Well, today it finally got to me and I cried for the first time. This is during my quest to claim Universal Credit (UC). As many of you will know, if you have been following, I had an operation after sustaining three fractures on my ankle and I’m not receiving Statutory Sick Pay (SSP); due to the precarious working conditions of my part-time job as a waiter. After having to overcome barriers in the UC process, such as confirming my identity, I thought the worst was over and it would just be a waiting game to see if I would receive any payments.
After my successful ID verification meeting on the 16th of February I was feeling a bit relieved and hopeful. I was expecting to have little communication from the job centre or on my UC journal and have a settled few weeks. I received an email just eight days after my ID verification meeting on a Saturday; which was rather odd. It stated that “if you did not present my fit note dating from the 8th of January until the 5th of March within 7 days you will be deemed fit to work”. This is the fit note I presented at my ID verification meeting on the 16th of February, which the agent photocopied and added to the written notes during the meeting. She stated not to worry as the request for the fit note would disappear from my ‘things to do list’ on my UC account.
I could not do anything about contacting UC call centre during the weekend but I called up first thing on Monday morning. The gentleman that I spoke to from the Nottingham call centre was very helpful and offered to contact the agent I had my ID verification meeting with. She was unavailable and he then said he would write an email and a note on my journal to get the fit note request removed. This was still present today (1st of Mar) so I called up to investigate why it hadn’t been removed. Tomorrow is the final day before I’d be declared fit to work because of my fit note ‘not’ being received. The gentleman I spoke to today tried to contact my local job centre but it was closed due to the severe weather; completely understandable. Unfortunately, no one else is able to remove the fit note request from my ‘things to do’ and tomorrow will be 7 days since the email was sent to me demanding for the fit note. I have been reassured that I have nothing to worry about and it will be dealt with. From my experience so far I told the agent I was not feeling confident. I find it mind boggling there is no other way of removing the fit not request from my things to do list.
I then discovered a note on my journal from Monday that my ‘case manager’ would have the fit note request cleared in due course. The calling agent was surprised by this as this is the incorrect protocol and the fit note request could have been removed by any agent at my local job centre. The case managers are not on site, in the local job centre and positioned remotely. This bureaucratic maze has caused further issues and the calling agent is concerned it could impact on my payments being calculated on time.
Moreover, a mystery journal request had been sent to me three weeks ago, with no email or text to alert me to it, asking me to declare my ‘student loan earnings’. No request had appeared on my ‘things to do list’ and the required documentation was to be handed into the job centre. When I left the job centre on the 16th of February I was told I had no tasks out standing yet the request for my student income was sitting there. Being immobile I had to speak to a call agent who created an ‘upload document’ icon on my things to do list so this could be actioned by me scanning the documentation. The issue is, my student loan only covers my tuition fees and should not be considered as an earning. I had a battle with the agent about this and he encouraged me to write a letter and upload it onto my ‘things to do’ section along with my proof of student loan and cost of my tuition fees.
I will have to wait and see if UC will consider my student loan to be an earning and if this will impact on my ability to get UC support. It is important to remember that for any other financial situation a student loan is not considered an earning. A student loan cannot be used to gain a better credit rating or get a mortgage; it does however impact on your benefit assessment. The clue is in the name, it is a loan, but for some unknown reason the UC system takes the student loan into consideration as an earning.
The constant poor communication, bureaucracy and cabin fever from my injury got to me after my phone call today and I cried. I hardly ever cry but the frustration of not being listened to and being lost in this poorly designed system. I’ve studies to contend with and other personal stressors which other vulnerable claimants may share or have to a greater extent. I feel like I am taking on a system that is designed to test me and has an obvious Conservative ideological slant. The responsibility to complete the form and facilitation of the claim is placed solely on the claimant. This is made more challenging through poor communication channels with staff and the inconsistencies of information shared by them. It is also made more draining and mentally exhausting with bureaucratic structures and even mistakes being made by agents passing the buck to ‘case managers’ or ‘work coaches’; people I have never met or spoken to.
This shambolic and complex process is clearly not working for me and, from the experiences of people contacting me, it does not work for others either. It is not fit for purpose and lacks any care or consideration for individuals mental well-being.
Every single stage of the UC claims process has been a hardship. It is shameful that this is a system we expect our most vulnerable to go through and those that are desperate. When I cried earlier that was the main reason I was crying. I am angry that this is allowed to happen to vulnerable people and 42.4% of the UK’s voters voted for the political party responsible for its implementation. I hope you’re happy with your choice. I do however hope this very personal documentation of my experience can make you reconsider inflicting this ideology on people when it comes to voting in next election. It could be your friend, your sibling, your parent or a vulnerable neighbour that has to face this treatment. UC is inhumane and as a society we need to stand together and say this is not fair and does not represent our values.