On Monday 9 March, people going into jobcentres were told that IT systems were down and that the problem was nationwide.
Here’s a picture I took of a sign about it posted outside Kilburn jobcentre that day:
The sign said:
“9 March 2015 Customer Notice
IT systems are down
This is a national problem ie contact centre, JCP, Belfast have no access
We do not know when it will be resolved.
All appointments today must be attended.”
I’ve wondered since then if anyone claiming JSA or ESA had had any trouble – particularly with any information taken down by hand that day not being recorded properly (or at all) when the systems were back up. I could see plenty of potential for sanctions threats here – certainly if changed appointments weren’t recorded and so on. I’ve talked to no end of people in the last year who were sanctioned because of confusion about appointment times and dates.
And wouldn’t you know it… I was talking today to a man who felt that his week got very close to ending in a sanctions disaster because the computers weren’t working last Monday. He’s 56, not in good health and in the Work Related Activity group for Employment and Support Allowance. Last Monday – the day that the systems were down – I sat with this man and a woman from the local unemployed workers’ group who helps him with his ESA paperwork. He had a letter calling him to a work-related interview at one of the northwest London jobcentres last week. The session was mandatory. People in the work related activity must attend work-related interviews, or face sanctions.
Anyway – he couldn’t make that interview, because he had an appointment with a specialist on the same day, so the woman we were with called the phone number on the letter and told the adviser who answered that the appointment would need to be changed. I sat there and listened as this conversation took place. The adviser told the woman that the systems were down, but that she’d make a note to cancel the appointment and arrange for a new appointment to be set.
Needless to say, those details never made it into the system. The appointment wasn’t cancelled and predictably, things started to hit the fan. This guy got a message from the jobcentre on the day of the cancelled appointment telling him to call the jobcentre quick. He told me that when he called the jobcentre, he got a right bollocking about missing the appointment – ie where were you, why didn’t you attend, don’t you know that these appointments are compulsory and all the rest of it. He was very worried indeed about getting sanctioned, not least because of the tone of the call. People are certainly sanctioned for missing mandatory ESA meetings.
In the end, things were only sorted out because the unemployed workers’ group rep put in some calls and made it very clear that the appointment had been formally cancelled. There was no sanction and another date for the work-related interview was set. We attended that meeting this week. This story has made me wonder, though. How many other appointments changes made last Monday were written down on a piece of paper that subsequently went missing, was ignored, or fell off a desk, etc? I wonder what recourse people have if they think that happened to them and if the DWP has said anything about it. Doubtless this is the kind of shambles we can expect regularly once Universal Credit is up and – err, “operational”. If that ever happens.