I just had a ridiculous interaction with my Personal Advisor at the Job Centre which I need to write down because it perfectly documents the inefficiencies of a system which is bursting at the seams with unemployed people and which will fail again and again at successfully supporting people back into work.
I received an invite to interview for a job in Newcastle* on Saturday 2nd June inviting me to attend an interview on Monday 11th June. I immediately got myself online to look for train tickets from Preston to Newcastle.
At that point the cheapest option available on Trainline was an open return ticket for £69. Luckily I'm all about the train travel. I know how to work the system so I set about doing all the searches and managed to find the same journey for £45.20.
I thought to myself "Surely my friendly Job Centre, who so wishes to support me back into work will be able to refund my travel costs. Particularly when this trip will be using up over 2/3s my weekly Job Seeker's Allowance."
So, once the Jubilee Celebrations were out of the way and the Job Centre was open, I rang them and explained the situation. The helpful person on the end of the line told me that because I was coming in the very next day after my interview I could sort it all out then - just to bring along proof of my invite to interview and my train tickets.
And that brings us up to today...
The conversation with my Personal Advisor
Advisor: Did you have anything you wanted to discuss with me?
Me: Oh yes I did. I had an interview in Newcastle yesterday and I was wondering if I could claim the money back that I spent on my train tickets.
Advisor: I'm sorry we can't process travel claims retroactively. You need to call up beforehand.
Me: Well that's interesting. Because I did. I called up and was told that I should bring everything with me when I came to see you.
Advisor: Yeah we can only process them beforehand and then we need 4/5 days to process it.
Me: But I did ring. I rang as soon as it was humanly possible to do so because you weren't open over the Bank Holiday
Advisor: [Apparently ignoring everything I'm saying] Yeah because we would need to make you an appointment to come in and see me who would check that you have an interview. We'd need at least 4/5 days to do that and currently I'm booked up for the next 4 weeks...
Me: So basically you're saying that you'll never to be able to help people claim back travel costs? Because if you 're booked up for 4 weeks how could I make an appointment to come and see you before my interview?
Advisor: I mean I could try and get you an appointment with a different advisor but yeah it's unlikely.
Me: Amazing. Thanks for that.
My thoughts on this nonsense
I am baffled as to why you would need to come in to the Job Centre in the first place - I understand that you would need to verify with a company that someone would be coming for an interview - but that can all be done over the phone - why would I need to come in to give you that information?
But yes, basically, it won't happen. You won't be refunded on your travel costs, despite the fact that your travel is more than likely going to take up a significant amount of your JSA.
So the message I'm getting from the Job Centre, is don't try and find work that you might be suited to do. Don't be so open to getting employment that you are willing to look anywhere in the UK. Instead you should just apply for jobs in the city you're currently living in, where you won't live up to your potential.
Luckily I'm not the kind of person who will still take up an offer of an interview and find a way to pay for the travel - but I wonder how many other people just aren't bothering or actually genuinely aren't able to take up offers for the sake of a train fare?
And I wonder how much of the money that could be spent helping people like me gain employment is being wasted on inefficiencies in the system or propping up people who are possibly not taking every opportunity they get to gain employment.
That is all.
*The interview went ok I think but I'm unlikely to be taking the job if offered because the pay is just too poor to be able to relocate. (A post will be coming soon about my job hunting before anyone leaps down my throat about potentially not taking a job that's being offered to me.)