Tuesday, January 4
Did you know that you are not allowed to be unemployed and go on holiday? This I found out to my cost at the dole office on Friday.
And yet I thought I'd prepared so well. I phoned the office to check it was open. New Years Eve I thought, there will be nobody there, no queues! I had been working on my limp and the grimaces caused by my dodgy back. And I was determined not to make the same mistake as last time I signed on three years ago, when I helped the woman behind the desk use the computer and they ended up offering me a job at the job centre itself.
As anticipated, when I arrived at the Job Centre in West Bromwich there was hardly anyone there (no doubt they were all boozing away their benefit in an illicit drinking den). After wandering around aimlessly for five minutes, I found the right floor and was seen almost straight away.
The woman behind the desk was very efficient and courteous in taking down my details, such as whether I was an Asylum Seeker and if I was "On the phone". She was just about to give me the extensive form I needed to fill in when disaster struck.
Job Centre Woman:"So i'll make you an appointment for Monday the 10th then"
Me: "Er, I can't make it that day"
JCW: "Oh! (overemphasized for effect) May I ask why?"
Me: "(unable to think of excuse)Errrrr (mumbles) I'm going on holiday...."
At this point she was just passing me the form, both our hands were on the document, but as soon as I said the word holiday it was if an alarm had gone off in her brain. Her grip on the form tightened and her expression took on a distinctly icy quality. We locked stares....... a tumbleweed blew by......
JCW: (eyebrows raised) "Holiday......?
Me: (struggling to pull the form towards me) "Yeah"
JCW: (tightening her grip with an even more steely eyed determination) "And where are you going on (pause for effect)... holiday?"
Me: (gulp) "France"
Using the desk as leverage the job centre woman manages to prize the holy grail of the benefit claim form from my grasp.
JCW: "Well you can't have any benefit then until you come back, as you won't be actively seeking work. If you were going to Cornwall, then that's acceptable, but you can't go abroad"
Me: "But it's freezing in Cornwall this time of year.....and besides (prepares to play trump card) How will I find a job in the West Midlands, if I'm in Cornwall?"
JCW: (Determined to outwit me) "You go to the nearest Job Centre"
Me: "But what about if I'm an a remote village miles away from the nearest large town and I don't drive"
At this point the Job Centre Woman falls into my trap. Instead of playing me at my own game and saying something like "How would you get to this remote village?" She says:
JCW: "You could use newspapers"
Me: "But, newspapers in Cornwall wouldn't have jobs in Birmingham"
JCW: "What about the Job Centre website?"
Me: (Slightly too smugly) Ah, I can yes....but can't the job centre website also be accessed from abroad, along with all the other job websites out there?"
The Job Centre Woman looks at me in disgust.
Me: "So I can still 'actively seek work' as you so eloquently put it, whilst I am in France"
JCW: "No you can't"
Me: "I can"
Me: "OK, so just give me the form, I'll fill it in now and then you can start giving me benefit on the day I get back from France"
JCW: (With a crafty smile to herself) "I'm afraid I can't do that"
Me: "Go on....it will save time"
JCW: "NO! You must come in after you get back from.....holiday, to collect a form and then you can make an appointment"