Glasgow Fight Racism Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) supporter Dominic O’Hara has won a victory over Laurieston job centre staff who are denying claimants the right to be accompanied and to take notes during job centre interviews. Aware of the benefit sanctions being used against hundreds of thousands of claimants Dominic decided from the start that he would record each interview he attended by taking his own personal notes that could be used as part of his appeal evidence should staff ever try to sanction him.
On 27 June he was asked and then told to stop taking notes by a DWP staff member who claimed that it was ‘illegal’. When Dominic asked for the interview to continue with a focus on the positives the staff member replied ‘you don’t have any positives’. This was noted. Dominic was then physically escorted by staff and security to part of the building which has plastic security screening separating staff from claimants. Dominic described this experience as an attempt to criminalise him for defending his rights. Staff terminated his interview after further attempts to stop him taking notes failed and he refused to sign a declaration for his Claimant Commitment to be reviewed. Dominic was then told he would be referred to a Jobcentre manager, to which he immediately agreed. As no managers were available, he was signed on for his Jobseekers’ Allowance and given an appointment to meet a manager the following week.
Accompanied by a friend and fellow FRFI supporter, Dominic met with a manager of Laurieston job centre on 30 June. Both challenged the manager and forced him to apologise over the behaviour of his staff and their claims that it was “illegal” to take notes. The manager agreed that the DWP had no legal powers to stop claimants taking their own personal notes during jobcentre interviews on their own notepad (not in the work plan booklet). No attempt was made to prevent Dominic’s friend accompanying him, and the two were in fact treated with uncharacteristic respect by G4S security and DWP staff.
A useful leaflet from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty cites a letter written in 2010 on behalf of the Chief Executive of JobCentre Plus which acknowledges the right to be accompanied to benefit interviews: ‘On the matter of accompanied interviews…We accept that there will always be times when customers attending our premises feel the need to be accompanied by a friend or advice worker and we will always try to accommodate this where possible.’
The lesson of this small encounter is that claimants are not given their legal rights but have to fight for them. With recent declarations made against sanctions by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), who organise amongst Job centre staff, the time for action is now!
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Bi weekly protest stalls ‘Enough is enough!’– Say No to the sanctions, Atos, bedroom tax, workfare, zero hours! Open megaphone for all.
Thursdays 17 and 31 July, 3.30pm, Outside Marks & Spencer store on Sauchiehall St