Oh joy, Job Centre Saturday

When I recently managed to secure a few weeks of work, I had to telephone my local Benefit Processing Centre so that they could suspend my Jobseekers Allowance. As this is all new to me (and I obviously sound so green), I was told by the helpful woman on the other end of the phone that if found myself out of work again within 12 weeks (which I was certain to) then I could use their ‘rapid reclaim’ service to re-activate my benefit without the hassle of having to re-apply. That sounded perfect, so I happily went off to screen-grab from Horse & Country Television’s back-catalogue of equine-based programming.

When I finally came to use the ‘rapid reclaim’ service I was naively expecting my call to go through to some kind of Bat Phone, where my Jobseekers claim would be switched back on with the verbal equivalent of a simple nod.

I didn’t quite get through to the Bat Phone. However, I did get through to a lovely lady who patiently took me through a phone interview, which, ironically, was every bit as long as my original interview. With something of a heavy heart, she explained that they had new guidelines in place and that she was legally required to read out every single word of the questionnaire she had in front of her. And bless her, she did indeed read everything out – didn’t skimp one bit – but she did so with an apologetic tone. However, it did mean I had to sit through questions like:

Do you live with…

(a) Your husband/wife
(b) Your civil partner
(c) A dominatrix (or dominatrices)
(d) A Capuchin monkey (like when Ross lived with Marcel in season one of ‘Friends’)
(e) The perfectly preserved corpse of your mother, whose clothes you occasionally wear/smell

The fact that I live with my girlfriend required a tick in the ‘other’ box.

Aside from the infuriating lack of rapidity with regards to my reclaim, I was then told that I’d have to return to the Job Centre for an interview, and that I was booked in for 9:20am on a Saturday morning. (Honestly, the recession’s turned the world on its head! A Saturday??!)

Getting up and going to the Job Centre on a Saturday morning felt a bit like weekend detention, but without having to pick up litter in the playground or repeatedly excuse myself to go to the toilet for a cigarette. It felt quite weird. But perhaps the weirdest thing was some of the people who were in Saturday ‘detention’ with me. 

I saw one man who looked a little bit like Quentin Letts. Forthright, well-spoken, bespectacled, and wearing a sensible jumper and chinos, he looked like he’d just parked a Porsche Cayenne Turbo outside (one of the last vestiges of his pre-recession life). Another man walked past me wearing designer glasses and a look of apprehension. It would only have been more obvious that he was a disillusioned professional if he’d been wearing a garish knitted jumper with those words emblazoned across his chest, or perhaps had them painfully tattooed across his forehead.

When you’re waiting in the Job Centre with a load of wiry, acne-ridden, Devvo-esque youths, it sort of gives you a sense of hope. The experience is so alien that you can’t help but think: “I very clearly don’t belong here with these people. This is obviously some sort of mistake that will swiftly be rectified.” However, when you’re in the Job Centre and find yourself brushing shoulders with unemployed thirty and fortysomething professionals, it reminds you that you’re caught up in something quite extraordinary and that ‘normality’ has been indefinitely suspended.

When my name was finally called out, my chatty and insuppressibly optimistic advisor almost convinced me that things were starting to look up. “Really?” I said, with a trace of suspicion in my voice. “Yes, well, there’s a Poundland opening soon, which should create lots of jobs,” she replied.

With a stony face I decided to ride roughshod over her optimism, saying: “That’s great. But in my world, things are still pretty slow.” I didn’t bother getting into a conversation about why Stratford-upon-Avon even needed another discount store when we already had a Poundstretcher. And I chose not to tell her the story about the one and only time I visited that store (for bargain basement batteries), which led to the humiliating experience of my debit card being inexplicably declined in front of a long queue of people. Before the man next to me could lynch me with his JML Fast-Fit ironing board cover, I indignantly grabbed my card from the Chip & Pin machine and fled the store – never to return. 

Anyway, at least that’s my ‘rapid reclaim’ all sorted. It’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back, but it’s over with. Of course, now my Jobseekers Allowance has been re-started I’ve got to once again start keeping a fascinating job-search diary. I shall also be keeping a length of rope under the bed in case the words “Applied to Poundland” are ever scrawled on its pages.

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19 Comments

Filed under Personal, Unemployment

19 responses to “Oh joy, Job Centre Saturday

  1. Thanks I found this blog really useful, I’ll recommend it to friends.

  2. Dan

    Sounds about right. A Saturday? Blimey. Just pray you never have to do a New Deal course…

  3. andytoots

    Hi Dan,

    Yeah, the Saturday appointment really threw me! I had to ask the woman on the phone to repeat herself because I thought I’d misheard!

    I’m not normally a praying man, but in this time of recession I will indeed pray – hard – that I never have to do a New Deal course.

  4. Dan

    You probably wont have to. The Flexible New Deal course is even worse! Be afraid, be very afraid! I am too so don’t feel like you are alone – I am sure the 3 million other unemployed people are also the same.

    I am not sure what the course providers are like where you are but one near us: http://intensiveactivity.wordpress.com/2009/05/22/ymca-training-dencora-house-detention-centre/ read and weap lol.

  5. andytoots

    Hi Dan,

    Dencora House sounds utterly bizarre. Is there really such thing as an ‘Assistant Manager Only Fire Door’ in an emergency (or in the real world)? I’d like to see Sally Smith try and be the only person to charge through that door as fire ravages the building!

    Love the observation about the disabled parking spaces. I’m surprised they didn’t put some steps in just to make things even more difficult!

