Just got back from a meeting this morning with another representative of the Department of Workless Persecution. A letter arrived early last week, before the whole you are employed situation on Thursday inviting me to a mandatory meeting this morning.
After waiting a while I was called into an office and told to sit down, then the lady told me what she did and why I was there.
She was a benefit compliance and FRAUD inspector and she wanted to discuss the change in my circumstances and income. Which left me more than a little surprised for a second because I hadn't noticed I had and changes, then it occurred to me. Last Thursdays little incident.
So I asked was this about me writing and she said she was fully aware of the situation and wanted to discuss it in some detail but that wasn't the primary reason for me being there. She wanted to talk about the changes in my circumstances.
She explained that people make mistakes and things change that they don’t know have to be reported, this meeting was an opportunity to advise the jobcentre abut such changes and it would be considered a mistake but if I failed to update them then after today it would be classed as fraud and subject to prosecution.
At this point I was working hard to not say something because I had already tried to explain my writing last week. Oh and how is it that a lumbering bureaucracy like the DWP takes months to change any mistakes THEY make but something I said on Thursday morning has already been processed and I’m being grilled on it the following Monday morning.
So, again, I explained about my writing and blogging. I explained about the American company and what they were talking about, paying for some of my work when it was published later in the year. I explained that I have many hobbies, writing, science fiction, tabletop gaming and role playing games and that like thousands of others I chat and comment and critique and make suggestions, they are hobbies and I’m involved in them.
After going through the whole thing again she said that sounded fine and she would add that to her notes but then she said that that wasn't the only reason for talking to me.
Apparently the benefit fraud hotline had received a tip about me that they had decided to investigate. She started telling me how they investigate these anonymous tips with meetings where people are given the chance to explain before any prosecution is undertaken.
Me, confused. The writing thing was bad enough, now I’m being accused of benefit fraud as well.
So I asked her, could she tell me what the problem was, it would be much easier if I knew what I was accused of so I could actually answer her.
They had received a tip, someone had told them I had a job, someone called the phone line and reported me and they had decided to investigate the tip, days after giving me grief because of my honesty on Thursday.
So what was the tip. I had been reported for being seen wearing a hi viz backpack and vest leaving my house, ON MY BIKE !
Yep, the bright yellow backpack I wear whenever I am cycling on the local streets, the one I wear EVERY TIME I VISIT THE JOBCENTRE, the one I had walked into the woman’s office holding. The high viz I wear whenever I am cycling so the idiot car drivers can see me, that had been reported as benefit fraud along with the orange high viz I wear at night or dusk so I can be seen from the front as well as the back. No mention was made of why being seen wearing high viz ON A CYCLE constitutes evidence of being in a job, I can only presume they thought I was working on a building site and was dressed such.
I wear high viz every time I go out on my bike and I carry that pack every time I visit the jobcentre, they see it, I’m not hiding it. But someone somewhere decided that I needed to be investigated.
Being safe on the roads, now a sign of benefit fraud.
The lady said they had received the tip and decided to investigate it, and since what I had said on Thursday was also on my record she was investigating that as well.
So anyway after I showed her my high viz (safety while cycling) backpack and explained that if I cycle at night I use a vest as well for safety and after I explained yet again about my writing and blogging and hobbies and the fact that I talk to people about shared interests she booked me another meeting with her tomorrow so I can fill in the paperwork I need to so I can properly explain what it is that I’m doing, IN MY OWN FREE TIME WITHOUT GETTING PAID.
In addition I now have to log any time I spend that MAY involve income from my American friends, I have to log costs such as internet time and electricity costs for however many hours I may spend talking to them and I have to report that to the DWP who will estimate my income and deduct that from any benefit payments then after six months I have to bring in income statements to prove I am or am not earning.
I did ask what happens if they overestimate since I am looking at a few hundred dollars here, that will be sorted for the six months after that. I asked if they deduct too much what will happen, they will deduct less over the next six months.
The lady I was taking too seemed helpful and didn't seem to be trying to trick me, she agreed the report was ridiculous but it had been passed to her so she had to investigate.
Last Thursday I was feeling angry, today I’m feeling sad and paranoid. Mostly paranoid.
After all the trouble last week that I blogged about then, now wearing a high viz pack and vest to CYCLE constitutes possible benefit fraud and is passed to the fraud office to investigate.
Everything I say about the DWP, about the way the Coalition government treats people, it’s not enough, they are worse than anything I can say.
I am clearly NOT PARANOID ENOUGH ! ! ! !