As of this week, my Statutory Maternity Pay entitlement has finished, and although I am still employed, I’m not receiving income. As such, I am entitled to claim Income Support.
To claim Income Support, you call a free number and answer questions such as
has your child ever been on the Local Authority register of blind persons?
are you needed in court?
…for half an hour. Then they print out your answers and send them to you, second class with a list of documentation they need for proof of what you’ve told them. Then you can either post them your passport and payslips and hope they remember to return them, or you wander on down to the Job Centre and have them make a certified copy for you. You sign the forms, fill in a bit about equal opportunities, and post it back. And then you wait for them to process the paperwork and pay you £71 a week.
Meanwhile, you have to tell Tax Credits that you are no longer receiving income. This is different to no longer being employed. If I had quit my job, my Working Tax Credits would run on at the same amount for another four weeks. But I have not quit my job, I’m just not receiving any income. So I do not get the 4 extra weeks of Working Tax Credit. I do not understand the logic behind this.
The next thing you need to sort out is the Housing/Council Tax Benefit. This is organised by the local council, rather than a government agency. So earlier this week I schlepped on down to the local council office to submit my last payslip, and the letter from my work stating the date my pay finished.
A little background on the Housing Benefit saga is required here: Statutory Maternity Pay is paid weekly on a Saturday, and because some months have more Saturdays than others, for the last few months my payslips have been different each time. So each month I take my payslip to the council and they decide how much Housing Benefit I should have received for the last month. If I should have had more than I did, they put a lump sum into my rent account, and the money I paid last month could have been spent on nappies or shopping. If I should have had less than I did, they send me a coded message disguised as a statement of account, saying they’ve overpaid X amount, and will recoup this by deducting X amount from my new weekly entitlement. This usually comes through mid-month, by which point the payments they are making are most probably already incorrect. The consequence of this is that I never know how much rent I need to pay from my wages each month. If I gamble, and my Housing Benefit is cut and doesn’t make up the shortfall in what I’ve paid, I get snotty letters threatening eviction. If I pay too much, when the letter comes stating my new entitlement I kick myself.
So here I am now, having submitted my last payslip. Technically, from this week onwards I am entitled to full Housing Benefit and am not liable to pay any more rent. So I need to know what my Housing Benefit entitlement was for last month, to make sure I pay the exact right amount to cover the difference between the rent and the benefit. I sincerely doubt the local council do refunds, if I pay too much. But I’ve only just submitted my payslip so it will be a couple of weeks before they sort out the figures, and then I need to get hold of the housing officer, who is never available anywhere, and get her to email me a screen print of my account, and figure it all out.
Meanwhile, I can’t get full Housing Benefit, even though they have a piece of paper in front of them from my employer telling them when my pay finished. Oh, no. They need a letter from Income Support confirming I am indeed receiving the benefit. And I won’t get that until I’ve sent back the forms and waited for them to process all of that. Cue snotty letters threatening me and my daughter with eviction.
Incidentally, I’d just like to point out here that while Income Support is £71 a week, Jobseekers is £91 and I believe Incapacity Benefit is about the same. If anyone is able to explain to me why JSA should be more than Income Support, when people on JSA are supposed to be looking for a job and getting off benefit, and people on Income Support are entitled to be at home, not looking for a job, raising their child until it is 5 – please do!