Tag Archives: Job Centre

Things every jobseeker should know (and JobCentres don’t want you to) – Part 2: travel costs

(This the second part of my series of tips for jobseekers. You can read Part 1 on how to avoid 0845 numbers here.)

Sadly, my  jobseeker’s allowance application was turned down.

This came as a shock, as, when I started working again last April, I was told by the JobCentre that if I took a temporary job, which was the case, I would be able to sign back on very quickly once I had finished it.

What I didn’t realise was that “signing back on” did not mean being paid jobseeker’s allowance (JSA). Bizarrely, one can be registered as a jobseeker without receiving any jobseeker’s allowances.

Two years’ work or no dole

The grounds for refusal were that I had not paid enough National Insurance contributions in tax years 08/09 and 09/10 – the two years when I was studying/not working. It took me three phone calls, all of them to an 0845 number, until a helpful adviser finally explained to me that having worked and paid taxes in 2010 did not make me eligible for claiming JSA this year, nor will I be eligible again, until I have worked for two consecutive tax years.

This is not something even JobCentre employees may not be fully aware of. If you have not worked (and paid NI contributions) for TWO CONSECUTIVE YEARS prior to the tax year in which you applied for JSA, you are not eligible to the dole. Even if you are middle-aged and have worked your entire life, only those two years prior to your unemployment are what counts. Fair? Unfair? Let’s not even go there…

Are there any other benefits I can claim?

Yes. Housing benefit and council tax benefit (call your local council re these), working tax credits, etc, which are means tested: you will have to declare the amount of savings you have, and your partner’s, if you have one. If your partner works, you must declare his/her income as well. Beware that, as a general rule, only households with an income or savings of less than £16,000 are likely to be eligible. It is worth making enquiries anyway.

Are there any advantages in staying signed on if my claim has been turned down?

a. As long as you continue attending the Job Centre on your sign-on days, every fortnight, you can receive NI contribution credits. This means you can continue to build up your state pension entitlement. Read up on it on this page on DirectGov.com.

b. Here’s a valuable tip your JobCentre may not have told you about. JobCentres nationwide have been affected by government cuts, and money is being trimmed wherever possible, so unless you ask about it, they may not offer it to you. DO ASK.

Even if you are not eligible to JSA, or even if your JSA has ran out (you can only claim for so many weeks), as long as you’re “signed on”, you can ask your local JobCentre to help cover costs of your “travel to interview”.

JobCentres can cover your travel costs to job interviews IF they occur outside your area. If you are not sure if where you are going is within that area or not, ask your JobCentre.

What do I need to claim travel expenses to interviews?

You must be able to provide proof that it is a genuine interview at a genuine company. If the interview was arranged by phone, ask the company or recruitment agency to send details to you in writing – a letter or email including contact telephone, contact person’s name and address should do. The JobCentre often calls your interviewer or agent to verify you did attend the interview.

As a rule JobCentres can only give you vouchers in advance, not in arrears, so make sure you call them as soon as you the interview day and time are set, even the day before. They will give you  an appointment for you to come (with your evidence) and collect a RAIL VOUCHER, which you can give to the train conductor and exchange for a suitable train ticket. No cash is handed to the jobseeker, obviously to prevent fraud.

If you need to drive to the interview, you must prove that is the cheapest (or only) way to get there. Should you need travel so far that you would require an overnight stay, the JobCentre may also be able to contribute towards your accommodation costs (don’t expect a five-star hotel of course).

If you’re going anywhere that takes more than, say, 40min to get to, it is worth checking with the JobCentre about any financial help you may be entitled to. But ask nicely.

The ‘travel to interview’ vouchers are about the only motivation I now have for staying signed on, while enduring the morally degrading experience that JobCentres can be. With return train tickets to London from where I live costing almost £20 (at off-peak times), and with no dole money to rely on, this perk is a life saver.

