Tag Archives: travel to interview

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.

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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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Filed under Interviews, Unemployment

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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Filed under Unemployment