    However, comical oberservations aside, it sounds like a truly miserable place.

  6. Dan

    Sally Smith Assistant Manager seems a nice woman so should there be a fire I sincerely doubt she would obstruct people using it. The Fire Door just is very close to her office and far away from the other rooms – it can be used if you decide to walk through a few sets of internal doors… thus to walk from one side the building to the other makes it her own exclusive fire door.

    I have to be honest and admit it was the FIRST thing I noticed about the place while I walked through the gates of Hell (sorry I mean the detention centre)…

    There are two sets of steps – one to the left and one to the right. There is a lift which I have never seen used. Even though that tickbox has been ticked I think the fact that physically disabled people have to walk further than the more able and that it would be hard to use a wheelchair (should the person be in one) around the centre makes it poor for accessibility.

    Even miserable sounds a mild word to use.

  7. andytoots

    Thankfully, as I’m not a denizen of Ipswich, the closest I’ll ever get to Dencora House is your descriptions of it!

    But that’s not to say there’s something similar waiting for me in my neck of the woods. Hope not.

  8. Dan

    Well… I am hearing all sorts from different providers all across the country including A4e and Pertemps.

    I would say there is a big chance of something similar, however, unlikely to be as bad as Dencora House. This said, it could also be worse…

  9. Pingback: Ipswich Unemployed Action: 2 week review « Ipswich Unemployed Action.

  10. Dan

    I had an appointment today for 6pm.

    Doors locked. Sign saying closing time is 5pm…

    Finally someone from security opened it. Made me 10 minutes late, I got moaned at, I explained, I was moaned at.

    Then I got told after all that and a 20 minute wait while the woman consulted with everyone else there doing overtime (several staff members) who all didn’t know the procedure.

    I was told to go home and they refused to refund travel even though the letter stated I was entitled to reimbursement.

    • andytoots

      Hi Dan,

      Blimey. It sounds like a real shambles where you are.

      I signed on today, but was in and out of the Job Centre in about five minutes. A few pleasantries, signed my name, said goodbye.

      Hope things get better for you soon.

      • Dan

        haha, don’t remind me! The last time I signed on… I was left waiting for 20 minutes… then when I did finally get called without any apology it lasted literally no more than 30-45 seconds. Confirm address and then sign.

        “Thats it this time…”: They always say that.

  11. Jon

    A saturday?! blimey! – actually my wife just got news of an interview at the job centre at 1.50pm on a saturday (in 2 weeks time)… joy oh joy..

    I’d already planned some stuff for us to do together that weekend.. (since I’m working all the hours under the sun for us to survive, we don’t get a lot of time together during the week) but like they said in the letter you gotta have some convincing argument for not going, “we need some quality time” just doesn’t cut it..
    A Saturday?!.. no – “I’d rather do a sunday and inconvenience you” also would not draw a very good response..
    Remind me which religions require that you attend their place of worship on a Saturday (and allow females to come as well)? I think I’ll convert..

  12. andytoots

    Hi Jon,

    I think you should pack a sumptuous hamper on that Saturday, with a bottle of champagne and some delectable nibbles, and relax with your wife in the Job Centre’s reception. Perhaps take along some chilled music to play as well.

    If staff at the Job Centre ask you what you’re doing, just tell them that their ridiculous interview scheduling threatened to rob you of some precious quality time with your wife (a rarity amid the gloom of the recession and the dismal job scene), so you had no choice but to bring your existing plans to them. It might make for interesting day out (and prove a point as well!)

    I sincerely hope that your wife manages to find work soon, so that you can both return to normality as soon as possible.

    • Jon

      I liked your idea for the day out… but having been there in the past I just can’t face it on a day I’m supposed to relax.

  13. Jon

    ahem… so here’s the thing.. my wife went.. did the deed – it “only” took an hour so thats not so bad..

    However, while she was in there she was told that they (the staff) all had to work weekends to cope with the workload, thats fair enough you think, but also she was told they all get double pay for being there on Saturdays..hang on.. I’ll say that again..
    “they all get double pay for being there on Saturdays”
    Will this mean that in my wifes Job Seekers Allowance payment there’ll be a bit more this week?

    Not….a….hope….

    • andytoots

      Hi Jon,

      I hate to say it…but if, by some terrible twist of fate, I ever ended up working for DWP I’d be over the moon with the double pay arrangement for pulling a few weekend hours. Of course, the one thing I wouldn’t do, in my capacity as a Job Centre advisor, would be to reveal my cushty overtime deal to the poor unemployed person sat across the desk from me! The lack of tact is absolutely astounding.

      It’s like saying: “I’m doing pretty well out of this recession. How’s the joblessness and dwindling bank account going?”

      I’d certainly get behind a double benefit incentive for weekend Job Centre appointments. But sadly, that’s something we’ll only ever see in our dreams.

  14. Rob

    Lovely blog, really cheered my soul this morning!

    I stumbled upon this via Google as I’m about to embark on the Rapid Reclaim adventure myself after finding a weeks’ work. Amazing how quickly they send out your P45 when signing off don’t you think? Hoping I can avoid the Saturday sign on, that just sounds horrible!

    Be lucky!

    • andytoots

      Hi Rob,

      Thanks for leaving such a great comment. I’m really glad that your soul has been cheered!

      I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you can avoid any Saturday appointments at the Job Centre, and I’ll keep them tightly crossed in the hope that things pick up for you on the job front very soon.

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