Last Wednesday I went into the Jobcentre Plus office in Watford to start my claim. It was a quick and pain-free process, despite the fact that I had to fill in a new form because I’d mistakenly applied for a joint claim online when I really needed a single claim. L, who was dealing with me, was very nice about it. She was also very efficient. We had a spot of bother about my NI number which she attributed to someone using mine so that they could claim benefits using their own. Turns out it was completely my fault. I’d written it down wrong. What an idiot. More on that, later.
On Monday, I had a group meeting. I have to confess, I did think that it would be me and a bunch of, well, chavs. (I know, it’s a terrible term. I must read that book about the demonization of the working class.) You know – the ones you automatically think of when you hear the word ‘benefits’ or ‘jobseeker’s allowance’ or ‘jobcentre’. The ones who “don’t want to work”. And only the other week, I wrote a blog post about how wrong this misconception was and here I am harbouring it. Truth is, the others in the group were mostly respectable-looking women in their mid-thirties. There was one man who looked like the stereotype but it turned out he had 15 years experience as a gardener but couldn’t get a job because he didn’t have a driving license and these days employers want you to do two or three jobs, which for him often involves driving. The meeting was supposed to be a quick guide to JSA (jobseeker’s allowance) with some hints about how to avoid them catching you out (e.g. write everything you do towards getting a job down, including unsuccessful searches, the point is you’re doing something.) Our leader managed to get all the info across despite the meeting turning into a bit of a rant about the employment situation. He was very understanding and sympathetic, though.
Yesterday, I met my adviser for the first time. I was nervous. What if I got a completely unsympathetic person who’s aim in life was to catch you out and stop your benefits? It was vital that I made a good impression on this person. And the fact that I had to sort out my NI balls-up would not help. At first, I was directed to the wrong person, who directed me to another wrong person, who got part-way through the process before she realised. I was worried because this person was nice, although rather scatty, but that’s OK – I can relate to scatty, I am a writer, after all. Eventually I got to the right person. She was behind, however, to the point where the guy she was seeing before me didn’t get called up until 5 minutes after my appointment was supposed to begin. I’d kind of expected this, though. And she more than made up for it by being really nice and having lots of faith in me and even trying to find writer jobs for me to apply for. I told her that there weren’t really any and those that did exist would go to people with experience but she insisted that I didn’t sell myself short and she had no doubt I’d get a decent job, soon. What a sweetheart. Oh and she sorted out the NI number mishap with no problem.
So all in all, Jobcentre Plus lives up to its name (the plus bit because there were lots of pluses. Yeah? Yeah.)
Anyone got any jobcentre stories to share?