Overcoming the problems of dealing with the Jobcentre

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Our helpline often receives calls from people with convictions who are desperate to get back into work but run into difficulties when dealing with the Jobcentre.

Some examples of the types of problems we hear about are:

  • Jobcentre advisors who have little or no understanding of criminal records, criminal record checks, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and the impact of a criminal record when looking for work
  • Jobcentre advisors insisting that people who have restrictions on them apply for jobs which they would either be prevented from applying for or which they would stand little chance of getting
  • Individuals having sanctions placed on them as a result of having to attend mandatory probation programmes.

We’ve set out below some ways of dealing with these types of problems.

The whole subject of criminal records is extremely complex and Jobcentre advisors very often receive no specific training in getting people with convictions back into work. You may be lucky to have an advisor who has previously worked with people with convictions or who has an interest in working with this group and will have taken it upon themselves to have a better understanding of the issues that people with convictions face. Over the last couple of years, the Department of Work and Pensions has recognised that more support should be provided to ex-offenders but this does not necessarily mean extra training for Jobcentre staff. It’s best not to assume that your advisor will have a good knowledge of criminal records.

Some problems can be avoided by just being absolutely upfront and open with your advisor from the outset. We tend to advise individuals never to disclose details of their criminal record unless they are asked. However, your advisor will be in a much better position to help you if they are aware of any limitations on what jobs it is sensible (or legal) for you to apply for. It will usually be possible to get an agreement with your advisor on any ‘restrictions on work searches’ at the beginning and have these written into your Job Seekers Agreement to prevent any problems later on.

Many advisors can be quick to sanction individuals who they believe have ‘breached’ their Job Seekers Agreement. If you have to miss an appointment(s) because you are required to carry out an unpaid work requirement, meet with your probation officer or attend a mandatory programme, then your advisor will have very clear guidelines (the Decision Makers Guide) in how they should deal with this, which should not automatically involve sanctioning you.

It’s important that you inform your advisor in advance if you are unable to attend any Jobcentre meetings/interviews. The Probation Service and courts will always try not to place any requirements on you that would conflict with your benefit entitlement (including ‘signing on’). If the date/time of your unpaid work etc can’t be changed then you should ask your probation officer to put a request in writing to the Jobcentre asking for your ‘signing on’ day to be rearranged.

If you are required to attend mandatory programmes, for example anger management or drug/alcohol treatment programmes, these are likely to be quite intensive and the timings and length may vary depending on the nature and seriousness of your offence. You will need to provide your advisor with details of the programme in writing and they may then be able to add into your Job Seekers Agreement some restrictions on your availability for work.

For more information

  1. For practical self-help information – Find out more information on support getting into work
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine under the tag looking for (and keeping) employment
  3. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.
Debbie Sadler