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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.