Last week I put in a new claim to Jobseekers Allowance after a period of sickness. I applied online so as to avoid the endless queueing on the telephone, and left my contact details so they could text me an appointment time at my local Jobcentre to set up the new claim. Somewhat perplexingly, the online application requested that I supply – in 30 characters or less – the times I would not be able to attend the office during the next few days. Mutually convenient appointments are not usually set up this way. It’s “When are you free?”, not “When are you not free? IN 30 CHARACTERS OR LESS!!”. And I stand by that.
I gave the times within office hours when I would not be available, and two days later received a text message telling me that I had an appointment at the time I said I would not be available.
I wrote a letter to the Jobcentre (that my friend kindly hand delivered for me on the same day) detailing my appointment mix-up plight. My friend returned with the glorious news that he had spoken to P who had spoken to his manager J, who sent her assurances that she would call the next day to reschedule, within the times I had stressed would be convenient.
The next day, the Jobcentre rang outside of the times I had stressed would be convenient. It wasn’t J, and when I asked, I discovered that no note had been put on the system about contacting me to reschedule my appointment. I reiterated my situation and gave the times I was free for an appointment. I was offered an appointment at a time that wasn’t convenient for me. I refused again! It wasn’t convenient! What a silly game. I explained about how the times I give that are convenient are the most convenient times to make appointments, and she eventually relented and arranged a mutually convenient appointment, though she sounded very annoyed at the inconvenience of it all, I must say.
At least she was efficient! When I arrived at the Jobcentre, the appointment had been successfully altered. I only had to get past one weirdo asking me whether my friend was my partner, just as I was on my way in, just this goggle-eyed goon with a DWP badge telling me that only my partner could go up with me; and I was like “that’s not even true” and both my friend and I went up, and no one stopped us. Bloody freaks in there, some of them. My friend comes to help with filling in the forms, that’s all. Anyway, I filled in the form I was handed and sat waiting for the best part of forty five minutes; staring at a poster saying simply “New Deal” (it should have probably been taken down by now), with an unrelated picture next to it of a tired looking woman nervously smiling. G4S security guards patrol the room full circle, multiple cameras punctuate the ceiling tile; a poster has been put up once in colour and then photocopied and put up a few more times for good measure: “Do Not Use Mobile Phones”. A few stray fronds of tinsel lie limply over computer monitors mounted on pivoting frames. Across the way, another poster invites people who are struggling with Class A drug addiction to solicit help through the Jobcentre.
Eventually T calls me over. We go through everything, and everything is fine until we get to Universal Jobmatch. He hands me the leaflet and tells me that I have to set up an account and bring the details in with me next time to show my advisor. I advised that due to concerns about maintaining anonymity I would not be electing to choose to use the service. He tried to explain that this is something I have to do for the DWP because I want their help. I explained that it doesn’t work like that until I am given a mandate. He advised that I would be mandated to use it on my next appointment. I said that I would use it only insofar as preserving online anonymity would allow, and had this put on my signed Jobseekers Agreement after he went to consult with his manager. If I don’t get a job before the 2nd January, I look forward to more JC shenanegins.
Currently it is not mandatory to sign up for Universal Jobmatch, an advisor must first mandate it, and the customer has the right to dispute the decision, and indeed competency of the advisor to whom they have been assigned. As the article linked above details, many advisors are under Jobmatch sign up targets from their local managers; as compulsory redundancies loom on the horizon and they feel the hot breath of unemployment on their own necks.