Tag Archives: Jobcentre

Off the dole; what next?

I squealed with delight when the P45 form finally arrived in the post from HM Revenue & Customs, confirming my long awaited news: the JobCentre had officially sacked me.

In other words, I am off the dole. Off to a part-time freelance job.

Bizarre as it may seem, while you are claiming any benefits during uenmployment, the JobCentre Plus is technically your employer, the employer of the unemployed. Once you are off their books, you are “fired”, you get your P45.

And what a pleasurable dismissal it was too.

Signing off
On my last sign-on day, my amiable personal adviser Dennis greeted me with his usual enthusiasm: “How are you this morning, Mrs Elliott?” In keeping with our fortnightly routine, he moaned a little about the pain on his frozen shoulder while typing into the computer and preparing papers for me to sign.

“Oh dear. Is your shoulder still bothering you?” I asked, as sympathetically as I could, trying not to betray my glee at the prospect of never having to attend a  sign-on appointment again.

For once, the JobCentre didn’t feel like a dreadful place. I was actually glad to be there, glad to see Dennis, glad to talk about the hundreds of jobs I had applied for and didn’t get.

It is funny how drastically one’s mental status can colour the glasses through which you see the world. The security guard had smiled when I handed in my “dole book”, my latest personal adviser was friendly and helpful, even the JobCentre manager had shown a wacky sense of humour: a short time ago I had noticed the advisers at my local JobCentre were seated in clusters of two, with a sign above each pair named Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello… That’s right – the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Whether this was meant to entertain glum jobseekers or provide comic relief to their own staff from the drudgery of their jobs, I do not know, but I appreciated their attempt at humour when there is so little for the jobless to be amused about.

Random acts of kindness
My adviser made a note of all the information he needed for closing down my jobseeker file and asked to keep the protective plastic pocket into which I used slip my “dole book” – the government had cut their supply to JobCentres.

Then he stretched his hand and wished me good luck.

“Thank you. Thank you for all your help,” I said.

“That’s what we’re here for,” he replied.

“I hope your shoulder will get better soon.”

I must have been grinning like an idiot as I exited the building. As I walked past reception, T., who had once snapped at me for arriving too early for an appointment, stopped chatting to the security guard to say goodbye. I saw both their eyes were smiling too.

Later a friend left a hilarious comment on my Facebook page: “You should have screamed ‘cowabunga!’ before somersaulting out the window like a true ninja turtle…”

I laughed, but I felt the panic rising inside. What exactly was I somersaulting into?

Expressions such as “career dreams” and “professional aspirations” have now left my lexicon…I am no longer unemployed, yet not fully employed, living in a vacuum I struggle to describe, where all that matters is food on the table, heating for the winter and a little spare cash to buy a present or two for Christmas.

Having only just left the dole queue, it feels as if I am already standing in line again at the back of another long queue. Where it will lead me I do not yet know, I’m afraid of knowing.

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One too many interviews got me in trouble with the JobCentre

Yes, really.

Yesterday I was admonished at the JobCentre for travelling to too many job interviews, then snubbed and bullied for daring to claim for another rail warrant to attend an interview next week.

Travel to Interview…no more
I have blogged before about Travel for Interview Scheme (TIS). If you need to travel to a job interview outside your local area, you may be entitled to TIS – if your local JobCentre approves your claim, they will issue you a rail warrant, which can be exchanged for a train ticket on the day of the travel.

This helpful scheme is one of only two reasons (the other one being NI credits) I decided to stay signed on at the JobCentre, as I am not entitled to a single penny in Jobseeker’s Allowance this year for not having paid NI contributions in 2008 and 2009 (I was studying in 2008, unemployed in 2009).

It is the only incentive I have to keep filling in “the six actions I have done to find work” in the JobCentre’s “dole book” and present them to the JobCentre every fortnight.

Well, the bad news is that the scheme has now closed. I only found out because as I called the JobCentre to tell them I had another interview in London (I live on the south coast) next week, instead of the usual invite for an appointment to get TIS, I was summoned in for a “meeting with a personal adviser”.

It didn’t sound good.

