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.
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:
- 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.
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?
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.
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