Sign on… at your local post office?

Sorry it’s been such a long time since the last update. I did get letters from the DWP that I couldn’t exactly call “replies” as they didn’t address the specific points raised in my letter and just copied and pasted the same bizarre rant sent out to everybody else, including the frankly deranged claim that the mere act of asking the DWP questions about the law and exercising our lawful rights under Data Protection and FoI constitutes “harassment” of them. Anyway, my notice has been served on them and I am following the court cases with interest.

But here’s a bit of news for everyone. It seems the government is seriously considering making people claim their benefits at their local post office instead of Jobcentre Plus! I was visited by a market researcher a couple of days ago and asked my views on the economy, the Post Office, the benefits system and, er, car tyres. And among the questions were several about how I would feel about applying for benefits at post offices rather than the DWP, in full hearing of neighbours queuing for stamps, posting their parcels, buying tax discs etc. As if the claims system isn’t humiliating enough as it is.

This may already be common knowledge for all I know, I haven’t really kept up to date on the government’s lovely plans for us all. But if not, be aware that they’re sounding people out about it already.

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The gloves come off

The DWP seem to have a new tactic to deal with people who refuse to sign the consent form to pass their details on to the WP provider… they just pass them over without even bothering to seek your consent!

That’s what happened to me at my “interview” anyway. The DWP just rang the WP “provider” and passed my details over the phone without even bothering to seek my consent in doing so. I was then asked to sign a letter giving all the blahblah about “mandatory” this and that, presented as a fait accompli, and ending with the phrase “We have passed your contact details onto [the provider] who will be in touch with you shortly.”

As I had read that people who have outright refused the WP from the outset are now being sanctioned, I decided it was better to sign the letter after writing the following on it: “I have had sight of this letter. I have not consented to my details being passed to a third party.”

The adviser’s face visibly reddened when I asked this. I also produced Michael Petek’s analysis of the legality of workfare schemes and asked the adviser what legal basis there was for the Work Programme being mandatory. She had no answer.

She also tried to sneak acceptance of the Work Programme into my Jobseeker’s Agreement, which I refused to sign until she had amended the wording to confirm that I disputed the legality of the WP and was only signing the Agreement under protest.

I have since written to the ICO to make a complaint under the Data Protection Act and written to the Secretary of State at the DWP (currently Iain Duncan Smith) to say that I dispute the legality of the WP and that I will be attending the induction session (to prevent sanctioning of my benefits) “under protest”. This is basically the same tactic that people use when they write a cheque to get a cowboy wheelclamper to release their car, with the intent of recovering the money later in court.

Copies of the letter have gone to the provider, the head of the local Jobcentre Plus and my local MP. I have also forwarded my case to one of the country’s best known specialists in human rights law and am awaiting their response.

So, all in all, things have become a whole lot more interesting… 😉

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So the big day arrives…

After a couple of false alarms and postponements, I’m finally due to have my official Work Programme “interview”. At the moment I’m doing my research and preparing a few questions. Basically whenever they tell me something is “mandatory”, I will be asking them to clarify exactly where in law it states that it is mandatory. I’m expecting to see some very blank faces tomorrow… 😉

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‘We will answer any questions you have’

I think they may come to regret those words. 🙂

The letter I received isn’t the actual one they send you to say they’ve put you on the WP, it’s one to go to the Jobcentre where a DWP employee and one of the “partnership” employees tells me what it’s about. And they’ve now called my voicemail to say that interview has been postponed, so I still have plenty of time to prepare plenty of questions for this, assuming I don’t get a job offer between now and then (I do actively seek work, whatever idiots in the Daily Fail comments think).

So what questions should I be asking them about the WP? All suggestions welcomed. 😉

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And so it begins…

I was told verbally a few weeks ago by a Jobcentre Plus employee that I would be put on the “mandatory” Work Programme in late October.

In theory, the Work Programme doesn’t sound too bad. Very few people actually want to try making ends meet on a pittance and not make a contribution to society, everyone I know who is on Jobseekers’ Allowance does actually want a job or be economically active in some other way.

If the Work Programme was genuinely there to help jobseekers find work or gain relevant experience to increase their prospects of finding work, that would be fair enough. But feedback from people who have already been on these schemes is not good. They report that they have been forced to work in charity shops or corporate employers like Tesco, doing the same jobs as the paid workers but only receiving benefits and being told at the outset that there would be no job at the end of their sentence. I have also read of people having their benefits cut off for six months for being five minutes late on one occasion. In short, it appears to be little more than a cheap forced labour programme for corporations.

I can’t confirm the truth of any of these things – but what I will be doing is telling my own story step by step.

I understand from the Work Programme Network that it appears to be a “workfare” scheme that may be illegal under international law. It is apparently so shoddily put together that no legislation has been passed to support it and participants will technically be in breach of their jobseeking responsibilities under Section 17A of the Jobseekers Act 1995!

At this stage, I am not committing myself to any particular action or campaign – but I’ll certainly be keeping people updated about how I get on.

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