WITH IRELAND’S UNEMPLOYMENT rate at 14.8 per cent Social Welfare offices are under pressure.
The Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed (INOU) is calling for more investment into frontline staff due to many jobseekers saying they are getting mixed messages when they visit their local office.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the INOU said “it really does seem to vary depending on who they meet and how well informed they are. We would have concerns about frontline staff and the inconsistencies there. These people are dealing with the public and their questions on a daily basis and in terms of the government having a focus to encourage unemployed people to take up training courses, education as well as returning to work, that job demands a certain competency”.
Last month 460,323 people signing on the Live Register. A number of unemployed people told TheJournal.ie they had received mixed messages, misinformation and delays from their local social welfare offices. For reasons of privacy, many wished to stay anonymous.
‘Joyce’ from Arklow is a Special Needs Assistant. She says that during the summer months she is entitled to seek social welfare. “I am back next week and my claim is still being processed. I will be back to work and still not have been paid for the entire summer.”
Suzanne from Dublin is a former solicitor. She recently attended the Springboard Roadshow with hopes to sign up to a new course. Speaking to TheJournal.ie she said she was told that as she had her own business she was actually ‘unemployed’ and not eligible to take up one of the courses.
When I first went to my local social welfare office, I was told a multitude of things from different people. No one seemed to be able to give me a straight answer. I had come across the Springboard programme and thought it might suit me to do a course in entrepreneurship so that I could develop my business idea. I was told that as I was previously self-employed I am not eligible to join the programme. I said I would come along today anyway, so I asked again, and it turns out I am eligible. All these mixed messages are not good.
I could have gone home and decided to just leave it and not double-check. It is very concerning that the staff who are on the front line dealing with unemployed people and advising them for that matter, do not have the facts straight.
Kathleen from Dublin, who has her own business said “it was like getting blood out of a stone” when her daughter was trying to sign on.
She had previously been employed with me in my business for a short period while she was in college. When she signed on she filled in the section that asks what her parents were employed as – she filled in directors of their own company. Due to the fact that she had a short stint working with me for a summer, the local social welfare office had issues with her claim. We called every week to see what the delay was, until eventually someone in the office said they had referred her case to an investigating officer so as to establish she was not a director of the company.
Fifteen weeks after her claim, she had still not received a penny and I was supporting her. I informed the social welfare office that if they wanted to check that she was not a director of the company all they had to do was check the Companies Registration Office. A week later the social welfare office called and asked could we fax over out company registration document. That was all it took – two minutes to send a fax over – and it was dealt with. It was as if they had no clue how to process a claim. She was just lucky she did not have a mortgage or family to support.
John from Wexford has a college degree but has found it impossible to find work. “I decided to stop wasting my time here and to go abroad to look for work”. John said that he had heard “through the grapevine” that he might be able to get his Jobseeker’s Benefit while he was looking for employment abroad.
When I went down to the social welfare office I was told I would have to give up my social welfare if I left Ireland, but when I called in again another day and talked to another person in the office I found out you’re allowed claim your social welfare in another EU state while you look for work there. I got the feeling they didn’t particularly like me knowing that.
Under limited situations Jobseeker’s Benefit can be transferred to another EU member state for up to 13 weeks (78 days), if you are looking for work there. You must be getting Jobseeker’s Benefit for 4 weeks before you can transfer it to another member state.
Disincentive to work
Maura from Wicklow has been unemployed for over a year. She said it took her long enough to get her claim dealt with but this summer she was lucky to get some some work teaching foreign students for two weeks. She did the honorable thing and told the social welfare of her casual work. “I was told there was no problem, that I could just sign back on when it was over and there would be no delay,” she said.
When I finished up teaching I went back down, thinking that there would be no issue. They handed me a repeat claim form and I told them that I had been told that I would not have to do this all again. The week later there was no word, so I called back down again. They told me that as I was living at home with my parents I would have to be means tested. This they said could take a number of weeks as someone would have to call ou ot my house. I was furious. I could have easily just collected my dole and got paid, but I had decided to be honest.
After much kicking and screaming I remembered the name of the manager in the office and I demanded to speak to her. She processed my claim there and then stating that as I was over 25-years-old I actually didn’t need to be means tested at all. It is these kind of inconsistencies that make people cheat the system.
Maura said she was offered another two weeks’ casual work in August but said she was dubious about even telling the social welfare. “I eventually asked for the manager directly and made her promise that I would not have to wait. This is not the way things should be done,” she said.
Front line training
A spokesperson for the INOU said they receive calls regularly with people telling them that they have heard different things from different people in the social welfare system. “We had one gentleman who was told that he was not eligible to take up a training course due to a course that he had done previous some years back but it really should not have been taken into consideration. He thankfully has had it sorted out and is happy on his new course – but this is just one example.”
She added that staff need to be trained in dealing with people from different backgrounds. No longer are the unemployed one section of society or from one jobs sector. She said:
There are a variety of backgrounds to deal with and the staff need to have the capacity to assess prior skills of people and know how these skills can be used in a certain sector. There has been an issue that service is geared towards a certain set of presumptions about what people are unemployed that simply don’t stack up anymore. Reform and training is needed to ensure that they are the best people for the job and can equipped to get people back to work.
We feel if the State is pushing people to reconsider re-training and changing careers we need a service that ensures they can recognise people’s skill sets.