“I didn’t want my first #JSA meeting to be in a group session with a G4S guard.”

I’d be keen to hear back from anyone who has experience of this:

I spent a couple of hours today talking with someone who is a new JSA claimant in North London. This man started his JSA claim a couple of weeks ago. It’s the first claim he’s made. He filled in an application form online and then was sent a text by the DWP some days later which called him to a meeting at a London jobcentre in the first week of August.

He assumed that the meeting would be one-to-one with a jobcentre advisor – a meeting where an advisor goes through the application in detail with the claimant and jobsearch requirements are set – but instead found that the meeting was a group session with about ten other new claimants and one G4S security guard who sat in the room the whole time. This man was shocked to find that this first meeting wasn’t private. He found the experience confusing and worrying, and wasn’t sure what he agreed to in it.

He said that he was certainly concerned about asking questions and sharing personal details and financial information in front of a group of strangers. He wasn’t the only one. He said that “a couple of the people there looked very nervous and anxious at the prospect of a group meeting,” and that people were worried about confidentiality.

He also said that the two jobcentre staff who ran the meeting “said that the new claimant meetings were now ‘unfortunately’ group meetings rather than individual meetings.” He has another meeting coming up soon and thinks the new meeting is a one-to-one, so he wasn’t sure if the group session was a direct replacement for a new claimant one-to-one. He was hoping that his claim would be finalised at the upcoming meeting. He was concerned about papers that he signed at the group session though. He was worried that he may have agreed to a claimant commitment without properly talking about it, or having time to think things through. He wasn’t sure if that had happened and hoped to find out at the upcoming one-to-one. He didn’t want to make a fuss and not sign papers at the group session. He also didn’t want to ask many questions or reveal his financial situation in a room full of strangers.

I’ve put a transcript of our discussion below. I’ve found some evidence of these new claimant group meetings online and a woman I know told me today that she’d accompanied someone to another London jobcentre where new claimant group meetings were held. The woman she was with was excused from that group meeting, because she didn’t speak English well. She was given a one-to-one session with an advisor instead that day.

The man I spoke to today said:

“Beyond the complete lack of confidentiality and privacy in a group meeting, it proved highly impractical and inefficient to address questions of ten different claimants. New claimants obviously have very different and unique cases. I can’t imagine how anyone would want to talk about sensitive or difficult issues in that environment.”

People were also told to put their identifying documents and bank statements into a box for photocopying and had their names read out for all to hear when the documents were returned.

I’ve asked the DWP for more on this and I’d be interested to hear from anyone who knows about these meetings. You can contact me here. People I’ve spoken to about this have real concerns about confidentiality and also about the appropriateness of a group environment for people who need to discuss sensitive personal information. I’m also interested to know why these meetings are held at all and why a G4S security guard gets to sit in listening to people’s personal stories.

Transcript from today

“When I went in to sign on, the guy at the jobcentre said you have to sign on online now. He said “we’ve only got one computer here, so if you’ve got a computer at home, use that.” So I went home, and filled in the online form and all the details there. Then got my text message from the DWP saying “come to this meeting to complete your application. It was a “do not reply” message.

“I had no idea what the process was [when I got to the jobcentre on the meeting date]. I told the guy I was there for my first signon. I had no idea what the process was. He had my name and it was like being in a waiting-room. There was quite a few people sat down when I got there.

“Then someone came around and said – “who is here for the group?”

“Everyone had the same sort of reaction. You could see that people were genuinely uncomfortable with that [group] situation. They thought they were coming to have a personal discussion. I thought that I was. It was an office room like a seminar class with all the chairs in a semicircle and people wondering what was going to happen.

“There was a woman who was obviously was in charge and then [someone] junior. The woman [in charge] kept saying that she was dissatisfied with the situation. Like – unfortunately, we don’t have individual meetings for claimants. We have to do group meetings. We don’t have any telephones here any more. So – she was obviously expressing that she was not happy with that situation. It doesn’t give you much confidence that things are going well in that centre. If they’re not happy, it’s not going to translate well.

“So, they said this is a new claimants’ meeting, and they came around with a printout of the [online] registrations [we’d done] so we saw that and then they gave us [a piece of paper with our next meeting date on it]. They gave us the printout and then they said they needed our documents and proof of ID. This is why it seemed like a problem to do this for a group meeting. Like – some people had been out of the country for a while and were returning. People had to prove their right to remain, so there’s all people with all sorts of different problems.

“Then, the woman comes out with a grey box [to collect documents from people in the group], so I put my driving licence and my bank statement and housing tenancy agreement into the box and then she went and left the room and photocopied all of our stuff, I suppose. I was quite careful. I put my stuff in folded up together, because one of my bank statements could have come out and someone could have taken that and gone home and gone Oh I’ve got his bank statement here.

“So – when they came out with all that stuff, they had all people’s documents like driving licences and passports. The woman handing them out wasn’t entirely sure who everyone was. She was looking at the passports and then saying the name on the passport [out loud], because she couldn’t identify the person. She did it to me. She read my name out. That was a real confidentiality issue.

“In the meantime, we had the other person explaining that we had to fill out all these forms – and then they gave us that form that says “I agree to search this many jobs” and that kind of thing. I think.

“I wasn’t sure if I should have signed it. We didn’t fill it out. I was thinking – did she actually mean for us to sign that form? If you have ten people in a room and one person makes a mistake and they fill it out when they’re not supposed to fill it out – how is she going to know if she’s got to deal with ten people at once?

“You get used to signing stuff. And you think – “we’ll, I like to think that they’re not going to screw me over here. I’m at their mercy in that situation.”

6 thoughts on ““I didn’t want my first #JSA meeting to be in a group session with a G4S guard.”

  1. Surely there are breaches of the Human Rights and Data Protection Acts going on here? I’d be very interested to have an opinion from some of the legal firms like 1 Crown Row who seem to keep an eye on these things?

  2. Pingback: “I didn’t want my first JSA meeting to be in a group session with a G4S guard. | Benefit tales

  3. Out of all the injustices currently going on in the welfare system I find this particularly shocking – as it just shows so incredibly plainly that these people don’t give a shit for anyone’s privacy, dignity, etc., or even for actually the most effective ways of helping people or even themselves in the long-run. They really are totally pathetic, vindictive and stupid.

  4. I’ve never experienced this but surely its a breach of the data protection act…its just another way to make the experience as degrading and uncomfortable as they possibly can

  5. yep thats about the size of it. no receptionists any more just security guards questioning you as you enter the building and standing over you as you deal with so called adivisors. This is your new prosperouse brittan.Its called intimidation and lets not mince our words,Fascism.

  6. hmm – the default entry to job seekers agreement seems to be to agree to search for jobs every day online and to approach employers direct once per week. I believe that it may be critical for the sake of maintenance one’s good mental health to consider this agreement and find out how often you are personally able to search online etc – too much rejection can lead to bad mental health and confidence where perhaps voluntary work can improve mental health and confidence -one has to wonder if interests of those initiating these default agreements are more concerned with our mental health and ability to find work than their own personal growth and perceived ability to perform

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