Know your rights at the jobcentre: refusing changes to your Jobseeker’s Agreement

Yesterday’s confusing court decision on workfare showed two things: firstly, that it’s possible to use the DWP’s own rules and regulations to trip them up, but also that, since they get to write the rules, they’ll usually manage to rewrite them to get out of it. With this in mind, I thought it was worth sharing the results of a recent Freedom of Information request about jobseekers’ agreements.
The jobseeker’s agreement is the contract at the heart of jobseekers’ allowance. It sets out the steps the claimant will take each week to look for work, and, as long as they stick to it, their benefits should be safe. This means that, when the Department for Work and Pensions want to add another hoop for claimants to jump through in order to qualify for benefits, they need to get the claimant to “agree” to change their “agreement”. Of course, as anyone who’s ever signed on will know, the agreement is not the result of an abstract negotiation between two free and equal individuals: the jobcentre advisor tells the claimant what their agreement is going to say, and the claimant usually just automatically agrees, because the threat of benefit sanctions is a scary one and no-one really knows what you can and can’t be sanctioned for.
Universal Jobmatch is one recent example of a new scheme that needed the DWP to change people’s agreements in order to enforce; any new schemes the DWP bring in will require similar changes, and even when they’re not bringing any new ideas in, some jobcentre staff will often just try and change people’s agreements in order to pressure them into doing more stuff per week anyway. So the recent FoI request is useful for making it clear that claimants have some limited rights to resist these changes.
To quote from the DWP’s responses: “Once in place, the claimant or personal adviser can ask for the Agreement to be changed at any time.  Where changes cannot be agreed, the Agreement is referred to a decision maker for them to decide whether the changes being suggested are reasonable. If that decision is made in the claimant’s favour, the original Jobseeker’s Agreement remains in place.  If it does not and the claimant still does not agree with the revisions, the claim will be disallowed from the date on which the agreement could not be agreed.”
and
“If a revised Jobseeker’s Agreement cannot be agreed, the previous Jobseeker’s Agreement remains in place until a decision is made.  Benefit continues to be paid during this period.
This is supported by the following extract from the procedural guidance about referring a Jobseeker’s Agreement to a Decision Maker:
“Payment of Jobseeker’s Allowance based on the existing Jobseeker’s Agreement, continues until a revised one is agreed.”
There is the right of appeal to an Appeal Tribunal against the Decision Maker’s decision on whether the revised Jobseeker’s Agreement is valid. The Appeal Tribunal is independent of the DWP.”

So, to sum up, if your advisor tries to change your agreement, you don’t have to agree to sign, and they don’t have the right to sanction you right away. They have to refer the new agreement to a Decision Maker who’ll decide if it’s “reasonable” or not. Since they work for the DWP, they’ll almost certainly find that it is, but your old agreement will remain in effect until the new agreement is sent off to the Decision Maker, the Decision Maker reaches a decision, and then they send it back to your advisor. At this point, once it’s been approved by the Decision Maker, you probably will have to sign it, but you still have the right to appeal to an independent tribunal, who may be more likely to take your side. At the very least, it should buy you a few weeks, and as Universal Jobmatch and the recent workfare ruling have both shown, a few weeks is a long time at the jobcentre, so it’s possible that by the next time you see your advisor, they’ll have dumped their new scheme, or at least given up on making it compulsory due to fears of bad publicity. And the more people send their agreements off to the Decision Maker, the more the machinery will get clogged up, so the longer the process will take, and the headache for the DWP will get bigger. Apart from anything else, it makes it more likely that your advisor will give up on trying to get you to sign any more new agreements, purely as a way of minimising the hassle caused to them.
Not everyone will always feel confident to refuse to sign new agreements – apart from anything else, if your advisor’s relatively sound, then you might want to give ground on these issues from time to time in order to keep a good relationship with them. But in general, if the information given by the DWP is correct, refusing to sign new agreements until they’ve been inspected by the decision maker can’t get you sanctioned, and it might have some benefits, both in terms of minimising the hassle individual claimants get from the jobcentre and more broadly as a way of obstructing new “welfare reform” schemes.
Of course, when dealing with an institution as complex, secretive and confusing as the benefits system, it’s dangerous to rely too much on information coming from the head office; the only way to be sure is to share our experiences on the ground and let each other know what works and what doesn’t. If your advisor tries to change your agreement, and you refuse to sign up to the new one, share your experience of how it goes in the comments here, or at other sites like the Void, Intensive Activity or consent.me.uk. Sharing our stories is the best way to break down the isolation that the jobcentre tries to enforce, and to start creating the kind of collective movement that claimants need to defend ourselves.

