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September 9, 2011

One of the most annoying things about not having a job is running into those undeserving people who do. Especially when you have to rely on that person for something.

I’ve been looking for work for about half a year now, which is putting a real dent in my plans to save and explore Europe. As a British citizen, I decided it was time to take what I could get and sign up for the unemployment benefit.

After collecting all the paperwork necessary and signing up about a month ago, I was told that I would have to come in to sign up every two weeks. Fair enough, but then they scheduled my first sign-up date for the day I was meant to go to Paris. Jobseekers probably shouldn’t be making international trips, but this was a trip I booked a while ago, in more optimistic times, so tried to get the signup day changed to a day earlier. This, however, proved absolutely impossible. I’d have to make a phone call to them on the day, in order to change the date, if I really had to.

While struggling to understand the efficiency reasons behind requiring the smallest possible amount of notice in order to reschedule an appointment, I left, dutifully filled in the daily paperwork for the next two and a half weeks until a couple of days before my sign-up date, when I called back. After being shunted around a bit, I was told that changing the date would be impossible. No ifs, no buts. If I didn’t sign up on that day, at that second, I would lose my benefit. So I told them I would not be in the country. I had an outstanding need to go overseas for a few days, and would not physically be able to do so, so could I please just move it forward a day. The woman’s response was to cancel my benefit.

She told me that “suspending” or “holding” the benefit for a few days was impossible, she cancelled it and I would have to call up for a “rapid reclaim” when I got back. Whatever, fine.

I got back from France and called them about a week later. After bearing through the automated phone system full of warnings and caveats, I managed to speak to a human and schedule an appointment for the following week.

I turned up for that appointment to claim my “rapid reclaim”. I was sat in the waiting room, where I watched the others there. I noticed one particular guy working there who seemed to have not a single bone or muscle in his body, but was made entirely out of water balloons and kind of rippled about the room in a perpetual state of almost-tipping-over with his tiny little eyes peering out between his brow and cheeks in constant panic and wondering what he was supposed to be doing. I then realized that pretty much everyone working there was fat. Sitting behind their desks or waddling about the room, nobody there seemed to be of a reasonable size. It must be a real slap in the face to turn up to ask for food benefits from these people who look like they eat a normal person’s weekly diet in a day.

Which would be the culinary version of how I felt, dealing with the guy who eventually took my interview. After waiting over half an hour past my designated time, I got called to the very desk of that wobbly man. He wheezed out at me for a while before going on to the matter at hand, without so much as a Sorry To Keep You Waiting.

After getting my documentation and looking through his computer for a little longer than must have been necessary, he asked me, “What was yer dern in Australia?” I had no idea what he was talking about, so asked him to repeat the question. From the droopy triangle formed between his bulging cheeks and chin, the muffled words squeezed out again,

Wobbly:          “What was yer dern in Australia?”

Me:                 “Sorry?”

Wobbly:          “What was yer dern in Australia?”

Me:                 “I’m sorry, what was my what?”

Wobbly:          “What was your dern?”

Me:                 (after thinking for a while) “What was I doing?”

Wobbly:          “Yeah. What was you doing in Australia?”

Me:                 Nice grammar, asshole  “New Zealand”

Wobbly:          “What?”

Me:                 “I’m from New Zealand”

Wobbly:          (confused, looking panicky at the computer screen) “Oh yeah. Whatever. What was yer dern.”

I explained to him my situation, and that New Zealand and Australia were two different countries. He seemed to think about it for a few seconds, then decided it was too much to take in at once and his face cleared as he dismissed it. He then proceeded to go over all the things which were already in the computer from the last time I had been there, to do all the same stuff about two weeks ago.

I tried to ask him if all this was necessary, as I had done all this just a couple of weeks ago, and while this was supposed to be a “rapid reclaim”, so far there had been nothing “rapid” about it. After a couple of gasps for air, he told me that it was registered as a new claim. I asked him how come then, all my details were already in the computer. He looked confused and started flipping over pages, so I just decided to go with it. Until I realised that some of the documentation I might need for a new claim I didn’t have with me, since this was supposed to be a re-claim. I asked him about that. “Don’t worry,” he said condescendingly, “if they need that stuff, they will write out to you later. Today’s just about being as stress-free as possible”. I felt my jaw clench.

It was now that I also realised that the fact that I ultimately hadn’t got to sign off last time meant that the whole claim was cancelled and I didn’t receive a penny for the two and a half weeks I had been on it. This was of course, not what the woman on the phone had told me, but was very consistent with my constant £0.00 bank balance.

We continued through the procedure, as he struggled to follow orders. When I mentioned I could speak Japanese, he tried to enter it into the computer, but got confused about the spelling after “Japa”, and had to look it up.

Eventually, we were done, and he scheduled my next appointment. The name of the person I would have to see next was 5 letters long and written on a card. He tried to fill out a date/time schedule on the back of the card, but couldn’t figure out how to spell the person’s name, and had to keep flipping the card back and forth for each new letter as he wrote.

W:       “A letter will be sent out in 10-12 working days saying whether you have been accepted or not”

Me:     “OK. If the claim is accepted, when will it start from?”

W:       “The letter will be sent out in 10-12 working days”

Me:     “Yeah OK, thanks. But when will the payment start from?”

W:       Confusion.

Me:     “Will it start, for example, from when I get the letter? Or will it be backdated at all?”

W:       Panic.

Me:     “So, assuming I get accepted for the benefit, will I then start receiving it as of the date of the letter? Or will it be backdated to include the time from the date of this interview? Or from the date I rang up to make this interview? Or will it even include the time from last time I tried to sign up?”

W:       “… The letter will be sent out in 10-12 working days. I don’t know what day exactly.”

Me:     “… OK”

I left. Not being able to find work is annoying enough. For pretty much every job I’ve applied for, I seem to be either unerexperienced or overqualified (which is a hell of an annoying term when you just want some kind of income). And then to find people like this working in government departments is just salt in the wound.

I went to my follow-up appointment, and the 5-lettered person I dealt with there apologized. She was never the one I was supposed to see. I should have been seeing someone else, but the person who made the appointment seemed to have made an error while booking.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bec permalink
    September 9, 2011 3:35 pm

    Ah, you summed it up nicely. I have a massive gripe with the service industry in London. I’ve reached a point when I’m over the moon when I receive fairly standard service, which would be below par back home. I’m enjoying your blog! Keep writing! 🙂

  2. catlady permalink
    September 9, 2011 11:16 pm

    hahaha-very amusing ,i,m sure you are exaggerating for comical effect ,but to be fair to wobbly ,im sure he comes across plenty of applicants much like himself in the course of his day-perhaps they are in the majority ,and he has adapted in order to better empathise with them ??.
    as a british taxpayer ,i would object if people claiming the unemployment benefit ,got paid ,while they were in fact out of the country [and not job hunting ]whatever the compelling reason.-so i wish you well in your job search ,and on your eventual benefit approval -but hopefully it will be either not needed ,or redundant fairly quickly as your obvious talent and eagerness to earn a buck should become apparent to any employer with half a brain ,and a vacancy in the immediate future 😀

  3. September 17, 2011 6:24 pm

    Thanks guys. I thought it was fair to not get paid while I was out of the country as well, but to have that one day out negate the previous two and a half weeks was just unfair. And nah, I wasn’t really exaggerating, he was just genuinely comical.

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