So I googled “Travel for Interview” in advance and found out, purely by accident, that the scheme is no longer available. That is according to the DirectGov website, but, in reality, it seems as if, despite tighter controls, each branch is still handing it out at their own discretion.

Investigated
The appointment with the personal adviser turned out to be an inquiry into why I had been to interviews five times outside my local area and still had not landed a job. Was I going for the right type of jobs? Was I preparing myself appropriately before interviews? Had I requested feedback after each job rejection? Could I not find jobs more locally?

I had indeed claimed for TIS five times in the past few months, including two for second interviews, and all of them for publishing jobs. I happen to have more than 15 years of publishing sales experience; and my last job was in publishing… To me it is the fastest and most obvious route back into the job market. But not to the JobCentre.

“Money is tight,” the personal adviser said. I was not to assume I could automatically claim TIS, was I clear, and they would not be able to issue any more warrants for jobs in publishing, as it seemed I was not getting anywhere in that field. Instead, I should go for more general jobs, such as PA, which I could find more easily in the local area.

She then deleted “journalism” from the list of areas “where I am looking for work” to include “PA”. I now have:

  1. publishing
  2. PA/secretary
  3. event organiser

under the “type of jobs I am looking for”. Curiously, searches on the JobCentre site under those codes still produce jobs in “store cleaning” ,”nursery assistants” and “charity fundraising”…

Once the personal adviser was satisfied that I had not been trying to abuse the system but was genuinely trying to find a job, she printed my new “Jobseekers Agreement”, which I had to sign to show my commitment towards finding work. I was then sent to the floor below to see the adviser who deals with Travel for Interview warrants.

Bullied
The TIS lady received me with the warmth of someone about to interview a mass murderer. Scowling, she spat her words to drive home the fact that she was less than pleased I was travelling out of town for yet another interview.

She reminded me once more I would not be paid any more TIS for jobs in publishing, that any further claims for TIS would be considered on a case-by-case basis.  The conversation that ensued left me speechless and later drove me to tears:

“Where is the interview in London?”

“The nearest station is Sloane Square.”

“Sloane Square?! We can only pay until Victoria. You’ll have to make your own way from there. Sloane Square is not far fromVictoria.”

“….”

“The 12.05 train will get you there at 13.28. That’s an hour before the interview, so plenty of time….”

It suddenly dawned on me this was my punishment for daring to ask for a Travel for Interview warrant. She was suggesting I get there an hour early so that I had time to walk from Victoria to Chelsea. With trainers on, it might take me half an hour. Wearing an interview suit and heels, and if it rains, it could take from 45min up to an hour and my feet are likely to blister and bleed (Update for those who thought I was exaggerating: I have huge, problematic bunions on both feet).

I looked at her eyes and recognised the same crazed hatred I used to see in the bullies at school: those who spat at me for being the only Oriental kid in class, cut my notebooks in half with a knife and scribbled unrepeatable swearwords on my seat.

In shock and humiliation, my mind drew a blank and I had trouble remembering my postcode and my home telephone number to fill in my TIS claim form…

I can understand rules are sometimes harsh but need to be followed. But bullying? Can there ever be any justification for unnecessary cruelty, especially towards the unemployed, who are skint, demoralised and most likely depressed? Isn’t the job of the JobCentre to give support to help jobseekers get back into work as soon as possible?

Wasting money
I noticed the TIS lady wrote down £24.90 on her copy of the document. This is because it costs £24.90 for a return ticket from my local station to London Victoria if you buy it on the day. This is because the JobCentre doesn’t, as a rule, allow you buy your own ticket and claim for reimbursement later.

The absurdity is that, if they did, I could have bought an advance ticket online, including London Underground Zones 1-6, for £13.30 on the Southern Railway website. This would have saved the JobCentre £11.60 and myself the unnecessary humiliation of being “dropped off” in Victoria and told to walk the rest of the way.

How much travel money is actually being wasted by the JobCentre this way, while they try to make savings by restricting the number of times anyone can have their travel to interview subsidised? How much more money wouldn’t they save from closed JSA claims, if active jobseekers were, instead, encouraged to attend as many interviews as they can get?

