Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Rash of Arse Holes

I've had a rather angry period of time.

I bit the bullet and decided that I needed to sign on. I am, after all, entitled to some form of benefits, so I might as well get them. Anything put into the household pot is going to be better than nothing at all.

So, I called them up and I'm not going to even bother telling you what happened. Instead, I'm going to cut and paste the letter of complaint I sent to my local MP this morning...

Dear Mr Ellis,

I was made redundant from Northants County Council in May, 2011. I was one of four people who ended up losing our jobs at the Youth Offending Service based on Billing Road. Initially, it was believed that up to 15 people would lose their jobs because of budget cuts and lack of funding; however, in the end the only people who lost their jobs from this department were the four people I mentioned.

I received a redundancy payout, for which I ended up waiting 6 weeks for, because of payroll difficulties within John Dryden House. I'm sure there were other reasons for the delay, but I'm not here to speculate.

In June, I contacted the Job Centre Plus and was told that there would be little point in starting a claim for JSA while I was using my redundancy money and my fears of not having my NI contributions paid were allayed by the person I spoke to telling me that once the claim had been fully processed and they had confirmation from NCC that I had been made redundant, I would get the NI payments back dated. This was a blatant lie - especially as my wife used to be an NI officer for the civil service.

The point is, I had redundancy money and I had no intention of being unemployed for very long; so I figured I'd just look for a job and not worry about benefits claims. But as the summer dragged on and fewer jobs were advertised in the local press, I started to run out of money and we realised that with a mortgage, a loan and many expenses, we couldn't live on my wife's money alone.

Today, the 5th September, I decided to put a claim in for JSA and what follows is, I hope, not indicative of the hoops and hurdles people have to go through to get a benefit, because if it is then it is an appalling procedure.

It took me 2 hours and 11 minutes to get through to a call centre operative. The first two times I rang, I was cut off while waiting. The third time, I waited 22 minutes before the call was answered by an operative called Lisa. Amongst the questions I was asked was to supply two telephone numbers; the reason for this was a) so they could contact me (naturally) and b) in case we got cut off. This sounded like she almost expected it to happen.

Guess what? 27 minutes into the call; we got cut off. I sat for ten minutes waiting for her to call me back and when that didn't happen I decided I'd try and call them again. I finally got through to an operative called Chris, who fortunately for me managed to carry on asking me the questions from the point I was cut off. However, by the time I spoke to him it was 5.50pm; ten minutes before the call centre shut. While talking to him, the battery on my handset gave up - it had been used excessively in trying to contact them. Chris said he'd phone me straight back; I swapped phones over, but it was now 5.55pm and he was about to finish work. So I didn't receive a call back from him either!

This was by itself a hindrance and extremely frustrating; but what made it worse was the feeling that I was being treated like some kind of 2nd class citizen because I didn't have a job. The fact that I was asked some of the most invasive and awkward questions; which I understand are 'important', but are done in such a automaton way, with no humour and quite unpleasant. For instance, having to give almost as much information about my wife as about me; being asked for the name of my wife's line manager, so they could verify with her whether I was telling the truth. Wanting to know her NI number; what she earns, what her pension contributions were. I'm surprised I wasn't asked for her bra size. And of course, after ages on the phone, the claim still hasn't been dealt with and I expect to face at least another 30 minutes on the phone tomorrow working my way through the maze just to get something that I'm entitled to. The fact that I am entitled to Income Based JSA seems to be ignored - I've paid my contributions for this benefit; it should be made considerably easier and less invasive for people who are entitled to it!

It was humiliating; designed to annoy me to the point where I wouldn't want to make the claim and extremely unhelpful. I tried to be upbeat and friendly and was greeted by humourless people reading off autocues and without a smidgeon of sympathy or empathy. I think it is appalling that someone who is nearly 50, has worked non-stop since the late 1980s; has paid all of his NI contributions and has worked for the last 6 years with young offenders and disenfranchised people should have to face this kind of debilitating stress coupled with no return of calls and leaving me hanging on a phone. No wonder there are umpteen thousands of people out there who don't claim benefits because they don't want to suffer the indignity and humiliation of trying to claim benefits from a government department that clearly wants to make it as difficult as they can to give you anything.

