Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Today at the Advice Charity (2)

Actually it's this week and last week.

Woman from a middle-east country had not one, not two, not even three, but SIX penalty charge notices (PCNs) all for the same offence of turning into a road reserved for buses and cycles.

The first PCN was not sent out till two weeks after the first offence during which time several more of the same offence was committed.

They were all committed by a friend visiting from a Scandinavian country. Client had loaned this friend her car to go to the gym. She herself did not go because she could not afford the entry charges. Now she is faced with £65 fine, multiplied by six.

Surprise, surprise, the friend who has returned to her Scandinavian country, has refused to pay.

The offences were committed basically because the friend did not have enough English to understand the clear notices that said private cars are not, has never been, allowed on their stretch of road.

The plight of this client weighed so much on my mind that I phoned the manager the following day to ask if she could offer the client a debt management appointment, so that someone could help her write a letter to the council who served those notices, in order to negotiate a repayment plan.

A neighbour (actually) turned up for help with a 'sanction'. This is a penalty for people on JobSeekers Allowance (JSA) who have not done enough jobseeking or have violated other contractual terms.

This woman was poorly served by the JobCentrePlus (JCP) and I think was sanctioned because 'tis the season for sanctions.

How do you measure the performance of staff at a JCP? All they do is make appointments for JSA claimants to be seen every two weeks (called 'signing on') and then check if they have applied to at least x number of jobs.

One way to measure performance is to monitor the number of sanctions given: by spotting how many JSA claimants have been lazy in their 'job-seeking'. The funny thing is every single person who has come to me for help with their sanctions is the nice gentle sort who would not say 'boo' to a goose.

I've never seen someone who is a bully or looks remotely menacing being given a sanction, or at least they have not come to me.

JCP staff try to 'up' their performance by coming down really hard on those who are newly unemployed (do not know all the rules) and who are easy, soft targets who won't retaliate.

This week I saw someone who was made redundant and never got round to starting to make claims, leading to a court summons for non-payment of council tax. No one at the council office bothered to tell her/her husband that because she is unemployed (after having worked for 20+ years) she is entitled to benefits, including housing benefits, help with mortgage interest, and council tax benefit (CTB). Instead she is being taken to court when she's been borrowing money to pay the tax, etc.

It is very rare that people do not realize that they could in fact claim. I mean, just a few weeks ago I had an elderly woman who had more or less just stepped off the plane who came in to say, "Please, help me get those benefits."

She had not contributed a single penny to this country but is the widow of an immigrant who had gained British citizenship, and she holds a British passport. In this instance she does not even need to pass the HRT (habitual residence test), I suspect (I may be wrong), but how can this country afford to support everyone who comes to this country on the basis that she felt insecure in her homeland after being robbed!

Then I tried to help a mini-cab driver whose driving licence was cancelled. Actually an arrest warrant could have been issued due to his non-appearance at court for a minor driving offence. He was lucky not to have been arrested on entering the country, thanks to lazy bureaucracy.

He and his cousin listened most attentively and responded politely as I tried to explain what he must do. In their own country I would have been shot dead for trying to get an education. So I hope it makes them think how useful it is to educate women as well.

Saddest of all was the client whose one son had died and the other son has been sent to prison. She was so, so sad and wanted to get out of the house she now now lives because of all the sad memories. She also does not want to have anything to do with the remaining son.

I suspect that she has married outside her ethnic group. I encouraged her to get her mind into the right condition to face the future. (She did not believe that she is younger than me.) She has another half a life-time ahead of her. She has to start thinking what she wanted to do with it.

She shed quiet tears and promised me that she would do something. I said I would pray for her. She said "Thank you".

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