Thankfully my partner is in work and, although we live on an incredibly tight budget, I can just about buy a London underground travel card once I get to Victoria.

But someone virtually on the breadline may not have been able to afford the extortionate £6.60 that an off-peak day travel card costs for zones 1-2. Depending on the time of travel, you can pay up to £15.00 for a London underground travel card for zones 1-6. That sum could exceed the cost of a family dinner in some households. What if it is a choice between eating or paying for a train ticket to get to a job interview, which, if successful, would mean one fewer benefit claimant for the Department for Work and Pensions and the JobCentre to sustain?

None of this makes sense to me.

Not too many interviews
In 10 days’ time I must present myself at the JobCentre again to show the adviser “the six things I have done to actively find work”. Due to the JobCentre’s ambiguous attitude towards interviews, I now know those entries cannot be six job interviews, as subsidised travel clearly becomes an issue after five interviews, especially if potential employers in your field tend to be located out of town.

I will have to start turning down any interviews I get from anywhere beyond zone 1 or 2 in London, as that is the most I can afford out of my own pocket, in my seventh month of unemployment.

Now I am also obliged to spend a few hours a week applying for secretarial jobs I come across, even though my experience as a PA is so outdated I am highly unlikely to be shortlisted for interview. Although time spent applying for such jobs will take away from time I could spend applying for jobs I am far more likely to get (in publishing), that is what the JobCentre wants me to do.

Again, I question: how many unemployed people are having their jobseeking efforts hampered by their JobCentres by being artificially forced to apply for jobs that are not suited for them at all? And how much precious government money is going down the drain because of an inefficient system that penalises rather than support active jobseekers?

Failure and guilt
More bad news awaited me when I got home. A voice message from a recruitment consultant confirmed I had not got a job for which I had been interviewed twice already.  Four nights without sleep preparing a presentation for the final interview; 16hs of travel in total; hundreds of pounds in train fares. For nothing.

I feel as if I have failed myself, my recruitment consultant, my friends, my parents, my partner, and now also the JobCentre for having wasted two of their TIS warrants. This is not right.

Being rejected from a job hurts. But having to feel guilty for going to too many interviews, and being bullied by the JobCentre before travelling to one is not only preposterous; it is utterly inhumane and disgraceful.

**********************************************************************************************************************

Have you had a similar experience and would like to share? Please leave a comment below or write to me privately if you do not mind being contacted for an interview for an newspaper piece. All names will be kept confidential upon request.

Related articles of interest:

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What to do when jobseeker fatigue sets in

Photo by Arndt Nollau

I have noticed one of the most frequent search terms for people who end up at this blog is “what to write in the JobCentre book”.

I do empathise.

If you are “signed on” with the JobCentre, you will be familiar with the huge pressure that finding the fortnightly six entries to go into your jobseeker’s “book” can place you under.

With a raging recession out there, eating jobs away like a hungry monster, you are lucky if you  find two relevant vacancies to apply for every couple of weeks.

I have, in the past, applied for jobs I wasn’t really interested in, or knew I didn’t qualify for, just so I wouldn’t be penalised by the JobCentre. We all know it is not quantity but quality of applications that count; but JobCentres have quotas to meet, money to save, and they have been known to jump on the opportunity to stop jobseekers’ benefits as soon as there is a valid excuse, as reported here by the Guardian.

Sometimes a bit of creativity helps. Remember: not all six entries have to  be job applications. A call/visit/email to a friend/family member/recruitment agent asking about vacancies counts as one action, so use your imagination.

The problem is what to do when jobseeker fatigue sets in and the very thought of writing yet another application makes you feel violently ill.

There are only so many different ways in which you can re-word your skills and achievements on a piece of paper without inducing yourself into a mental coma. And how many of those letters are actually going to lead to an interview, let alone a job offer?

I am not a pessimist, but more often than not, it is pain without gain.

Job hunting IS a job in itself. You perform the same old going-through-the-motions day after day after day, as if you were an assembly line worker, except with no payment, often without any feedback, as many companies don’t even bother to acknowledge receipt of  applications.