I intend to call them again in the morning and hopefully continue filling in the information they want. Unfortunately, my wife will be at work and she has the answers to a lot of the questions they will ask me; if I can't give them these answers then my claim may well be suspended or take longer to process.

I'd love to get a job and not have to suffer this ritual humiliation; however the private sector has not been as forthcoming as your government claimed it would be and there are very few jobs out there that pay the kind of money that I need to be able to live and pay all my debts and none from the private sector; so I'm left with having to claim benefits. I'm hoping that you might be able to speed the process along a little, or possibly even look into ways of helping people such as me get fast tracked or helped by human beings.

As my local MP, I would expect you to do whatever you can for a constituency resident.
My call this morning was to make an official complaint and much of the above was repeated to a supervisor, ironically called Paula, who refused to give me her surname and at one point accused me of being rude; this was met with a volley of 'How dare you' and examples of how her call centre operatives were rude to me by not calling me back. Eventually I got an unreserved apology from her, but by this time I realised that it was a pointless and futile exercise - this was a call centre in Bolton, run by contracted people, who really don't give a shit.

At the conclusion, I have an appointment at the local Job Centre on Friday. They tried to fob me off with the 22nd September, but I quite firmly suggested that after the aggro I'd just faced being given an appointment in 16 days time was tantamount to them taking the piss. Amazingly, they managed to find me an appointment within 3 days.

I'd been told that the entire process was like having teeth pulled out with rusty pliers with no anaesthetic and someone putting your testicles in a white hot vice. I stupidly thought these people were exaggerating.

***

I picked another pound of mushrooms yesterday, which means I now have bloody loads of the things in the fridge. I'm cooking up a tagliatelle and wild mushroom dinner this evening - using field, horse, parasol and wood mushrooms combined with some reconstituted ceps (found the other week in their usual place) and some cream. The rest will be thinly sliced and bunged in the airing cupboard to dry.

Ironically, over 3lbs of wild mushrooms will reduce down to less than 4oz; but they'll give a depth of flavour to any soup or stew I make over the winter. Marvellous!

***

The weather forecast still looks grim, but not as grim as it did. The weekend is likely to be on the windy side, with the chance of an early shower, but quite warm - 22 degrees at the moment, which would be more than adequate.

***

Back in April, I had an interview at a local school and narrowly missed out on a job I would have really enjoyed doing. When I was informed I had been unsuccessful, the HR lady asked if they could keep my details on file as they had another position coming up they felt would be ideal for me and the experience I had. That job was advertised in the middle of August and I applied for it, but didn't even get short listed for an interview.

Feeling that I need to get feedback for these failed attempts, I called the school's HR department after receiving an email telling me I wouldn't be asked for an interview. I explained to the chap on the phone that his predecessor had specifically targeted me for this job and it would help me in my quest for employment if I knew why I hadn't even got an interview, especially as in April I was an ideal candidate for it.

I was told I hadn't been selected because there were better qualified candidates and I had been out of work for 3 months. I asked how this was a problem and was told that the general policy of the school was to employ people already in post. When I suggested that this was against Equal Opps, I was told when I understand what Equal Opps actually was, perhaps I'd reconsider bothering them with futile questions!!!

I'm still slightly stunned. A friend suggested I report the school, but what's the point; I'm not going to get the job, am I?

***

Today is extremely windy; the remnants of hurricane Irene apparently. The annoying thing about it is that today is also bin day and the wind has blown the contents of the recycling bins everywhere. This wouldn't be a bad thing if the bin men actually cleared up the mess, but instead it just floats around the street causing far more of a blight on the road than is necessary.

but, I'm just in a bad mood today...

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