For those on the breadline, struggling to feed themselves or their family, JobCentres are also expected to start giving away food vouchers from April. More on this BBC article.

You’ve heard it here first.

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Things every jobseeker should know (and JobCentres don’t want you to) – Part 1: dodging 0845 numbers

I have not updated this blog for a while now. That is because I had been working. After nine months doing a maternity-cover job, I am back on the dole and have more stories to share.

Except I am not. On the dole.  But more on that in my next post.

This being my second round as an official, government-stamped jobseeker, I felt like a hardened “veteran”, ready to take the old bull by its horns, or in Job Centre-speak, face the dreary sign-on days with a (forced) optimistic smile, a (pretend) calm demeanour and my jobseekers’ “book” filled out every fortnight with “the six main things I have done to find work”.

I was surprised by a few  new discoveries, which in turn infuriated and saddened me. If you are unemployed, and about to claim JSA (jobseeker’s allowance), you might like to be aware of them too.

Most Job Centres now seem to offer you only 0845 telephone numbers to make your initial inquiry about signing on. These are numbers that are supposedly charged at the same rate as a local call from a BT landline but can cost a small fortune if you rely on mobile phones. Remember: it takes 30 minutes or more to apply for JSA on the phone.

What can you do:

1. Go to SAYNOTO0870.COM, and search for a cheaper standard telephone number, or even a free one. Not all JobCentres are listed on that site though, so if you can’t find your local one, try option 3 below.

2. Borrow the phones from your local Job Centre Plus: if you have the stamina and patience, that is. My local Job Centre is only two minutes away but they also only have a couple of phones and are usually occupied by people who have had the same idea. Note that at a Job Centre you will have no privacy either.

3. If you have Internet access at home, don’t bother with the phone: apply for your JSA online – you can do this now on the Directgov site. It can take you up to 30 minutes, as there are quite a few forms to fill in (you can save and return to it later if you can’t finish in one go), but , believe me, it will save you a fair amount of stress.

On the phone, chances are you will be kept on a queue for a long time, or the Job Centre’s computer system will crash half way through the 30-minute telephone registration (this happened to me) and they will ask you to call again later.

4. Free numbers ARE available for the JobCentre, surprise, surprise. It is only when you have clicked on this button

 

on Directgov.uk site that the free 0800 numbers are finally revealed on the next page:



 

 

5. Free numbers are also revealed if you ring the 0845 number: yes, that’s right. You will find that when you call their 0845 number, you are referred to the same free number above.

So why not make these 0800 numbers available and searchable from the start?

Job Centres are deliberately burying their freephones away to avoid being inundated with “irrelevant” calls. The 0845 numbers are supposed to work like a firewall, discouraging time wasters to ring in – that is the explanation I received on the phone from the Brighton and Hove Job Centre, which still offered a local enquiries number.

When paycheques have stopped, savings are low and every penny counts, it can feel like the last straw.

Am I really a time waster? Ironically, it feels as if the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) is wasting my time and (hard-earned) cash to make it as hard as possible for me to claim a basic taxpayer’s right.

I came across this fellow Jobseekers’ Rant blog today, which made me nod in agreement. It is true: buying newspapers to look for job adverts, taking public transport to go to interviews, buying paper and ink cartridges to print out your CVs, all costs money.

For a jobseeker on a £60-plus allowance a week, a £20 spend a week on buses and trains means a third of the allowance gone.  I catch myself becoming a hermit, going out less and less, as once I step out of the house, money starts rolling out of my purse. Money I can’t afford to waste.

By phone or online, once the application form is submitted, an adviser should call you within two working days to set up a first appointment for you at your local Job Centre Plus.

Then the fun begins…

If you have never claimed JSA before, you may benefit from browsing through this Jobseeker’s Allowance Survival Guide, which gives you a brutally honest picture of what to expect and what rules you will be expected to play by.

More tips in my next post here, but if you have any to add, please feel free to share them in the comments’ section.

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