Believe it or not, I try to write my blogs when I’m not in an emotive state. I like to let the information soak in properly, analyse it, then write constructively about it. True, I don’t always spell-check or proof-read, but I’m at least calm when I write. On top of that, I’ve given up worrying about my personal circumstances. These last few months have been such a struggle that I’m starting to think I can get through anything.
However, just when I think things can’t get any worse, the government pushes me further and further towards the edge.
This week I received a letter from the DWP telling me that despite paying tax and national insurance for 16 years, I won’t be able to receive JSA after August. My crime? I dared to go self-employed rather than claim immediately when I was made redundant in September, thus paying class 3 NI contributions instead of the class 1 needed to qualify for JSA*. This means that I haven’t paid enough in the last two years to be eligible to claim after August.
I wasn’t too bothered by this development, as I hope to have found work or have the business more established by August, but it is a slight worry.
Then today I received my housing benefit and council tax decision statement.
Now the first thing that struck me about the three sheets I received from Brighton and Hove Council is that to the normal person they look like a selection of numbers plonked down on a form in no logical order. There is no supporting letter clarifying my entitlement or the decision-making process behind it, and the sheet entitled “How your benefit is worked out” is just another sheet of figures with no explanation included.
My rent is £220 per month, the cheapest I know of in Brighton and certainly well below the local housing allowance limit for the area. From the letter, I gather that I am only eligible for housing benefit to 65% of my rent, despite my minimal income and reliance on JSA. Even more bizarrely, I will only receive 20% council tax benefit. This, combined with my JSA (when I get it) gives me an income of £450 per month. My rent and bills total around £320 per month, thus leaving me £130 per month for food, transport and personal bills.
On this basis, from August, if I am unable to obtain a job (I have applied for a number of jobs that I am over-qualified for, and not even obtained an interview) or gain significant investment in my social enterprise, my income will be £180 per month- assuming that my HB and CTB entitlement does not change. At very best, my income will cover only my rent and council tax.
I am in the process of applying for Working Tax Credits instead of JSA, but it’s doubtful that I will be able to claim, as my income will be based on my previous years’ earnings, and as I was still in employment for six months I was slightly over the threshold for claiming.
So what does all this mean?
Sadly, it means that despite the government’s “commitment to assisting new businesses” (what?) I may well have to close the business down. It also means that when I am looking for jobs, all an employer will have to do is to google my name and they will see what my passion really is – and it’s not making money for them. I have to make the stark choice of either closing the businesses, or face being unable to pay my rent.
There is also a lesson for others here: If you lose your job, claim JSA immediately. Don’t bother trying to start your own business, no matter how well intended it may be, until you are financially stable or have a consistent income.
For those of you interested, my business is a social enterprise designed to provide work training opportunities for adults with learning disabilities. 100% of income goes to good causes. You can find out more at www.sweetopportunity.co.uk
*Incidentally, when I first became self-employed I attended an HMRC workshop telling me what I should pay and when. It was mentioned then that NI contributions are voluntary while your income is below a certain level, but we were encouraged to make contributions so as not to affect what was addressed as “benefit entitlement”. How were we to know that that statement was shallow and vague?