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Homeless hostels: Where it pays to stay unemployed

Some homeless hostels rely upon their residents' benefits. So, as Jason Petch found out, there is a catch-22 to getting a job

How would you feel about 117 unemployed people being told not to work as it will jeopardise their placement in a homeless hostel?

I am currently claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and trying to get on my feet. You make a declaration to look for work and sign a legal contract between yourself and the government. Once a fortnight you attend a meeting and show what you have done to actively seek employment.

My Jobseeker’s Allowance agreement says I must look for full-time work, else I may be sanctioned and lose my entitlement. So when I sit in a meeting with a support worker at the hostel, the last thing I expect to hear is: “Don’t, whatever you do, get a job – get housed and then look for work.” You must claim Jobseeker’s Allowance to enable your claim for Housing Benefit. The maximum stay here is two years. So for two years the homeless hostel is tacitly, indirectly asking us to commit fraud against the government.

If you are found to be not actively seeking work, your benefit is sanctioned. Your suspension period is determined by how many times you have been sanctioned previously and your overall ability to abide by the rules of your job-seeking agreement. Let’s say it’s two weeks. So for two weeks you lose your Housing Benefit, which means for two weeks there is no rent paid by the council for you staying in the hostel. The hostel looks at the fact you can’t pay and they will have someone behind you that can get straight on benefits. So more than likely you will be facing your 14-day notice period.

For two years the homeless hostel is tacitly, indirectly asking us to commit fraud against the government

I have to look for work and to be honest, I want to work. Sat in here looking at four walls all day is soul-destroying. I may be old-fashioned but if you go out to work, does it not give you confidence? Does it not help you to have self-esteem, make you feel good when you treat yourself because you are working hard and earning money? To me, working creates a sense of positivity. Cleaning toilets, factory work, vegetable picking or any other work may not be your dream job but it makes you feel valued as a human being. You gain new and wonderful friends, rather than the fortnightly meeting at the job centre.

I received a job offer. I took it but wouldn’t be home in time to meet the 4.45pm deadline for a hot meal. So I was offered sandwiches for breakfast and sandwiches for an evening meal. If I wanted a hot meal, I would have to use my wages to buy one.

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I wasn’t too disappointed in this. I could easily buy a hot meal, I thought, until a curveball hit me. I earned a basic wage of £235 per week, paid weekly. The rent for my hostel was £228 per week. All of a sudden I realised I’d have £7 to pay for food all week, as well as £40 of debt payment to keep up every month.

My friend, two weeks later, received exciting news. He had also found a job, it paid what he required to be able to get himself back on his feet. He was excited and went to the office to negotiate a deal with the financial accountant at the hostel. He worked out that in four weeks’ time, he would have earned enough disposable income to pay a deposit on a flat.

If he were to move on they would miss out on someone who is a very good and regular payer

They explained that he would have to be given packed lunches for breakfast and evening meals but he had seen what my packed lunches were like and negotiated the amount of the weekly food bill off his rent. Support staff threw all sorts of possibilities at him, they constantly told him this is the wrong way to go. What is their intention? And why? Well, if he were to move on they would miss out on someone who is a very good and regular payer. Also someone who has the stability of housing benefit paying £199 per week. This sadly is not where this story ends.

On Friday, he returned from work. The financial accountant called my friend in to tell him that he would have to pay the full rent of £228, including food. They can’t even break down the cost of food off the rent even though you are not receiving the food you are entitled to. This is amazingly bad management. So obviously he was upset and now cannot wait to move on from here. It’s sad that a man with a passion for life and a passion for succeeding is now deflated. He started work, he did what was asked of him by the government, then the wall went up.

So all in all, if you want to work, should you want to better yourself, please don’t, as you may lose your home.