A recent advocacy stall at High Riggs Jobcentre in Edinburgh saw ECAP meet two claimants needing immediate support – we accompanied both into the Jobcentre there and then. This resulted in decent outcomes for both claimants, not least due to the claimants sticking up for themselves.
Both cases involved attempts by the Jobcentre to deny the right to be accompanied. Despite the DWP proclaiming on its website :
“Customers have the right to ask a representative to help them conduct their business with DWP”
There is a consistent pattern of the DWP attempting to deny this basic right. Every time the DWP have tried this in Edinburgh we have forced them to back down – as we did this time. We will never give in to the DWP bullies!
The events described here underline the importance of front-line advocacy. We urge more and more people to get involved in our regular advocacy stalls, no previous experience is required, the more people that are present on our stalls, and the more often we can organise stalls, the more pressure we put on the Jobcentre to respect claimants.
Through consistently mobilising a growing presence at the Jobcentres and Assessment Centres we can start to exercise a counter-power to fight back the wave of harassment, threats, bullying, benefit cuts and sanctions which menace claimants every day.
NOT SO SIMPLE PAYMENTS
The following tale underlines the Kafkaesque bureaucracy which plagues the benefits system, and which causes real suffering to the people who depend on this system to survive.
A claimant attending High Riggs reported that he had not received any benefits for several weeks. Although the benefit WAS being paid by the DWP, the shop where he got his benefits payments via the “Simple Payments” scheme was refusing to process the payment to him. Like many homeless people he had a problem providing sufficient proof of ID. However the main problem seemed to be that the Simple Payment computer system held an out-of-date address for him, and thus the staff at the shop running Simple Payments were telling him he had to provide ID for an address where he no longer lived!
This claimant was suffering real hardship, having no income at all and having to borrow money just to eat.
He had come to High Riggs jobcentre to ask if they could write a letter to the shop where he went for the Simple Payments, or help in some other way. We offered to accompany him. The official we saw did not welcome our advocate’s presence and at one stage told our advocate to leave and move to the waiting area – the official wanted to conduct the interview with the claimant alone. Naturally our advocate refused to move, citing everyone’s right to be accompanied. The claimant insisted he wanted our advocate to remain. The official then backed down and the interview continued with our advocate present throughout.
The official did then proceed to try and assist the claimant. He rang Simple Payments – however incredibly the staff member at the Simple Payments number refused to accept the Jobcentre official’s confirmation of the claimant’s identity, asserting that the claimant had answered a security question wrongly. In short Simple Payments refused to assist in solving the issue. However the DWP official then printed out, signed and stamped a letter which confirmed the claimant’s right to his benefits, a letter which the claimant could show the shop which processed the Simple Payments. The jobcentre official also said that if there were any further problems the claimant should come back to see him for further assistance.
The claimant was very pleased with the outcome and thanked us, expressing his belief that he would not have achieved this outcome without our support.
We wonder if others have experienced problems with Simple Payments?
According to the DWP “Simple Payment is a way for people who don’t have an account to collect benefit, pension or child maintenance payments. They’re only available in very limited circumstances.“ According to another site the scheme involves the private companies PayPoint and Citibank. Meanwhile discussion on the Rights Net site suggests the system will be abolished in the foreseeable future.
We have also received worrying information from shop workers about anti-claimant prejudices amongst some shop staff which may influence how they administer the scheme (info from a different shop chain to the one which serviced the High Riggs claimant) and other concerns from shop workers that they are not trained or supported to carry out such a vital task.
Feedback invited! Email ECAP or message us on Facebook or twitter.
RIGHT TO ACCOMPANY ASSERTED
A woman waiting outside High Riggs told us that she had wanted to accompany her friend, who was not a native English speaker, to his appointment at the jobcentre. But she had been told this was not permitted, and she was told to leave. We explained that all claimants had the right to be accompanied at all appointments. She took up our offer to accompany her into the jobcentre to assert this right. The official concerned seemed very perturbed at our appearance and a G4S security guard quickly moved his bulky frame into the area.
The woman explained that she now knew she had the right to accompany her friend and she wished to do so. The official who had denied this right started making excuses, saying that the claimant did understand and speak English perfectly well. We pointed out that this was irrelevant, everyone had the RIGHT to be accompanied, as was stated on the DWP website.
The official then backed down, and respected the claimant’s right to have his friend present. Since the woman was now able to accompany her friend, our advocate started to leave. As he was walking out the security guard came up and told our advocate “You have to leave now”. Our advocate pointed out that he WAS in fact leaving, that it was not up to the G4S security guard to say when he should or should not leave, and could the security guard give his name so his behaviour could be reported.
ECAP holds the names of the officials and security guard involved in both attempts to deny the right to be accompanied, and will be taking this up with the higher DWP management. If you are denied the right to be accompanied to any benefits appointment, do not accept this, insist on your rights, and contact ECAP for support.