This one got sorted out in the end – but talk about having to work to get there.
The story below should give you an idea of the way that women who say they are threatened with domestic abuse can be treated. It should also give you an idea of the contempt that some advisers feel – and show – to some benefit claimants:
Not so long ago, I attended a jobcentre with a woman who had missed her JSA signon meeting that week, because she’d been at court to try and organise an order against a threatening ex-partner. She had to report to the jobcentre to explain the missed meeting and to find someone to sign her on.
The adviser we saw really did seem to want to make things as difficult as possible. Her attitude was hard to fathom, even allowing for the fact that there can be considerable dislike and mistrust between some advisers and some claimants. From the start, the jobcentre adviser presented obstacles, not solutions. Her tone was unpleasant. She may have been very stressed (she mentioned that she had to cover the whole floor that day), but still. Things should not operate this way. The tone was personal and dismissive. If someone comes in talking about court orders and injunctions, their benefit signon problems should really be addressed as a matter of priority. The jobcentre can sort out any details and paperwork it needs at a later date. That ought to be the system, no matter who an adviser is dealing with.
The woman I was with needed someone at the jobcentre to sign her on as soon as possible, because if she wasn’t signed on through the computer system and the reason for her absence not recorded, she might not receive her next benefit payment. That payment was due in just a few days.
The adviser did not want to help. She really did seem to be picking excuses for this from a random list in her mind. The adviser began by saying that she couldn’t sign the woman on for her next JSA payment, because as an adviser, she was too busy. In fact – the adviser said that everyone at the jobcentre would be too busy to sign the woman on that afternoon. “There’s no one to be able to fit you in,” the adviser said. “I’ve got all these people to see, to deal with… so I am not doing any signing today.” The adviser said that a signing-on appointment could not be made until mid-way into the following week. It seemed possible that the woman would not receive her next JSA payment because of this. Was the adviser actually saying that the jobcentre would sanction someone who’d missed a signon meeting because that person had been in court to get an order against a threatening ex?
The jobcentre’s story moved around. The line about being too busy to sign the woman on was put to one side for a time. The adviser said that the problem was evidence. The jobcentre would need to see the woman’s court papers before anyone could sign her on. The woman I was with was getting angry and upset by now. She’d only been in court a few days earlier. She wasn’t always staying at her home address. She thought her lawyer had the papers. She had texts from her lawyer which she tried to show the adviser. The adviser said that she could not accept the texts as evidence – even in the interim, while court papers were sorted out. (I called the number myself when we left, to ask the lawyer if she could send proof papers through). That’s The Procedure, the adviser said as the woman argued the toss about getting a payment the following week and bringing her evidence in later. I couldn’t understand why the adviser wouldn’t show discretion and just sign the woman on. What difference did it make to the jobcentre? I’ve attended meetings where jobcentre advisers have been very flexible on one issue or another. Like a lot of people who attend jobcentre meetings, I suspect that the rules change to suit.
Anyway. It’s the hostility I want to record here: the degrading of a system to a level where every claimant is viewed with suspicion and an adviser can point-score if she feels like it. This situation was sorted out in the end – but yeah. This woman had to work for it. I wonder how often this happens.