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Category : Business

Margins are so tight that a two week hiccough leaves jobseeker with nothing in her purse

Ian Mearns’ case for the north east in these very hard times, posted on the Northerner first thing today, is reinforced by the experiences of Michelle Remmer from Sunderland.

Our colleagues at North News have sent details of how the 32-year-old was reduced to accepting food handouts from her landlord when her Jobseekers’ Allowance was delayed because of an administrative mistake.

Remmer was told that she did not meet legal obligations to qualify for the payment, a maximum of £71 a week for over-25s, although she had finished a six-week course at college and started looking for work, with ten applications under her belt.

She had no income for a fortnight and was told that she would have to take work at a charity shop to have the allowance restored, a challenge in any event but doubly hard when she couldn’t afford the bus for the five mile round trip into town. Luckily her landlord, Charlie Pink, isn’t the Dickensian sort. Instead of demanding to know immediately where his rent was going to come from, he sorted out food to cover meals while the allowance was stopped.

This isn’t a Starving Britain story, nor is the problem specifically north eastern or northern. It’s only fair to point out that Beveridge’s ‘cradle to grave’ support remains intact, with Remmer keeping her housing benefit which in turn secures Pink’s finances. And five miles a day isn’t impossible to walk.

But it illustrates how difficult life is getting as the recession makes job-hunting harder at the same time as screwing down the pressure on the public sector to save money wherever possible. The Jobseekers’ Allowance website has an impressive click button which processes a new online claim within 40 minutes and one which has lapsed within the last six months in quarter of an hour. But that doesn’t help, if the answer is No.

Remmer and Pink say that there was no correspondence explaining the decision or when payments might resume, and the only advice given verbally was that Remmer had the right to appeal against the decision but that process could take up to three weeks. The Department for Work and Pensions has now admitted an administrative error and have repaid Michelle the two weeks’ money. A spokesman says:

We apologise to Michelle Remmer for the administrative error on her claim which affected the payment of benefit. We reinstated the payments immediately and have written to her to apologise.

So that was quick and handsome of them, and Remmer says:

I feel much better now. It’s definitely a relief. If my housing benefit hadn’t gone in, I could have faced homelessness.

Pink says that he’s happy for Remmer but wonders how many other cases may follow:

I’ve got three or four more like Michelle. It’s going to be a big problem, people getting their benefits stopped and having no money. Some will potentially turn to crime. At least if you go to jail you know you’ve got food and a roof over your head.

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