It is a requirement of entitlement for Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) that a job seeker takes steps to find work every week. Unfortunately, the powers given to Jobcentre Plus are at times exercised to undermine this very process, acting to destroy a person’s chances of finding work. Of wider significance it appears that Lord Freud’s own statement on how Jobcentre Plus staff are supposed to take decisions is being flouted by the deliberate taking of unreasonable decisions, unlawful following the Wednesbury principles.
The irrational attitude displayed by some branches of Jobcentre Plus towards individuals on Job Seeker’s Allowance was illustrated in a recent case reported to Z2K. ‘Dr Kay’ was perversely ordered by his local Jobcentre to attend in person every day and sign at 1pm at his local office, notwithstanding that the office admitted it had no vacancies suitable for him, nor practical suggestions appropriate to the conduct his job search. Dr Kay had paid many years of national insurance contributions and was a former civil servant who whilst employed had been given a high security clearance with respect to the sensitivity of his work. This ended in the summer of 2012 and thereafter he had not claimed benefit until his own savings and resources had been exhausted.
Whilst daily signing has sometimes been reported as a requirement with homeless people this was not only a pointless and irrational direction but one which effectively undermined Dr Kay’s daily search for work, since many key contacts for him were with staff at academic institutions who could only be contacted during lunch-times.
Backed by Z2K Dr Kay challenged Jobcentre Plus by way of a complaint. He also served an appeal letter demanding the daily attendance direction to be referred to the Lower Tier Tribunal as a formal appeal. This was served by hand on the office.
The result on receipt of appeal was a swift apology from the Jobcentre manager – blaming administrative error and the immediate withdrawal of the daily signing declaration so Dr Kay could continue his job search. Dr Kay’s description of the panicked reaction at the branch of Jobcentre Plus to the receipt of his personally served appeal letter resembled that in other DWP offices where similar formal appeals have been lodged. This suggests that staff know what is going – why otherwise the hasty reaction to avoid impartial scrutiny?
No proper explanation has yet been forthcoming for this “administrative error”; it is regrettably another example of the deficiencies and self-defeating nature of the system currently operating which tries to control and sanction claimants. This suggests that, despite the official denials from Ian Duncan Smith, there remain targets for sanctions. Despite what has been said by Ministers, it appears that within the DWP there are officials who are persisting in operating administration practices which works to undermine claimants. Jobcentre Plus can still employ tactics which have the effect of forcing individuals off benefits by undermining them with unachievable and irrational directions.
One possibility is that Dr Kay was victim of a practice which works for the internal purposes in pacifying the demands of Ministers. If so, this means the needs of top civil service management are thus being put ahead of the interests of claimants, rather than presenting Ministers with the real picture or revealing to them that the policy of the government is out of touch with reality and its policies are actually damaging the unemployed.