‘They could refer me to it whenever they liked’

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Job Centre Advisors routinely ignore their own rules; the process for challenging bad decisions is sometimes so obscure and long-winded that someone’s time on a placement is served before they get far enough to have the decision overturned. This person’s story highlights what a deeply frustrating process this can be.

I was referred to Mandatory Work Activity in March 2013 by an adviser who, until the day I was referred, I had never met before. No adviser told me I was being considered for MWA, nor were any concerns about my job search raised, and the reason given was the period of time that I had been unemployed and needed work experience.

Having been referred I researched what MWA entailed and found that this adviser had failed to follow several of the guidelines set by the DWP for referral (failure to use the Customer Assessment Tool, the rule about the referral never coming as a surprise to a claimant and eligibility amongst other things) so made a phone call the next day to express my displeasure at this. I raised these concerns with the adviser who referred me, who fairly flippantly told me that they could refer me to it whenever they liked.

A week passed before I received a letter in the mail from the workfare provider, who despite all of my previous work experience coming in administrative/office positions, saw fit to refer me to four weeks at a Cancer Research UK shop. When I arrived at the shop the following Monday to start my placement, the people working there seemed to know as much about my placement as I did (i.e. nothing) and were obviously massively overstaffed and sent me home after two hours. To date I am yet to complete a six-hour day there.

I sent a lengthy written complaint to the Jobcentre, outlining my grievances and asking for the documents they held on me and my referral to be sent to me (something I had already done over the phone), and was given a meeting with the building manager. The meeting was unproductive; the building manager entirely supported the referral, told me that my dispute was based on technicalities (that technicality being the failure of the adviser to use a tool that determines a claimant’s eligibility for the programme) and that it “wasn’t difficult” to find employment in my line of work and that if I had been carrying out my job search properly I wouldn’t still be unemployed. I found him to be generally quite rude and condescending (e.g. rhetorically asking if I was going to complain “when you’re referred to Work Programme”) and seriously resented the thinly-veiled implication that my unemployment was my own fault. I’ve worked in customer service and HR positions, and probably would’ve been severely reprimanded or sacked if I had acted in the same way as the Jobcentre employees I’ve dealt with.

I’m currently in the process of referring my complaint to the Director General of Operations at the DWP, as per their website, as well as wasting my time folding clothes at Cancer Research UK. I still haven’t received the documents I asked them for three weeks ago.


Comments (3)

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It is good that this complaint is being pursued. Sadly, however, there seems to be little in the way of meaningful redress for benefit claimants who have been treated unfairly. After going through the DWP's internal complaints procedure the next stage involves the Independent Case Examiner (the appropriateness of the word "Independent" has been much discussed). Here is one man's experience of the complaints procedure:


I have suffered the same thing first with flexible new deal and now with Workprogramme I complained about my provider the independent case examiner came in


It's definitely worth making a complaint when claimants are treated in such a cavalier manner, but how many would know how to go about it? The system is so labyrinthine and baffling (deliberately so) that it effectively puts many off from lodging any sort of protest.