So as you all know I’m documenting my journey through claiming Universal Credit (UC). This is to claim my Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as my employer ruled out paying it and I received my fit note back from head office. This was very daunting for both myself and my partner having to navigate through this process. We are both political activists and had heard about people’s struggles and experiences of the UC system. I wanted to break the stigma and share my first experience of claiming support from The State.
I left you all last week after attempting to verify my ID via the UC Government website. Being very computer literate and having the confidence in myself to complete such processes I was unprepared for the frustration I would feel. Something as straight forward as confirming your ID causing me to give up and return to it the following day. The Post Office website, which I chose from the six providers as this is where I processed my applications for my passport and forms for the DVLA, is not particularly user friendly and is almost over complicated due to its obsession with security. Every time you log in you must wait to receive a SMS text code before being able to proceed. This becomes incredibly pain staking after your seventh log in due to you becoming so annoyed you give up and come back to it half an hour later. Although these text codes are received relatively quickly it’s still frustrating and a needless task.
As I detailed before I was 95% ‘verified’ after around an hour or so worth of solid work; broken up across various attempts. I couldn’t get the app to work on my iPhone which has been updated to current spec of software and following the instructions to the letter. This was to upload a picture of my passport to verify me but it kept crashing before I uploaded it. I even uninstalled the app twice, restarted my phone and attempted to get support from the ‘live chat’ who also encouraged me to get a loan of another smart phone from someone close to me as I didn’t have another! The customer service assistant was pleasant but the process is made particularly rigid and I couldn’t simply email the picture across to Post Office it ‘had’ to be uploaded via the app; the joys of service work and job automation. My mind boggles that a State service providing private body is suggesting a claimant to borrow a device to complete a welfare claim; clearly this shows the system isn’t fit for purpose.
After finally admitting defeat, which is a very challenging thing for me to do, I tried the other three providers available to me. I tried Experian, Citizen Safe and Royal Mail all with similar dissatisfaction and lack of success. None of these websites could identify my partner either who also posses all the relevant documentation.
What is most surprising about all of this is how easy it should be to identify me in particular. I have lived at my address for over three years, on the voters listing since I moved, have a passport, a driving licence, car registered to the address, two separate bank accounts and I even stood as a candidate in the Local Government Elections last year. If you really wanted to you can even Goggle me and see my address and the ballot information of where I stood for election.
It appears that verifying information for credit, insurance or other official government services are really very straight forward. If anyone chose to they could go and apply for personal loans or register for social housing and not face these terrible, and inefficient, ID verification. The assertion is very clear on the UC website on how important internet security is to them and the risk of fraud; hence how ID verification is so important. I take this to be entirely ideological and a way to lengthen or exclude certain people from a process that should be inclusive. I even received an email from a volunteer that supports claimants fill in their UC applications and they stated that “we normally just leave the online verification out and encourage claimants to make an appointment with the job centre to verify their ID”.
As I noted I should be a very easy person to identify but many vulnerable people do not have as much ID documents as I do. Some older adults or people with limited disposable income will not have a passport or driving license so I’d worry at attempting to ID these people using this process.
So, after completely exhausting all the avenues of the online verification I had to arrange a meeting in the job centre to pass ID verification. This could cause more barriers for those, like myself, who have limited mobility or even those with financial barriers having to pay to travel to the job centre. My partner is currently providing care for a family member which requires him to be away from home for five days a week and be located an hour and a half a way.
I needed to arrange a meeting on a day around his availability and around my hospital and clinic appointments. This means another week has been wasted before my claim can move forward. We must also have separate meetings whilst at the job centre, which seems rather odd for a joint household claim, which will take up over an hour of our time for a process that should be easily completed online. I would be keen to know how much these six providers are paid at the expense of the tax payer to provide a service that is not fit for purpose.
My determination to expose the inhumane and poorly constructed system has been encouraged greatly in the past week. My previous blog post has been accessed by nearly 800 readers and shared widely across social media. I have been contacted by media outlets, blog consolidating sites and most surprisingly a researcher involved with a popular current affairs programme. I will be hearing sometime this week to see if I can be involved. Fingers crossed as this would be an honour and a great platform to discuss my findings and get this message across on television.
I really appreciate all the love, comments, personal stories and words of encouragement I have received from my readers and subscribers. It really means a lot to me and together we can make a difference by exposing Universal Credit for what it is. An ideological attack in the welfare state which can do great damage to vulnerable individuals and families across the ‘6th largest economy’ in the world.
I am nearing the end of week three and I still haven’t confirmed who I am yet…..
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