Where does one find the motivation to keep going?

Below are some of the tactics I use to combat fatigue:

1. Give it a few days’ break and do anything but apply for jobs. If you have just spent days perfecting a particularly difficult application letter, chances are you are drained and need time to recover. It is difficult to be creative when you feel fed up.

2. Go to a library or bookshop,  or surf the Net, and look up tips for attractive CV layouts. Give your tired-looking CV a makeover: perhaps your current one is not making you stand out in the crowd. A new, eye-catching CV may make you feel more confident when the next job comes up.

3. In fact, while you are at it, refresh your cover letter as well (though this is best done when you are applying for a specific job, not during the rest period in-between). The nausea may not go away but it will make you feel a little less repulsed by the idea of sending out your 50th cover letter.

4. Learn something new and fun, maybe a skill you always wanted to learn but never had time for because you were working. This will give you a concrete target to work towards and targets keep people motivated. I have been teaching myself shorthand since I became unemployed and loving the challenge of eventually achieving the speed of 100wpm. Look for something that excites you, whatever that might be: card making, knitting, photography, painting, meditation…

5. Find and attend free or low-priced events and gatherings in your local area, where you’re likely to meet interesting people. One of these people may even lead you to a job, you never know. Make new friends and keep yourself intellectually stimulated. One of the worst aspects of unemployment, I find, is the social isolation and mental apathy you can easily fall into. Unless I have an event or meeting to look forward to, I can spend entire weeks with no motivation to step out of the house.

6. Stories about people finding work through Twitter are not uncommon. It can be an excellent place to cast your net wider and find unexpected work in a very sociable way. I have landed a handful of odd jobs through Twitter myself, and people I have never even personally met have been incredibly kind in pointing me towards any relevant work opportunities they hear about. Of course this is more effective if you have been using Twitter for a while and have some presence among your followers, but it is never too late to start.

Even after implementing some or all of the above, you may still be feeling like the bear in the photo above: no energy to even get out of bed. Sometimes no amount of positive thinking or positive actions can bring you relief and “sleeping it offis the only way to cope.

Finally, don’t feel bad about feeling bad. Accept that this is how you feel today but be aware it is only a temporary state of mind (‘I feel miserable’ instead of ‘I am miserable”). Tomorrow will always be a new day.

I will share with you a motivational video about an Australian man who was born without arms or legs (ignore the Korean subtitles), which never fails to remind me that, whatever problems you have in life, there is always something to be grateful for.

What worked for you when you couldn’t take any more?

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Smile, you’re at the JobCentre (Or: the day I was told off for being on time)

My appointment was at 9.10am. The JobCentre is only a couple of minutes’ walk from my home, but I arrived at 8.55am to make sure I wouldn’t be late.

As the Centre opens at 9am, there was a small queue of people clutching their grey “sign-on books” at the front door.

The sight of the local jobseekers made me shudder. Gathered in a small mass like that, they were like a visual representation of the common people’s mood in the current economy (something like the images in the poster below).

This is the one day I become a character in a Charles Dickens’ novel.

How to Overcome Depressionphoto © 2008 Kevin Dooley | more info (via: Wylio)

Long-term unemployment is a slow-killing cancer on the spirit – and it shows on how you look. You stop caring what time you get up, what time you go to bed, what you wear for the day. You are not going anywhere or see anyone, why bother?

I just hoped I didn’t look as dreary as some of them did. I had pledged myself I would stay upbeat this time and have a positive attitude throughout. I made a mental check that I had washed my hair and put some lipstick on before I left home.

At 9 o’clock doors opened and the small crowd of six or seven people streamed in. T., who always stands at reception, was directing each one to the first floor. When my turn came, I put on the most friendly smile I could muster and said to T. I had a 9.10am.

His response stunned me: “Is it sign on?” He rolled his eyes and shifted on his feet. ” Could you NOT queue at 9.00am please?”

Me: “Erm…Why?”

T.: “Because it’s busy and I’ve got to get these people through first; people coming at 9 get in the way. So could you go back out and come back later?”

