me to do just that!

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