In 2010/11 I had an accidental gap in my university studies and ended up moving from London back to my home town of Leeds. I had a full time job from September 2010, which I ended up losing in January 2011. It was a mixture of the contract coming to an end, illness (I had anxiety and newly-found food allergies) and not fitting in with my colleagues that led me to feel like I couldn’t continue my employment. I’d also been under-performing and having a lot of time off due to my illnesses. It was never suggested that my contract would be extended, and when I discussed it with my manager, he said if I chose not to continue then they would be happier anyway. Which was rather charming!
Upon leaving, I had enough money to give me a good month of job-hunting. Three weeks in, I still had nothing. I applied for, on average, around 5 jobs a day, some of which I was absolutely not interested in, some I was overqualified for and a ridiculous amount of bar and kitchen jobs for which I had 6 years of experience. I was living with my partner, who was working full-time and, without my half of the bills and rent coming in, financially things were tight. It obviously also put a strain on the relationship too, I was getting more and more fed up and, quite rightly, so was she.
I was entitled to nothing
The more I spoke to people, the more I was advised to swallow my pride and go to the job centre. I was 24, and I’d never been before, but it’s there to help right? I went in and made an appointment to see someone who advised me to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Housing Benefit, this would give me an automatic application for Council Tax Reduction. As it turned out, I was entitled to nothing. Zero pounds, zero pence. I wasn’t eligible for Housing Benefit, JSA or help with Council Tax, as my partner was working full-time. Their advice? “Get your partner to quit her job.” That wasn’t something we weren’t interested in. We just needed help topping up our income, plus, we actually wanted to work as much as possible!
She didn’t quit her job and we ended up going through a three day break-up, lost our flat, got back together, she handed in her notice and we went to live with my parents down the road in Wakefield. We immediately made an appointment at the job centre.
They added us to their system which took weeks as I hadn’t taken myself off the register at the Leeds branch. We then received a letter saying we were entitled to the full income based JSA of £112.55 a week between us whilst we were both looking for a job, but we had to attend our first appointment to receive anything. We went and filled in every form they gave us, including one saying that my partner did volunteer work one day a week and I did ten hours a week in a pub near my parents’ house. We attended all our appointments and checked the bank two weeks later to see that we had been sent no money.
After calling them to see what was going on, we were advised that they were recalculating as we hadn’t declared our part-time work, and to carry on going to our appointments as usual. So we did. Two weeks later, we were owed four weeks worth of payments (£450.22) and checked the bank to see that we had still received nothing.
The whole process was beginning to spiral out of control
We called them again, and made an appointment with our advisor, who told us we had completed the wrong forms on our part time work. We had to take these forms away, fill them in, and bring them back on Monday. Meanwhile, we got a letter saying we were now entitled to less money each week, off the top of my head it was around £45. By this point, the whole process was beginning to spiral out of control and, week after week, we continued to attend all our appointments, going to job fairs, and desperately hunting for any work, during which we were still receiving no payments. In the end, they owed us close to £700, in fact it was probably more. We put a claim in for back payment after speaking to a different advisor but were told that we would not receive back-payment due to ‘missing an appointment in June’. We had no idea about this appointment, arranged for a date they had apparently sent us a letter about. We received their next letter though. Saying we were now entitled to a mere £6 a week between us, which we received for 4 weeks, by which point the tax man had been kind to us, a hopeful PPI claim had come good, and I’d got into university, so we signed off having received a grand total of £24 in the five months we were claiming. Laughably, they sent a further letter to our new address three months later saying we actually owed them £60. We didn’t pay it.
All in all, the experience was absolutely ridiculous, to a point where we gave up trying to fight for the money we were genuinely owed. It seems like it’s so easy, to walk in and just pick up benefits. It’s not at all.
Have a story or view on employment, disability rights, housing or any other aspect of welfare? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @RealFareUK