About these ads

About nothingiseverlost

I'm going to carry on trying to fuck with capitalism for as long as it carries on trying to fuck with me.
This entry was posted in know your rights, the unemployed and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Know your rights at the jobcentre: refusing changes to your Jobseeker’s Agreement

  1. Pat Ato. says:

    Nice! I did wonder about that ‘agreement’.

    • Yeah, as ever with the jobcentre there’s no guarantee that what the people on the ground will actually match what the guidance coming from the top says, so if your advisor directly threatens you with a sanction for not changing it you’re probably best off signing, but knowing the official rulings on this stuff can’t hurt.

      • pat ato says:

        It mostly pays to placate,;Play the best game you can.
        They are now snow fucked with work-just conform and be out in 5 mins

      • Yeah, that’s what I generally try to do, but the way you get treated varies a lot from person to person and jobcentre to jobcentre. Suppose it depends on what the new agreements ask you to do really.

  2. Jeff says:

    Just thought i would add this:

    “The revised Jobseeker’s Agreement does not require JSA claimants to use Universal
    Jobmatch. There is however, a new checkbox within the Jobseeker’s Agreement to include
    how often a claimant will check their Universal Jobmatch account. This checkbox is only used
    for claimants who have created an account and the decision on how often they will use the
    service will be determined in agreement with the claimant. This checkbox will not be used for
    claimants who have not registered with the service.

    We intend to introduce mandation for Universal Jobmatch in 2013.

    It is not currently mandatory for jobseekers to use the Universal Jobmatch service but it has
    always been our intention to mandate some JSA claimants to register with Universal Jobmatch
    and upload a CV so that they can make full use of the service. ”

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/139363/response/348485/attach/html/3/4636%20response%20pdf.pdf.html

  3. Obi Wan Kenobi says:

    PCS Union:

    “Our members in jobcentres and advice centres will offer guidance and support to all those affected by the ruling, including those who have been unjustly sanctioned”.

    http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/news_centre/recent-news.cfm/id/9089D191-C03C-4672-B44EC39EA0A92D96

    • Pat Ato. says:

      I have actually witnessed ‘ADVISORS’ telling sanctioned clients there housing bens end now, and they will have to go to citizens advice to sort out a B&B.
      So there is your
      ‘GUIDANCE AND SUPPORT’ !
      Some are starting to swing around now, because they are looking down the blunt end of the redundancy barrel.
      Some, because they dont like the idea of unpaid labour.
      But mostly its cos they will soon be sitting on the other side of the desk .

  4. What is the GOVRMENT’S real agenda ?

    • Pat Ato. says:

      The real agenda has been done over and again. it is to change the value of everything, rendering everybody worthless.Do you not wonder why Asda use unpaid labour yet the smart price tea bags go up 10 % a time? It is to render the working classes worthless. Strange? unbelievable? But true. Its the only way they can ‘Take it all away';
      Here is an idea; we import 8 million low end employees who are used to living on peanuts.
      They take the shit jobs off the existing workers and dont ask Q’s. The existing workers become dole fodder. The new people are more productive, and pay the pensions bill
      short term.
      When it all goes pear the P.M. has retired to the u.s. and earns 10 000,000 a yr.
      Property costs a mint. pay is shit.
      Boom and bust is made to fool you.

  5. rainbowwarriorlizzie says:

    Reblogged this on HUMAN RIGHTS & POLITICAL JOURNAL and commented:
    In Solidarity & Support!!

      • rainbowwarriorlizzie says:

        Thought you would find this link a vip via AVVAZ to Amnesty UK :-) Needs to be shared far and wide before the 13th-14th April before their AGM!! In Solidarity Sister Kitty xx

        Posted January 4, 2013

        Created by
        Tony M. United Kingdom
        To be delivered to:
        Amnesty UK

        Amnesty UK to protect the human rights of the sick & disabled

        5,126 signers. Let’s reach 5,000

        We Call on Amnesty UK to fulfil it’s remit and challenge the British Government in a court of Law, to ensure the Protection of the Human Rights of the Sick and Disabled..

