You know, it pains me to say this, but I actually understand benefit cheats now. The system is designed to screw you up so badly that I don’t blame them for lying. My desire to be 100% honest and transparent from the start of my claim seems to have been my downfall.
It’s just over a month since I opened my claim, and I’m yet to receive a single penny. My rent is late and I am getting deeper into debt with every passing day.
I have seen or spoken to five different advisors about my Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claim. During every single conversation I have mentioned that I am running two businesses while looking for part-time work. They sent details of my claim to the council, so that I can claim council tax and housing benefit. I have now seen two different advisors at the council, and I told them both exactly what my situation is.
Every time I see or speak to an advisor, they don’t know what to do. Every time they have had to go and get advice from a manager before continuing to process my claim.
When I opened my housing benefit claim I took along printouts of my business accounts, but the advisor assured me that they weren’t needed. Today I visited the housing benefit office for a second time, to provide them with of all the information they had requested – copies of bank statements and the pro-formas detailing my projected business incomes that I had been asked to complete when I opened my claim. They clearly asked for this information – and this information only – on the letter they sent me.
So guess what? Today I was asked why I hadn’t provided my accounts for the businesses. I was also told that I had completed the pro-formas incorrectly, despite following the guidance that the previous advisor had given me. I then tried to explain the range of work that I do, but because I hadn’t listed every single aspect of it in great detail, I was told that I couldn’t claim one particular item as an expense. That item was a website subscription that allows me to find paid work. The (very brash) advisor then struggled to understand the terms “social enterprise”, “not for profit” and “I’m not drawing any money from the business yet.”
No one seems to care that I’m trying to grow a business that will a) help stimulate the economy, b) support local charities, c) offer opportunities to marginalised adults, and d) EMPLOY PEOPLE. Worse than that- I started my claim entirely as a back-up plan. Most weeks I won’t receive any JSA as I’m earning (slightly) more than JSA pays. As soon as I have secured some regular part-time work I’ll be closing the claim down*.
I feel like I’m banging my head on a brick wall. Every time I have an appointment I have to repeat myself endlessly, only to be told that I’m doing something wrong. This is usually then followed by a swift u-turn when they realise that they have got it wrong, after which they pass the buck to someone else. In the meantime I am without money to pay my rent or bills, or – dare I even suggest such a thing as a feckless benefit scrounger- go out for a quick drink with friends occasionally. Friends and family can only bail me out so far, and as I’m sure anyone who has been without money will tell you- being dependent on other people quickly zaps your self-esteem.
But this is not a plea for help. This is a plea for understanding. Let me show you an alternative situation:
- I go to the Job Centre, don’t tell them about my businesses
- My form gets sent to the council for council tax and housing benefit assessment
- I provide them with my bank statements
- I get money
Which of these ways appears less stressful to you? I haven’t even mentioned the fact that I’m only allowed to work 16 hours to keep the claim open, and the time I’ve wasted finding documentation and going to appointments- time I could have been spending on my businesses. You know- making money, paying tax, employing people…
*Actually I may close the claim down before that – a friend has given me some good advice about moving on to Working Tax Credits instead – it’s just a shame that no one in this entire system was able to advise me earlier. That said, I can’t even get through on the phone to obtain a claim form.