Yesterday I was in court (for the third time) because my Local Authority Housing Benefit (HB) Dept are inept; they have for the past 2 years been playing with my HB account suspending/releasing and finally after 14 month closing my HB account! payments. My supportive Housing Association officer has done everything she can to help sort this to no avail hence the Court involvement.
To cut a long irrelevant story short this was our third appearance in court and the judge had at the last meeting called the Director of Housing to come before her to explain the situation; we arrived to find HB had sent a Team Leader (TL) as a representative who in front of the judge could only reply with the obligatory “I don’t know”! To say the judge was unamused is an understatement and the upshot was yet another adjournment with an order that HB must prioritise my new claim (submitted yesterday afternoon).
It was at the point the fun started, as we left the court room someone said ‘if only my ESA was income related my claim would be passported’, which means an automatic entitlement to HB, and I admit I lost it; I stopped and very firmly stated “It is”, everyone stood still, the TL very quietly said “for how long” and at my reply of “3 years” his face dropped. He started to bluster about me having evidence of this, and both my rep & housing officer beat me to stating the on screen records of communication with the DWP would show this. At this I was ready to explode and my body’s response to real anger is I start to shake; my partner caught me before I fell and I was taken away to a quiet area to sit and breathe!
After I’d stopped shaking my rep said I could go to the local JobCentre+ (2 buildings away) and ask for a letter from them proving this, but, I had to pretend the court had sent me and I needed this immediately to avoid eviction; he then stated “DO NOT tell them its for HB otherwise they’ll refuse and say they should look it up” !
Entering the JobCentre we went immediately to the desk where I quietly explained to the person on reception what I needed, his immediate response was “you really need to phone for this information”, using the script from my legal rep, I said it was urgent and that I would really appreciate his help ; he began to bluster away about process, systems and staff not having time to do things immediately, and then said something so sincerely I had to bend over ‘coughing’ to cover up laughter “we do get taken advantage of”. I forced myself to thank him and reiterated my appreciation and he said he’d go and see if someone could help me.
Waiting there, with nothing else to do, I started to count the number of staff chatting of the 25 of so staff I could see only 5 looked as if they were actually ‘working’ the others were in small groups laughing, nodding and talking; and it didn’t look like work; and this was whilst 9 people sat waiting! If this is usual, I understand why claimants with regular appointments are angry, being met with either jobs worth attitudes or ignored!. After around 10 minutes I was called by a woman who had provided a 2 line letter stating what benefit I was in receipt of.
This snapshot of a small personal issue raises real concern – if the behaviour of my HB Dept. is indicative of others nationally with them unwilling/incapable of using the current IT system which already links directly to DWP to determine benefits, and choosing to ignore DWP Policies such as ‘passporting’; and if the attitudes at my local JobCentre+, considering ‘customers’ as problems who take advantage or to be blatantly ignored is suggestive of others; I’d be really interested to know
The other outcome of yesterday for me was, the whole fiasco resulted in me going into shock and I saw every half hour last night because I know I’m to go through it again in another 3 weeks or so!
To conclude I rediscovered the quote I used in the title that sums up the current UK & Global situation for me ““The poor cannot sleep, because they are hungry, and the rich cannot sleep, because the poor are awake.” Nigerian economist Sam Aluko 1999.