        Why This Is Imporatant

        The sick and disabled are being denied human right by the British Government. On the 13th – 14th April 2013 Amnesty UK will be holding their AGM.

        Let’s give them something to talk about.

        Let’s give them millions of signatures so they cannot Ignore!!!

        http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Amnesty_UK_to_protect_the_human_rights_of_the_sick_disabled/?fqpRheb&pv=7

  6. Annos says:

    “Leaflet entitled ‘Concentration camps for the workers’, 1934″

    http://sites.scran.ac.uk/redclyde/redclyde/rc138.htm

    Must be the place where IDS gets his ideas from!!!!!!!.

  7. vicky says:

    usually i nod my head and agree at the job centre . last week i was told i should learn to drive so i could find a job ; as a passionate environmentalist i won’t , plus how the hell do i afford it . i apply for 3 jobs a day [ after 5 months i have had no success ] and apparently that is not enough now .

  8. G Morris says:

    I received an unsigned letter from the job centre. It says I have to attend a ‘work program’, I have no problems with this in principal. However one of the ‘You must’s’ say,
    “You must complete any activities that I or one of their partners, tells you to do”
    Does that mean they or the jobcentre person can say for instance –

    you must look / phone / write / visit for ‘X’ amount of jobs on top of what your agreement says?

  9. charlie says:

    I must confess I did laugh when I read this article, my Work Programme ‘employment consultant’ regularly makes changes to my ‘JSA’ every time I go back and see them, but it’s always worth considering (as i do) these few points BEFORE signing for any changes:
    Any new conditions thereon must be reasonable i.e apply for 10000 random jobs in 2 days would not (in my opinion) be reasonable and I would not sign the changes as they would not be giving me the best possible chance or prospects of finding work (see below).
    The conditions thereon must (when fulfilled) give the jobseeker the best possible chance or prospect of finding work . This means that the JSA must be fit for the purpose for which it has been intended and to do just that.
    The jobseeker is only bound by the mandatory conditions WRITTEN on the JSA so everything they have told you to do MUST also be written on the form (under a mandatory heading) to become legally binding once both you and the adviser have signed the form. There is no other UK law stating that I can’t stay at home and refuse to work if I don’t want to, I wouldn’t expect to receive Jobseekers Allowance however as I would have broken the conditions on my JSA.

    • pat ato says:

      The million £ question is do you get your rent paid? I couldnt give a toss about sanctions if so!; its summer. I have stocked my cupboard for 6 months.

      • charlie says:

        Yes your rent payments would be stopped as a Jobseekers Allowance sanction effectively states that you are NOT entitled to receive the benefit for a given period.

        Most (if not all) HB claims prerequisite:

        (a) an open Jobseekers Allowance claim or
        (b) a sufficiently low enough income to shortfall on your rent payments (which your local council should meet and make up the difference subject to a cap, the amount of which will vary from borough to borough depending where you live).

        The Jobcentre are also obliged to inform the council that your Jobseekers claim has been suspended due to a sanction, so, i kid you not, the process is frighteningly quick (they can be very efficient when it’s in their interest to be I assure you!).

        Might I suggest you try and avoid the sanction in the first place? more hassle than it’s worth in my opinion – having to make a re-claim for HB (and a nice 30+ page claim form) whilst your landlord is chasing you for arrears, nah not for me ta but that’s up to you.

      • pat ato says:

        And ‘yet’? When I asked the evidence taking lady in the council office,she told me If that were the case (I had been sanctioned) I would be SENT BACK to the job centre, until I came back with an income. So, there is a lot of obfuscation going on here, and as I said before I CANNOT BELIEVE
        nobody on this site has been through it.
        Can you? Do you believe there have been over 1 million sanctions in the last 18 months but nobody can answer this question?
        Ideas anybody? Whoa betide me to point it out but the advice here so far is parroting the
        dwp’s propagander and if that is the best you can come up with, you would be doing everyone a favor by shutting down until we can establish the truth.