It was cold and drizzly outside. I wasn’t going to literally leave the premises, so I stepped aside and hung around behind T., trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, not understanding why I felt I had to be inconspicuous.

There was an empty sofa behind T., but he had not told me to take a seat. I didn’t want to risk another telling-off.

T. shepherded the last of the 9 o’clockers upstairs, then turned to me again and said he was sorry but I really should not come at 9 o’clock.  Had he not finished ranting yet? My emotions swung back and forth from shock to sadness, from outrage to compassion.

Yes, compassion. Had T. had a bad morning? Had one of his colleagues been taken ill and he had to do their job today? Had his wife left him? Was he having PMT? I don’t mean to sound sexist, but his behaviour reminded him of when we ladies are having hormonally challenging days.

Attending the JobCentre feels like a prisoner on bail having to report to the police at fixed days and times. Not that I have ever been in prison, but unemployment is, at any rate, a lonely cage of despair. Why a modicum of respect and dignity cannot be spared to jobseekers is beyond my powers of human comprehension.

T. suggested I go do a job search on the JobCentre’s job-search machine “for five minutes”. I was obviously still in his way. Obediently, I  walked to the job machine and clicked on “Local Jobs” trying to ignore the fact that “Avon lady”,  “Sales assistant – energy” and “Judo teacher” were not exactly my cuppa tea.

At 9.10am, I was finally waved upstairs to go see my adviser. This was my first sign-0n day this “season”. I said good morning to the adviser with my professional saleswoman smile on and proudly handed in my grey book, in which I had listed the six actions I had taken in the past fortnight to find a job, including one interview.

I am not sure if any of the information on the book gets entered anywhere but the motions are the same with every jobseeker. This is how it usually goes (every fortnight):

Adviser: “Let’s see if we can find you a job. Is it still publisher, sales manager and journalist you are looking for?

Me (Hmm. Publisher is the place I want to work at, not the profession but never mind): “Yes. [smile]”

A: “How far are you willing to travel? I don’t think there will be anything for you in this area.”

Me: “London?”

A.: “No, there’s nothing in Sussex…and there’s nothing in London either. Any questions?”

Me: “No.”

A.: “See you in two weeks.”

Me: “Yes.”

On the way out, I smiled and said good bye to the security guard but tried not to make eye contact with T.

I had exhausted my smiling quota for the day.

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Week 26: off the dole and onto…Tarot cards?

If you claim jobseeker’s allowance based on national insurance contributions, your eligibility for the dole is for 182 days, or roughly six months. Mine ran out last month, so a fortnight ago I was summoned by the JobCentre Plus to the so-called “week 26 review meeting” , where a personal adviser is meant to draw up “a three-step action plan” to improve your chances of finding work.

What amuses me about JobCentres – and God knows there is very little to be cheerful about them – are the colourful personalities of the advisers you come across; if you are lucky, that is. There is nothing else to smile about.

Rehab?
My week 26 appointment was with a tall and lanky male adviser with long hair and a bushy moustache, who looked to me like a modern version of a hippie from the swinging 60s. I remember thinking he’d look good in a flowery Hawiian shirt and bell bottoms.

I always try to see the funny side to every situation, so I was secretly delighted.

My “beatnik” adviser turned out to be no dopey-head tough, but a straight talker who wasted no time in exposing his personal views on three-step action plans for jobseekers. He said:

“The fact is there is only one action possible for a person in your situation; and that is for you to look for a job and find one.”

I immediately took a liking to him. 

The reason most people find visits to the JobCentre degrading is that unemployment is treated as if it was a anti-social addiction, such as alcoholism, which needs to be treated “in steps”.

Does it not suffice that we spend day in and day out doing nothing else but looking for work, applying for work, thinking about work? In the view of the JobCentre, if after six months on the dole, you are still unemployed, you are doing something wrong that needs to be fixed, never mind the recession.

Terminally unemployed
At week 26 in my…condition, I am now classified as a “stage three customer”, a term with a distinctly morbid ring to it, as in “stage three cancer” or “terminal patient”. And, as a terminal jobseeker, my adviser tells me I am entitled to certain additional types of support, which I take it as being the JobCentre’s equivalent of palliative care.

