Phones for use by people looking for work have been removed from Minehead Jobcentre. Job seekers are being told they must use their own phone – or borrow one from a friend – if they want to talk to a potential employer or raise a problem with their benefits.
The removal of a vital service for many unemployed people comes at a time when the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is imposing a tough regime of sanctions on people accused of not looking hard enough for work.
The front of the Minehead Jobcentre is now an almost empty space. Not only have the phones been removed, the four terminals that gave details of local job vacancies are also gone. In their place are just two desktop computers, with warning notices saying time on them will be rationed. At the last count 1,045 people in West Somerset were unemployed.
The DWP says this is all part of a digital update which will improve Jobcentres. When the modernisation is complete, there will be more terminals and WiFi access for those with their own digital devices. But no phones.
‘Everything is done online thesedays’
When asked why, a DWP spokesperson said “everything is done online these days.” He said 80 per cent of claims for benefit are made from people’s homes and claimed that most recruitment is done online. However, he conceded that when fixing a job interview, a phone call might be needed. He could not say how often the phones at Minehead Jobcentre were used when they were there.
In the past, many unemployed people have also used a phone in the Jobcentre to raise problems about their benefits with national DWP helplines. These are on 0845 numbers which are prohibitively expensive to call from a mobile.
The DWP says some phones will be available for what it calls “vulnerable customers”. But for the majority, a phone call to look for a job or to find out why benefits are not being paid will not be an option. And even if you have a mobile and can afford to use it, you’re going to have to step outside. A notice says calls from inside the Jobcentre are prohibited – so you’ll have to ring from the street.
Cllr Mick Lerry said: “As part of the cost-cutting exercise the DWP is removing access to communication equipment and a service, which is suppose to be assisting Job-seekers back to work. There is a complete lack of understanding by the Government that Job-seekers will not have access to computers, phones and sometimes the finance necessary for them to search for employment. In Bridgwater sanctions were imposed on job-seekers who were late for appointments, because of flooding, now job-seekers are being penalised in Minehead”.