Job Cent-argh (with addendum)

After being out of work for nearly two months now, I finally got my arse in gear to do something about National Insurance. I don't want to claim jobseekers' – having to claim it for three weeks in 2001 put me off for life; pen-pushing staff who wanted to get me into any shitty job and wouldn't take 'I've joined my own agencies, thanks' for an answer ('go look at our job boards, dear'), and patronised me when I tried to patiently explain that the reason I was saying there weren't any jobs for my skills was not, actually, a lack of self confidence but that my industry had just collapsed and, funnily enough, employers tended not to believe that someone with a degree wouldn't stick at their menial job for more than a couple of days / hours.

Unfortunately, to get National Insurance credits or whatever it is (I got really lost on the phone) I have to attend Catford Job Centre tomorrow for an interview. Which will doubtless consist of a similar non-listening bureaucrat and make me want to tear my ears off in frustration.

Suddenly I'm seized by an urge to call up every agency I can find and make them find me a contracting job.

Edit Tuesday afternoon: 90 minutes down at the local Job Centre Plus and it transpires I can't get National Insurance credits without being paid Jobseekers' Allowance and dealing with the attendant bells and whistles; going down there every two weeks and promising, like a good Girl Guide, that I have been checking my websites twice a week to someone who hasn't the faintest idea what I do – even the computer didn't have a vague match for my job title and then threw a fit when it didn't have a code it could use. Thing is, they only realised that I'd have to take Jobseekers' after I'd spent 90 minutes there, so they had to book me in for a different interview on Thursday.


I got home and called another helpline. 'Does it make the blindest bit of difference if I have a small hole in NI contributions?' I asked. 'No,' says the helpful woman. 'You only need 30 years full contributions so I wouldn't worry about it.' So I'm cancelling the Thursday appointment.

This is what drives me crazy about the benefits system – it's one size is supposed to fit all and completely doesn't. Why couldn't someone at Job Centre Plus have talked to me about why I didn't want JSA and had an intelligent discussion about the options? Why couldn't we have looked at my financial situation (actually pretty good) and whether it was worth wasting taxpayers' money on me when I don't need it (yet)? Instead, the guy just launched into his set spiel of making me swear on my life that I'd be good and look for work (and I had a hell of a time telling that it would be appropriate work, not just any old shite that came along) so the government wouldn't take away the £60 a week that I didn't want  to begin with.

For £60 a week. It's not worth it.


9 responses to “Job Cent-argh (with addendum)

  1. Jamie January 12, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    To be fair, the staff at the Job Centre in 2001 weren’t patronising you, they were trying to stop you taking money out of a public pot.
    In fact, I think Job Centre staff need to be much more aggressive. Work is evil, but for most of us, it’s a necessary evil. I’d never claim unless I had to, and whilst I understand you were in that very had-to situation, you have appriciate the Job Centre’s role – To kick the arse of those people who think it’s ok to take money and not work. Scum.

  2. Rachel Holdsworth January 12, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    No, really! It’s too long ago to be able to quote verbatim, but the conversation went along the lines of:
    Me: There’s honestly no point me applying for this [vastly underpaid, menial] job.
    Job Centre Woman: Why not?
    Me: Well, in my experience employers look at my CV and ask why a graduate wants to work for them. They know I’ll be off the second something better comes up.
    JCW: Well, you don’t know unless you try! I know what you’re going through – my son just graduated and he doesn’t have the confidence to apply for jobs, he’s afraid of being knocked back…
    Me: No, really. I have the confidence, it’s just that I know this is pointless. I’m registered with a ton of temping agencies, I’m calling them every day, I’ll get work in a couple of weeks, I’m being very pro-active…
    JCW: Well, just fill out these applications anyway [for some factory job or other].
    I got less than two weeks’ dole before getting a job on my own. She was just wasting my time, her time, and the poor employer who received my application.

  3. Kate January 14, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    You do actually lose the right to quite a lot of things if you have gaps in your NI contributions. My colleague’s husband didn’t get redundancy summat-or-other because he had two years’ gap (when he was living abroad). It only costs £2.20 a week (if you’re ‘self-employed’) or a signing-on trip every two weeks (if you’re ‘unemployed’) and it can definitely be a minefield if you don’t.
    As for that £60 a week – well, for some people it makes a massive difference. If you think you’re above it, then that’s your choice, but perhaps best not to sound quite so snotty while doing so.

  4. Rachel January 14, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Yes, this is the other thing – nobody even mentioned the possibility of paying the top-up. Which, if I’m out of work for more than a couple of months, I will do. But thus far my NI pot is chock-full…
    Which is another reason for not blowing it by taking JSA now. I certainly don’t think I’m “above” JSA and its £60 a week. But right now? It’d feel like benefit fraud – I don’t need it so why should I take it (thereby using up my six-month NI-based contribution allowance before having to go on income-based allowance). Taking £60 a week that I don’t need, that someone else does, just to have Job Centre Plus have the privilege of asking me what kind of job I can get with a History degree (no joke: two people said that yesterday. If they don’t know what jobs it leads to, and they’re the Job Centre, I give up), that’s what’s not worth it. If the benefits system had a bit more flexibility in it, or its workforce, they might be able to stop throwing money at people who don’t need it and perhaps have more to spend on people who do.

  5. Will January 15, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    I could do with £60 a week at the moment, but they won’t give me ought. Remember this is means tested so they wouldn’t give you anything either.
    The NI thing isn’t a big deal as according to Directgov you need 30 years contributions or “You’ll get 1/30 of the full basic State Pension for each qualifying year you have. In practice this means that any number of qualifying years will give you entitlement to at least some basic State Pension.”
    Considering we’re all expected to work for another 30 years anyway you could quite easily not pay for 10 years and it not be an issue. I think I already have 10 years contributions under my belt anyway.
    In other news, there’s literally loads of jobs going at the job centre. It’s a growth market though not something I could bring myself to do.

  6. Rachel January 15, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Interesting… I asked them whether it was means tested and they told me it didn’t matter; so long as I was up to date with my NI contributions I could get 6 months of NI-based JSA. Then, after 6 months, it reverts back to income-based JSA. So one of these pieces of advice we’ve been given is wrong. Which doesn’t surprise me. (Maybe we should all go to the Lewes job centre; when I tried to cancel my appointment I was put through to them instead of Lewisham. They sounded lovely and competant in Lewes.)
    Apparently Job Centre staff aren’t allowed to have staplers on their desks in case someone uses it as a weapon.

  7. Will January 15, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    Did you tell them how much savings you had?
    “Your payments might be reduced if you receive income from part-time employment. You’ll get less if you have savings over £6,000. If you have savings over £16,000 you probably won’t qualify.”
    Again from Directgov, but these rules ain’t new.

  8. Rachel Holdsworth January 15, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    I didn’t mention figures, but I said something like ‘I suspect I won’t qualify, I’ve got too much in savings’ and they still said I’d get something. This is the difference between ‘contribution based’ and ‘income based’ JSA, I think. Contributions based you get (according to what I was told in Lewisham) so long as you’ve got enough in your NI pot, and you get it for six months. After that you move onto income based, and that’s the one that’s means tested.
    This Directgov page is slightly clearer, though it could help by bolding the bits above each table to make it clearer which is contribution based and which is income based…

  9. Nick January 27, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    I get JSA for the NI contributions. I work under 16 hours a week and am paid by cheque so I am (or at least I will be once I send the form off) registered self employed.
    I don’t get the £60 as I earn more than that each week, but being registered does mean that I don’t have to worry about being screwed over in the future. And it helps with the tax man to.

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