Jimmy Stirling's DWP Diary: Heading off to the wilderness

In his latest diary update, 63-year-old Jimmy Stirling is having problems finding out if he's due a full pension

I AM Jimmy Stirling, a 63-year-old unemployed graphic designer, photographer and musician, single grandfather and social housing tenant living in Glasgow.

I receive Jobseeker's Allowance of £50 per week and have a very small pension payment of just under £25 per week. I do voluntary work for my neighbouring community.

I was recently conscripted to take part in the UK Government's Community Work Programme, where I would be forced to work for my Jobseeker's Allowance, which I see as slave labour. This not volunteering, this is not being paid a wage, this is conscription.

I am against this terrible programme and this is my experience in trying to avoid a six-month, 30-hours-per-week sentence just to juggle the government's statistics to make them look good.

Below is my latest diary update. You can read the others here.

30 August 2017

I signed on and my sadness seemed to have been noticed as the woman asked me if I was alright. I told her of my story and my family going to Australia

She suggested I could take two weeks off and go visit then when they got there. I told her that the DWP would not pay me for that. I also said that I doubt the DWP would give me the air fare either. I think she realised the reality but her intentions seemed good.

Radish commented on the last part of my story regarding my actual retiral age. I have checked this online with the government site as well as few others and my retiral age is 65 years, five months and 13 days. However, thank you Radish for your concern and I hope your journey to retirement isn’t fraught with jobcentre nonsense.

4 September 2017

Following Radish’s message, I decided to check up on my pension date and what my state pension would be. Having logged on to my Government Gateway, I found that my national insurance contributions were not up to date. 

It seems that one week’s contribution wasn’t paid in 2008 and three were not paid in 2016. I phoned HMRC, which deals with national insurance contributions, to question this. After waiting with the dreaded hold music for a while, I spoke to someone who would pass me on after I explained the situation. 

She came back to me to tell me the system seemed to be a bit awry, and asked if I could call back the following day. She said between 8am and 9am was a quiet time.

READ MORE: Read Jimmy Stirling’s full diary

I then tried to get in touch with my jobcentre, via the phone, and ended up getting an office in Sheffield. I explained to the lad, who was actually helpful, that I was questioning gaps where the DWP didn’t forward to the HMRC some national insurance contribution payments. The 2016 record showed that I hadn’t paid three weeks worth of contributions.

This was the period where I signed off for two weeks to visit friends in Canada. So, when you ask to be allowed to holiday abroad and you don’t get paid Jobseeker's Allowance, you also don’t get national insurance contributions paid either. My question was, if I was away for two weeks, how come it showed up as three weeks? The lad said he would get a letter to me to tell HMRC that I should have had a contribution paid.

13 September 2017

Signing day. I took the letter I was sent to the jobcentre to sort out unpaid national insurance contributions. After signing, I produced the letter explaining that at least two contributions were not paid. 

My work coach said that not having these paid will make no difference to my pension. The HMRC online check, which I took earlier, said that non-payment can affect your final pension. I was no further forward. I will send the letter to HMRC and find out what I owe, the best way to pay and if it does actually affect my final pension.

There is supposed to be a better link with the DWP and HMRC due to modern technology, so we are constantly being told. In this case, that just does not seem to be true. More phone calls will be required to an 0345 number. Luckily, my phone provider allows free calls to these numbers, otherwise I would be forking out to pay for them. However, a postage stamp is required because there are no more free envelopes for HMRC usage.

I then told him I was taking a week off because I needed it. So, he filled out the holiday form. I told him that I was taking a week off where I didn’t sign on as I am sure it would cause a lot of bother and that I would have to sign on at a later date meaning a later payment of Jobseeker's Allowance. I don’t need that. 

I will deal with HMRC when I return. Meanwhile, I’m off to the wilderness and off the radar for a week.