Certain local colleges offer free crash courses to “help you get back to the workplace and support you with continued training once you are in a job”. Would I like to learn new skills, which could “open doors to a new career”?

All very well, until you read the small print on the training courses actually offered: health and safety in the workplace, food safety in catering, door supervisor (for bouncers??), first aid and…erm…. Tarot card reading.

I am not ungrateful, mind. I would love to learn Tarot card reading, and would appreciate being able to predict when I am likely to find a job. But how a Tarot certificate on my CV would enhance my chances of employment I am still struggling to comprehend.

But that’s only because I have the small mind of a bourgeois woman and am reluctant to accept fortunetelling as a career in its own right…

The best remedy
In order not to lose your sanity, you must learn to laugh at the foibles of the JobCentre. What little advice and support they have to hand out is not applicable to anyone with any level of decent education, let alone a degree. (Read graduate Kate McCann’s experience with the JobCentre Plus under Related Links below)

The truth is: on this crusade to claw back into the job market, you are a lone knight and your own imagination and resourcefulness are the only weapons that can save you from defeat by your own despair.

Everyone needs a card up their sleeve. Whether it will be the Tarot kind or not is up to you to decide.

Indeed, some jobseekers have found very imaginative, and amusing, ways of looking for work, without resorting to help from the JobCentre. Find out more by reading my next post

* Related links of interest:

Out on our own (Guardian): graduate Kate McCann on how JobCentre Plus is letting graduates down
– Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) report on UK labour market

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10 money-saving tips Jobcentres won’t give you

When David Shorthose, a 55-year-old unemployed IT auditor, said in the Saturday Guardian’s Work supplement that his Jobcentre experience was”nothing short of a comedy script”, he hit the nail on the head. He tells the Guardian:

“You quickly have to get over the assumption that the Jobcentre is there to find you work, and get used to the fact that they are there just to process benfits.”

From my own personal experience I can say that the Jobcentre functions on an “ask or you will not be given” principle. Unless you ask very specific questions, it does not occur to them to pass on any information that might help a jobseeker not only to find work, but to survive on his meagre £64.30-a-week jobseeker’s allowance (£50.95 if you are between 16 and 24).

I have compiled below a list of 10 tips that could save you a little money along the way – most of which I came to discover by accident:

