Benefits fall into two categories. There are the benefits that are the stuff of Daily Mailesque nightmares, and then there is the chichi San Franciscan make-up brand. I aspire to the latter but must, it seems, make do with the former.
I sat down one long winter evening recently to play with my accounts. I rather fancied I might be due an NIC repayment, you see. I was shocked, and I mean that sincerely. It would appear that since I quit full-time work last April I have earned a grand total of a little under seven thousand pounds. How the hell have I stayed alive? There have been handouts from Mummy and Daddy Mortimer, to be sure, but generally on the scale of “Have a £70 Sainsbury’s shop before you starve to death” rather than anything more substantial. It’s amazing what you can get from Sainsburys for seventy quid, obviously.
Bugger this for a lark! thinks I, I have a Republic to run! So off to Wood Green I went with a sheaf full of paper documenting my financial fecklessness, filled in a surprisingly clear and straightforward Housing and Council Tax benefits form (admittedly it helped that I wasn’t blind, disabled, council-housed, Welsh, seeking asylum, a parent, a criminal, an offshore oil-rig worker or a previous claimant) and let the nice man take photocopies of everything. As an economic liberal I am opposed to Housing Benefit because it effectively channels state money into the pockets of buy-to-let private landlords. As a person without any dinner, I really couldn’t give a toss.
And this morning, three weeks to the day, a fat Haringey Council envelope plops onto my doormat, and a fat Haringey Council Benefits officer’s letter abjures me, fatly, as follows:
We need some more information to work out your benefit…
The payslips you provided for Reed Employment are not in a weekly consecutive order. Please provide your consecutive payslips for the last five weeks.
No, like you, dear reader, I don’t know what the fuck that means. They’re not in order you say? Could you not, um, shuffle the bits of paper round, or should I come and do it for you? I gave them three months’ worth of payslips, and a printed summary of the same directly from the Reed Employment website, but because in the nature of temping you don’t work every week, there weren’t five consecutive weekly dates on the five most recent payslips.
Please confirm how many hours per week do you work for Reed Employment
Oh you are fricking joking me now, right? Ever heard of “temporary work”?
So on to the phone I go, steaming from both ears and ready to take on the “computer says naaaaaaaah” culture so ably lampooned by the Cleggster in his conference finale speech and…
…Adam from Haringey Council Benefits Office is immediately sympathetic, understanding, helpful and even has a little laugh with me about the stupidity of a system which alleges to help those in unstable financial situations and yet doesn’t officially acknowledge the existence of any non-standard employment pattern. He says I should just state in writing what I’ve told him and everything will be fine.
Hmph, I bet you’re disappointed now. I know I was.
* I too am on benefits.