BENEFITS INTERVIEWS: BE ACCOMPANIED

You have the right to be accompanied to benefits interviews!

You have the right to be accompanied to interviews at the Jobcentre and all DWP offices – and that's official!

The DWP state "Customers have the right to ask a representative to help them conduct their business with DWP..." . This is detailed in the OFFICIAL DWP "WORKING WITH REPRESENTATIVES GUIDANCE" Sept 2015

A top official writing on behalf of the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus for the United Kingdom has stated:

“On the matter of accompanied interviews....Mr McGonigle and his predecessor Bill Wilson have written to Edinburgh Claimants about this and made clear the position for interviews conducted on Jobcentre plus premises. 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.”  ( Letter copied to Edinburgh Claimants from Matthew Nicholas, Employers and Stakeholders Director Jobcentre Plus, on behalf of the Chief Executive Darra Singh, letter dated 15 February 2010.   Mr McGonigle and Mr Wilson are the current and previous Jobcentreplus District Managers for Edinburgh, Lothians and Borders)

Certainly if you have any interview you think might pose problems we advise you to take a friend or adviser with you. For example if they are threatening to cut your benefits, trying to force you to go on schemes or apply for jobs you don't want, or if you are called in by the Counter Fraud team, you should NOT face them alone.  Similarly if you have a benefits medical exam, you should take someone with you.

Edinburgh Claimants and Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty accompany people to such interviews, and to interviews at City of Edinburgh Council, all the time.  We have also established the right to accompany claimants to appointments at workfare providers like Learndirect, A4e, Ingeus and JHP, and frequently do so.

If anyone tries to stop your friend or adviser accompanying you, then tell them the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus says this is allowed, and show them the quotes in this article. 

RIGHT FOR ACCOMPANIER TO SPEAK

It is established that an accompanier has the right to speak at such interviews.  A bullying manager at High Riggs Job Centre in Edinburgh tried to deny this right in February 2014.  He even called the police to evict the ECAP rep from the Job Centre!  But we launched a solidarity protest and made an official complaint - and the DWP had to completely back down.  The High Riggs management wrote on 7th February 2014 and not only apologised and acknowledged that claimants have the right to be accompanied, but also acknowledged that the accompanier has the right to speak in the interview.

The HIgh Riggs Adviser Team Manager wrote:

“I would like to apologise on behalf of Mr X (the offending manager) and High Riggs for the fact that you were asked to leave the jobcentre on the above date. …. you should have been allowed to remain as Mr Y 's  representative.  
We apologise for the incident and for any distress caused.....

It was....... appropriate for Mr X (the manager) to query why you were answering on behalf of Mr Y.  However the appropriate course of action would have been for Mr X to seek to clarify that Mr Y agreed with your summary of his circumstances, rather than ask you to leave.

We aim to provide our customers and their representatives with a good standard of service and I am very sorry that we did not do so on this occasion.”
(Letter from DWP  dated 7.2.14) (the original does of course include the names of the manager and claimant concerned, which we have removed for reasons of privacy)

The DWP statement here, made on 24.2.2014 in response to a Freedom of Information request, also makes it crystal clear that not only does a claimant have a right to a representative but that the rep can speak and put forward the claimant's case.  The DWP state: "Claimants accessing Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits and services can have someone to accompany them to act on their behalf..... A customer representative is any person or organisation acting on behalf of or making enquiries for the customer. The representative could be helping a customer in several ways, including progress chasing, helping them make a claim, seeking an explanation of entitlement and how it has been decided, representing them with a reconsideration or appeal...."

BULLY TACTICS DEFEATED 

Our right to accompany people to interviews had earlier been challenged by a Jobcentre manager in Edinburgh in October 2008 – but following an official complaint by Edinburgh Claimants our right to accompany claimants was reaffirmed the following month.

On 30th October 2008 a manager and security guards tried to stop an ECAP member accompanying a claimant to an interview at Commercial Street Job Centre in Leith, Edinburgh - they failed in this attempt and had to back down. Edinburgh Claimants then made an official complaint to Bill Wilson, then the District manager for Edinburgh, Lothians and Borders - in a letter dated 18.11.2008 he apologised to Edinburgh Claimants and agreed that claimants could be accompanied to benefits interviews .

Now the letter from the Jobcentreplus Chief Executive's office makes it crystal-clear this right to be accompanied to benefits interviews applies UK-wide.

 RIGHT TO BE ACCOMPANIED TO BENEFIT INTERVIEWS - Leaflet (PDF)

OFFICIAL DWP "WORKING WITH REPRESENTATIVES GUIDANCE" Sept 2015

Includes statements:

"Customers have the right to ask a representative to help them conduct their business with DWP..." (p2)

"Who is a representative?

A customer representative is any person or organisation acting on behalf of or making enquiries for the customer. The representative could be helping a customer in several ways, including progress chasing, helping them make a claim, seeking an explanation of entitlement and how it has been decided, representing them with a reconsideration or appeal, or helping them manage their finances. This can be at any stage of the customer’s business with DWP.

Representatives may include: • advice or welfare rights organisations • professionals such as social workers, community nurses or doctors • family members or friends" (p2)

(Last updated June 2016)

Find us

EDINBURGH COALITION AGAINST POVERTY is based at the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh (ACE), an open campaign space, infoshop and wholefoods co-op, providing resources and solidarity. Resources available include computer/internet access, cheap copying, free leaflets, books, pamphlets and mags for sale, a small wholefoods shop, and a library.
Every tuesday from 12 noon till 3pm support and solidarity is available for benefits and debt hassles, housing and other problems.  Please contact us at Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty c/o ACE, 17 West Montgomery Place, Edinburgh EH7 5HA   0131 557 6242 ecap@lists.riseup.net   We invite you to join our solidarity phone tree, and get involved.
ACE is also open every Saturday 11am-6pm and Thursday 6-8pm, and other times for particular events (but the support and solidarity sessions are only on Tuesdays).