I’ve never actually applied for any kind of benefit for myself – I earn enough to live on and have no dependents. It’s pretty cushy actually. However, if you read the newspapers and far too many Facebook posts to count, any Tom, Dick or Harry can rock up from some foreign land and immediately get a council house, a motobility car and a free gym pass simply by asking. Applying for benefits is as easy as riding a bike.
After my recent experience, I’m inclined to think that if you can get past the hurdles of the online application, you’re welcome to claim benefits. You must have the patience of a saint and the retinas of superman to stare at a computer screen for that long.
Here’s the situation: recently a friend of mine has found herself in an unexpected situation. To cut a long story short, she’s now the primary carer for her 2-year old grandchild. I know that a lot of people manage this, but her situation is fairly complicated, in that she’s self-employed and her business involves travel (not abroad, sadly, but she spends a lot of time in the car) and unsociable hours.
Another issue is that her grandson’s nursery is a few miles away, and she has to wait ten or so weeks until he can transfer. When he’s in school the situation will be more manageable, but at the moment it’s almost impossible to juggle clients, and she’s had to cut down a lot. There’s also a chance that she’ll need a bigger house.
The Universal Credit scheme launched last year in the UK and it’s being rolled out slowly. From what I can understand, it’s a way of receiving one benefit, rather that separate ones – you tell the government your situation and send them regular updates, and they work out how much you can have.
My friend asked me to give her a hand to fill out the forms – she’s had boatloads of papers thrown her way over the past few months, and her brain was getting frazzled by it all. She filled out the form correctly – all details of previous addresses, dependents, yada yada yada. All was going well.
And then came the part where she had to verify her identity.
I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again:
For a start, none of the recommended identity-verifying places would accept her driving license, because it was in her married name (she’s now divorced). Fair enough, so she got that changed (thankfully, that was free), but then it turns out that it can take a while for the change to register with some companies, so they recommended waiting a few weeks and trying again.
Mate, we ain’t got a few weeks. Ok, so she’s not destitute, but if someone needed to apply in an emergency they’d have an absolute nightmare.
Also, if you want to use a driving license as a form of ID you need to take a photo of it using a specific camera, and THEN they may ask for a photo of you holding your driving license. Yup.
Oh, and every time you add another form of ID (bank account, credit card etc) you’ll get yet ANOTHER message saying that they have insufficient information to verify your identity. Basically, they want your driver’s license, passport, credit card, bank account and, probably, your first born. They don’t tell you that though, and if you haven’t passed the identity check after 28 days, your application is deleted and you have to start again from scratch. Yaaaaaay.
Oh, and also, my friend’s passport was also in her married name, but to get a new one, you have to pay for one. Pfft.
The thing I find most jarring is this: imagine a young, single mother/father that has no one to run to for some help and is relying on benefits. They don’t have a passport or driving license to serve as identification because they can’t afford them. It’s crazy.
How can we make applying for benefits easier?
Ok, not easier, per se – obvs I don’t want to encourage people to take advantage, but it would be better if those in need can access the services they require quickly.
Ok, so I’ve just made the obvious connection. People who commit benefit fraud should be made to help legitimate claimants. Wouldn’t that be amazing? They’ll know all the loopholes! As well as who to speak to at the DVLA to get your name change form to go through first.
Wouldn’t it be better to apply for benefits to an actual person? Maybe someone could to your house, assess your situation and see where to go from there. Kind of like how the health visitor comes to your house after you have a baby. You know, to check you’re both still alive.
There are many people out there that think they need benefits but actually could just do with some advice on how to manage their money. Sure, sending people to assess claimants would be expensive… but if people received a financial education maybe overall, we could save money.
I know a lot of people are bitter towards people that claim benefits, but it’s easy to judge from a distance. I’m not that bothered by fake claimers tbh. The way I see it, I’d rather live in a country that tries to help its people than that lets them starve. For one thing, you never know what’s around the corner. Sure, people exploit the system, but that’s their karma, not mine.
Thank you, UK, for having a benefits system, even if it’s nigh on impossible prove that you’re you.