In one city, the Jobcentre Plus system is causing clients much trouble and distress, writes Gary Vaux
Here are some of the problems with the Jobcentre Plus customer management system experienced by clients of just one city council welfare rights service.
● People leaving prison. A local drug rehabilitation centre reports four-week minimum delay in payment to service users.
● Deaf clients. Jobcentre staff, at least initially, were refusing to send paper forms to advisers, which is the only practical way these clients can make claims.
● People who do not speak English as a first language. A crisis loan application appointment was made for a client who spoke no English. He was then told he could come into the office without an appointment. When the client arrived at the Jobcentre, he was told that he did need an appointment and that he would have to bring a friend to translate. As a result of this, the client, who had no money for bus fares, had to walk 15 miles to attend two appointments on the same day.
● People with learning difficulties. A client with learning difficulties who had been refused an appointment for a crisis loan application was advised to queue. He arrived at 8am with support worker but was queuing until noon, when the worker had to leave. Without support his application was turned down.
● People who do not have telephones or are unable to make outgoing calls. The phones in local offices, which claimants were promised on implementation of the system, cannot be used because of the need to make an appointment to use a local office.
Other general problems included:
● Excessive demands for identity. A client with severe mental health problems, who was already claiming incapacity benefit,
received a letter asking that she post her passport and driving licence. When she tried to arrange to bring the forms into the local Jobcentre she was told that she needed to make an appointment.
● Lack of a “caller office” for delivering forms or providing evidence. Many local Jobcentres now operate on an appointments only only basis. Appointments are frequently only for 10 minutes or so, leading many claimants to have to make repeat visits to local offices. One client making a crisis loan application took three different visits to two offices before he received a payment four days after starting the process.
● Poor legibility and quality of computer generated forms. In the case of a client with mental health problems, the adviser
had to return the computer generated form twice, but it still contained errors.
● Refusing crisis loans to clients who have made claims but whose forms are not yet registered with the processing centre. A couple with two young children and one due imminently were in receipt of child benefit only (the tax credits were still being processed). They were told that the only way they could apply for a loan was by applying for jobseeker’s allowance on the claim line. The clients only had a mobile phone with minimum credit and the claim line do not return calls so this was not an option either. The family were left with no money.
● Are these stories familiar from what is happening in your area? I’d like to hear from you if this poor quality service is being repeated nationwide. Please send your stories c/o firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. If you have a question to be answered please write to him c/o Community Care