  1. Check whether you are eligible for tax refund – if you earned less than £6035 in the previous tax year, including interest on any money you have in the bank, you are entitled to a tax rebate from the HM Revenue and Customs (the old Inland Revenue). Get your P45 or P60 out and all bank tax deduction certificates (these show how much tax the bank deducted in a tax year and should have been sent to you last April), and visit the HMRC site for further instructions or give them a call – I found them very helpful on the phone. I was overjoyed to recoup a few hundred pounds this way, and HMRC was fairly quick in processing it.
  2. Get fit  with gym concessionary rates – one of the problems about being out of work is you can become even more sedentary than when you had that office job. As a result you may pile up on the pounds and lose stamina, which, particularly if you are out of work, could damage your self-esteem. If you currently go to a private gym, cancel your membership (unless you can afford it) and find your nearest local government subsidised leisure centre. These usually offer concessionary rates for certain activities and classes. Use them. And if they have pre-paid bulk buy options, get those. I only recently discovered swimming at my local pool is half the normal price if you are on the dole, and you can buy a swimcard with 11 swims for the price of 10, all at half price. This means that even if you become employed before the card is used up, you can continue to benefit from the discounted rate. You couldn’t find a better excuse to get fit. And if you cannot find a cheap leisure centre, forget the running machine and the kickboxing classes for a while and go jogging in a park – for free.
  3. Use and abuse your local library – I had not used a library since my student days, ie a long long time ago, and I usually prefer to own my own books anyway. But once I got back into the habit of borrowing books from the library it became addictive. You have all the time in the world to read those books you always wanted to but was too busy for. Now is the time to start crossing out titles on that wish list. Try to read not only fiction but also thought-provoking non-fiction in areas of your interest, which might inspire you to write an article in future. Loans of books are free of charge but there is usually a fee for CDs and DVDs – which can be discounted for jobseekers. The Brighton & Hove’s Jubilee Library in East Sussex offers half price on all loan fees, including fees for reserving books. And if you can’t bear the idea of a loaned book, trawl through car boot sales and charity shops. Oxfam, for instance, is currently outselling independent bookshops. Get cultured.
  4. Sign up for email alerts from MoneSavingExpert.com – if you haven’t already. This is money-saving guru Martin Lewis’ site, winner of the London Press Consumer Journalist award of the year. It offers hundreds of tips on saving money from best mortgage lenders to how to save on your energy bills and where to get discount vouchers for restaurants and shops. It will be useful to you even after you start working again.
  5. The Jobcentre can cover your interview travel costs – not all of them, but those “outside your area”, a definition they seem to leave intentionally vague. I live in East Sussex and travel to interviews in Central London can be claimed back from the Jobcentre. What the Jobcentre doesn’t always explain to you is that you need to call them as soon as you have got the interview confirmed (not after the interview) to get their pre-approval on the phone. On your next sign-on day you must produce a receipt and proof that you attended the interview: a letter from the prospective employer or a printed email will do. It must contain a contact name, address and telephone number of the company so that they can call to verify that you are not telling porky pies. The fare (includes cost of petrol pro rata if you travelled by car) is then paid directly into your account after a few days.
  6. You could have a work suit sponsored by the Jobcentre – it’s true, and it is paid out at the discretion of the Jobcentre adviser. If you are signed on for JSA (jobseeker’s allowance) and you find a job, you may not be able to afford a decent suit (or any “tools” you may need in your profession) to wear in your first few weeks when you haven’t received your first wage yet. The Jobcentre can help you buy one with a “small contribution”. I am sure it cannot be a Chanel or an Armani but they may not specify one from Primark either, so I would take full advantage of that one. As with the interview travel expenses, call them in advance for approval.
  7. Visit a Citizen’s Advice Bureau – “Sign-on” at Jobcentres lasts about 20 seconds once you’re sitting in front of an advisor, and they are all rushed to see the next person in the queue. If you have children to support, need help with NHS costs, are worried about managing complex debts, etc you are better off paying a visit to the nearest CAB office for advice on what other financial help you are entitled to  apart from your jobseeker’s benefits.
  8. Check if you are eligible for council tax discount – if you live alone, are diasbled, or share accommodation with a student, or are studying yourself, you can claim a 25% reduction in your council tax, which can be a huge relief in this recession. Call your local council and ask them what you need to do to claim the discount. This is not to be confused with council tax benefit, which, as with housing benefits, will only be paid out to you if you have less than £16,000 in savings in the bank. Bear in mind your live-in partner’s savings will be taken into consideration in that calculation.
  9. Don’t call the Jobseeker Direct Line from your personal phone – use the Jobcentre’s phones. Ironically the helpline number for jobseekers to inquire about job vancies is a premium rate 0845 number, which could cost up to 40p a minute if made from a mobile phone. That is equivalent to giving with one hand and taking with another. Every Jobcentre has at least a couple of phones, which jobseekers can use free of charge. There may be a queue but persevere. Every penny counts.
  10. If you do an internship do it quietly – the jobseeker’s allowance is paid to you on condition that you are actively looking and make yourself available for work at all times. Any paid part-time work you do over 16hs/week affects your benefits, but unpaid work placements will too. As I explained in my previous post, you need to write down in your ‘dole book’ SIX things you did to try and find work every fortnight, so make sure you have enough to fill in the blanks. And don’t try to change your fortnightly appointments at the Jobcentre. They are very strict about those and will get suspicious if you do it too often with a sloppy excuse. You want to gain experience but not lose your dosh. However, if you are lucky enough to be offered a paid internship that exceeds your weekly allowances, the best thing to do is come off the JSA temporarily and go back on it (called “quick recall”)as soon as the internship ends, if you think you will be unemployed for a while longer.

If you have any other tips to add that worked for you, or comments to make, please leave your two cents below.

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