Picture courtesy of Jimmy Stirling

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Comments

weeme56

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 18:16

My 56 yr old sister has been told she cannot get ESA as not enough stamps! She has never not paid her stamp, always been working the past couple of years!

weeme56

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 18:16

My 56 yr old sister has been told she cannot get ESA as not enough stamps! She has never not paid her stamp, always been working the past couple of years!

Radish

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 14:50

Hello Jimmy,

You might find the following information of help:

For the state of play regarding the State Pension I found the following two articles in the Guardian of help:

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/jan/14/single-tier-pension-what-s...

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/mar/06/70000-people-will-miss-out...

Also a new State Pension system was introduced in April 2016 which is what the Guardian articles in part deal with (at your age you will be governed by the new rules, as am I). You can find a summary of the new system at the Age UK website here:

https://www.ageuk.org.uk/money-matters/pensions/what-the-new-state-pensi...

Note that to qualify for a full State Pension under this new system you need at least 35 years National Insurance (NI) contributions or credits to get the full amount (I refer to them as qualifying years below). If you have less than that you won't get the full State Pension.

I would also recommend that you try and get an appointment with Age UK - they are reputed to be helpful in guiding people through the maze of what to do to check your State Pension age and so on.

However, on a personal note I would comment the following on what you should try to do now with a story as to why.

Around the end of 1999 and into early 2000 I was making plans to go abroad and work, freelance, not via a UK employer. As part of doing that I thought some difficulty might arise with respect to my State Pension and National Insurance Contributions (NICs). So as part of checking out how I deal with that I contacted HMRC and asked them for a full break-down of my NICs record from the year I first started working (immediately after leaving school) to the, then, present date. This is something that I would advise you to do now - this is your next step, without that information you won't know what years are qualifying for your State Pension and what years are non-qualifying for Pension. So you need to get this information from HMRC. Also note that this is not the same as asking HMRC for a Pension Forecast. A Pension Forecast, is useful but it won't give the information you need. You need a full break-down of NICs by year so that you can see what is a qualifying year and what is a non-qualifying year. For a year to be qualifying you need to have made 52 NICs for that year, if even one NIC is missing then that entire year doesn't count towards your State Pension.

When I asked HMRC for this breakdown they said it would be no problem - it's something they do a lot on request. (When you contact them for this information they will ask you if it is for you personally - just answer yes to that.) When I got the breakdown I was amazed. There were several years (in the 1970's and the 1980's) that were non-qualifying i.e. insufficient NICs had been made. In those years I had periods of being unemployed and periods of being at college/university. When I was at college/university I didn't make voluntary payments to NICs, so, where relevant, I understood the gaps there. However, several, and I do mean many years, were non-qualifying and the failure in NICs, as best as I could figure, was down to the Jobcentre/DWP failing to make National Insurance Credits into the NICs account - such "credits" are, effectively, recorded in the NICs account as being a qualifying payment to NICs. These failures weren't happening for the entire duration of a period of unemployment, sometimes the credits would be made, sometimes not. This meant that for several years I was non-qualifying with respect to NICs by a matter of one, two, three, whatever, Credits failing to have been made by the Jobcentre.

Luckily, I had always kept a record of employment and unemployment periods. I got in touch with the Jobcentre and queried this mess. I was given the name and address of the person to contact in the Jobcentre network. At that time he was located in a non-public office in Edinburgh - you can't just walk into the building and ask to see someone. I wrote a long letter to him. with dates, detailing what I considered to be failures of the Jobcentre to make credits to NICs. And, cutting a long story short (this took several months to resolve), I got a letter back from him saying that he agreed that the Jobcentre had failed on multiple occasions to pay credits into my NICs and that he was now authorising that these back-dated credits be made into NICs. That he could and/or would do this is entirely discretionary on his part (he was in the management hierarchy of his division of the Jobcentre network and as such had sufficient power to do this). It was further discretionary because for many of the years that I was querying the Jobcentre just didn't have records he could check to confirm or refute what I claimed to be the case (many of those years occurred well before computers were being used by the Jobcentre and the old paper records now no longer existed once computers were brought in to maintain records) - and so the manager was just deciding that I seemed to be honest and genuine in my claims and going with that. I let a month or so pass so that the, now made, credits would work through the system and then asked HMRC for another breakdown of my NICs record. Sure enough several years that had been non-qualifying were now qualifying - and I would now get a full State Pension because this was so.

