So, with the job we thought was pretty well sorted falling through at the start of the week, I am now officially unemployed. What an education its already been in our fragmented benefits system in the UK.
What does one have to do? Firstly, phone up the “Job Centre Plus” and register for Job Seekers Allowance. This is pretty painless but takes a good half hour plus. Once I’ve put down the phone with that first nice gentleman I need to pick the phone up again to call my local City Council to sort out a claim for housing benefit and council tax benefit. Apparently that can’t be done over the phone, so a form has to be sent to me which I fill in and then take with all the accompanying documentation to the Council offices. Put the phone down again and pick it up so I can call HMRC to notify them of my tax credits situation. Put the phone down again and call up the local Job Centre Plus in Canterbury to rearrange my preliminary interview, because the latest that the first gentleman I spoke to could book it for was for this coming Wednesday and I am away from Canterbury till next week (a combination of a family gathering and job interviews).
Along the way what I am picking up is a multitudinous lack of joined up thinking. None of the different agencies I speak to can access the information from the other, so I am going to have to bring my JSA information along to the local council next week in order to demonstrate what (if anything) I am receiving from them. On top of this, despite the fact that the Job Centre Plus can access my National Insurance number from their system, HMRC cannot (or more likely will not), given I am away from home at present, take any details from me at present. Let’s just run that past you again – one government agency has no problem finding my National Insurance number on their system, the other refuses to do so.
Roll on Universal Credit. What we need is a single place to receive a single payment to cover all your different benefit needs. That there need to be different amounts of money for different purposes is very clear (Council Tax and Rent varies across the country), but the fact that you need to go to different places for them is not. On top of that, the inability of these statutory agencies to access each others’ data and to have differing approaches to determining your identity and letting you proceed with a claim is just infuriating. Why can one agency find your National Insurance details in an instant (Job Centre Plus) but the other cannot? I’ve built relational databases – there is NO reason for HMRC to not be able to do this.
Even if I only stay unemployed for a few weeks (I have more interviews this week – say tuned), this is already turning out to be an education.