      • pat ato says:

        In fact charlie, saying I should keep my head down and tow the line is so far off the mark for this sort of site, I wonder qhere you are coming from. .

      • charlie says:

        No, i wasn’t in receipt of Housing Benefit at the time of my sanction, but my Council Tax Benefit was suspended as a result and as both CTB and HB share the same set of prerequisites as per my original post, as far as I am aware if one is suspended the other would also have been in MY case.
        In all cases however, I should point out that If you have been sanctioned, report it to your council as a Change Of Circumstances IMMEDIATELY (not reporting a COS in my experience has tended to make matters worse rather than better) and then let them make the decision after reviewing your personal circumstances.
        Again, avoiding the sanction (if at all possible) in the first place would be my best advice, but as it appears you would rather not be told, as you put it, “to tow the line and keep your head down” then I will leave you to it, let the cogs turn and see what happens, this is perhaps and unfortunately the only way you ( or any of us, myself included) get answers from a closed and pathologically secretive welfare system – by doing it the hard way and “finding out for myself” as you say “EVEN IF IT BLOODY KILLS ME!” i.e trial and error and learning by and from our mistakes and experiences rather than by listening to and acting on advice given!

  10. Freeman says:

    I wake up wondering if I’m in nazi germany at times, no one know the meaning of freedoms anymore. The government is a corporation which is no diffrent than asda!? They replace your rights with privilege, only diffrence is a privilege can be taking away. Wake up people! A human being is above the government, they own your person but a person is not a human being, it’s a legal entity (straw man) do your research, you will see how much the people have been deceived. Check out my interview at the Jobcentre on youtube. It’s called ‘jobcentre told the law’ I’m still learning but I will fight any corporation trying to revoke my rights unlawfully! Freeman movement all the way 😈👍

  11. Truescot88 says:

    Check out my channel. Truescot88 I’m in battle with the joke shop aka Jobcentre. After my first interview claiming my right, an imposter adviser (corporate manger) replaced her and interrogated me. Covers sanction, job seekers agreement, bus pass, universal jobs. The fight goes on! I would be well chuffed for some help or advice from people! Help a brother out fight against corrupt government! Freeman

  12. pat ato says:

    So, Here we still are; I have asked in the job centre; I have asked in the council offices.
    NOBODY will give a strait answer on this despite the accusation several million sanctions have been given_ DOES BEING SANCTIONED REMOVE YOUR HOUSING BENEFIT RIGHTS, OR NOT?
    The jobcentre+idiots r us office are using that threat as a weapon, and this site is using it as a tool of fear~
    What is the truth? The Void has been passing on info for at least the last 18 months but something is amiss if I havent actually had the answer to this most important question..
    The answer is WHAT?

  13. pat ato says:

    If NONE of the sanction experienced can leave a reply to this answer on this site, I would have to assume the worst in that the site was in some way censored at the very least, or worse, somehow ‘got at’ _ I will wait for a knowledgeable experienced answer. . .

    • I’m pretty sure that being sanctioned only affects your JSA and shouldn’t affect your housing benefit – JSA is paid by the central government and HB is paid by the council, so you should be safe. If Universal Credit comes through that might change, though.

  14. pat ato says:

    This thread is a waste of time. No info, nobody informed, just political speculation and wining about
    jsa agreement rights? Your arguing about the edges of the handcuffs biting whilst being FLOGGED! You CANNOT tell me nobody on this site or the void has been thru it?
    I have been to A4E and listened to the parrot esq you will lose your roof if sanctioned by us statements. I have heard it preached in the job centre.
    I will find out for myself if it BLOODY KILLS ME!
    I said this before,; that I believe if this info isnt available on this site or the void, something
    or somebody has been got at . I Now really stress it.
    I am going to go to find the answers and post them for everybody.

  15. Wesley says:

    why not just go FOI route and put up what you find back here, I’m certainly interested in your question.

  16. loulam says:

    Well whilst reading this I thought let me add my tale. Went to jobcentre to sign yesterday discovered that my benefit had been stopped(not sanctioned). The reason being for not attending an appointment to get a train/bus photocard. The advisor did not even put it on my appointment card only the day I sign. What do think?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s