I was so pleased by this that I thought to phone that Jobcentre manager and thank him from the bottom of my heart for sorting this out - if he hadn't done so I would be in a situation where I wouldn't be able to qualify for a full State Pension. It was a pleasant conversation but he said something that totally amazed me. I was amazed on two counts. (1) That a manager would make such a comment to me, a member of the public. (2) That the situation that he referred to existed at all. His comment was that this (failure on the part of some Jobcentre staff to make credits towards NICs) is fairly common. He also said that the government knows about this, but that nothing is being done about it. He added that, and oh how I remember his words, "This is a time-bomb sitting waiting to go off. Most people will only find out about this when they go to apply for their State Pension."

So, in all Jimmy, take good advice and get a check on your NICs record from the time you started working to the present year. You never know, you might be sitting on a time-bomb.

As another note. I did go and work abroad for a while. Often I made voluntary (self-paying) contributions to my NICs - but there were times when I just wasn't making enough to do so, so there would be gaps in my NICs again, though now I knew their source, me.

When I came back from abroad I landed up unemployed for a while again. So sign on. Eventually, got employment and so was no longer involved with the Jobcentre. I left that for a couple of months, then requested another break-down of my NICs record. What I found was the following:

(1) For those times when I was abroad and failed to make payments there was only a limited amount of time I had to make back-payments to get that gap in NICs plugged. I did pay within the time limits so that was fairly easy to sort out. This is important because if you find there are gaps in the NICs many years after the gap having been generated you, personally, cannot make voluntary contributions to turn those years into qualifying years - too much time has passed and the opportunity to make voluntary payments has long gone. You can't plug the gaps yourself. You could of course ask, but the answer will likely be, no. If the failure was down to the Jobcentre then managers in the appropriate department have the power to make back-dated credits to plug the gaps, no matter how long ago the failure to make the credits occurred.

(2) For the period of unemployment, when I came back from abroad, yet again some of the Jobcentre staff had failed to credit my NICs - and this happened in two different Jobcentres, one in England and one in Scotland. I got that sorted out in the months that followed after I found out about it.

So my last piece of advice Jimmy is, if you're involved with the Jobcentre/DWP, run a check on your NICs fairly frequently. You never know what is going on in the background if you're involved with them. I'd also check if the Jobcentre make credits to your NICs when you take a holiday (I don't know the answer to that myself). If they don't then it might be of value to you to make a voluntary contribution to cover that week, depending upon the number of qualifying years you already have in your NICs record. If you already have at least 35 qualifying years then you might want to take a chance that it isn't worth plugging the gaps in non-qualifying years - you already have enough to get the full State Pension (under the new rules). That said, I personally plugged every gap that was possible to plug, even though I already had more that the 35 qualifying years. Why did I do that? Just caution on my part - there is no way of knowing if in the future the government will change the rules again but if they do and they increase the number of qualifying years to get an increased amount of State Pension then I've covered myself for that possibility (maybe - on the other hand maybe not).

In any case, enjoy your holiday, Jimmy. It's good to chill-out now and then from the fray. And now you have a new area to cover in your always interesting diary. I'll enjoy reading what you discover. You're a brave man to put your head above the parapet as far as the Jobcentre/DWP are concerned. Good luck!

P.S. weeme56 - get your sister to check her NICs record, the problem might lie in the distant past, as detailed in the example I've given above. You might also find this website useful if your sister wants to fight this: https://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/
It costs £20.00 a year to be a member but they are very helpful and they have a forum where you can ask questions about your sister's own particular case. It might be worthwhile for your sister to join.

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