It is now coming to light that there are other developments in the office.
Several months ago Sparkhill Job Centre introduced early morning sessions for people making New Claims. When people were booked into these they were given a ‘Job Seeker Direction’ which made it compulsory to attend. Anybody failing to attend could have their benefit sanctioned for up to 4 weeks. Job Centres have been given targets for sanctions, and increasingly seem to be doing whatever they can to create situations where jobseekers will be sanctioned in order to reach those targets.
People we have spoken to who have attended these sessions have reported different numbers of attendees, but have also reported empty seats. From the reports we have we estimate that 25 or 30 people are expected, but numbers attending were 14 and 20. This means significant numbers of people will have been sanctioned for non-attendance. Others have reported arriving only 5 minutes late, at 8:20am, only to be turned away and find their benefit sanctioned for non-attendance.
It seems to us that these early morning sessions are just a way of catching people out and sanctioning them right at the start of their benefit claim. This is especially cruel as many will have recently lost their jobs and will be waiting for their first payment.
It appears that over recent weeks staff have been rebelling against this harsh regime. Upon investigation the Job Seeker Directions have been revealed as inappropriate, and since Monday 16th September 2013 people attending the early morning sessions are no longer given a Job Seeker Direction.
The PCS have stated that, according to the government’s own rules, Job Seeker Directions are only supposed to be issued as a last resort, if a claimant has a history of missing appointments. If you are issued with a Job Seeker Direction ask your adviser why – these should not be used unless you have missed appointments in the past.
This raises an important question. How many people have been incorrectly sanctioned over the last few months, and will they now have their sanctions repaid? If you have been sanctioned for not attending an early morning session insist on your right to appeal. If you have been sanctioned from one of these early morning meetings, get in touch with the Birmingham Claimants’ Union who can provide support to help you get your money back.