With the current economic climate in the UK more and more people are needing to claim benefits, primarily Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) which is paid to people who are out of work.
Below is a list of lessons I have learnt, through bitter experience, that Job Centre Plus won't tell you when claiming Jobseeker's Allowance.
1) Getting Information - Read the Direct.gov website to get the basics of what you can claim and how to claim - you cannot do this too soon as when you need to claim you need to hit the ground running.
2) Keep informed - Chase up your claim every two weeks to find out what is happening - in my case they were waiting for forms from me they never told me about - but don't be surprised if they cannot tell you much as they only have access to the updated notes on your claim that have been entered into the computer system by another team.
3) Council Tax benefit - If your JSA claim includes a claim for council tax and the Job Centre Plus say that they will instigate this for you ring your local council offices after a month to ensure that they have knowledge of the claim. In my case, there was a problem between the Job Centre Plus and the council which caused a four month delay, meant I had to fill in more forms and then went to the back of another 2-3 month queue.
4) What else can I claim for? - Get hold of booklet INF2 from your job centre- this will inform you of what else you can claim for when on JSA - and start filling in the relevant forms. Unfortunately, this is not given to you until the decision on JSA has been taken, which can take 3 months, and then you have to ring up for further forms and then wait for that claim too. Knowing what you can claim for and getting the forms speeds up the process. Make sure you tell the Tax Credit people about your change in circumstance, too.
5) They are only doing their job - PLEASE be polite to the staff - it is not their fault that the system is pathetic and they are overworked. Screaming and shouting and banging your head against a brickwall will achieve nothing.
6) Be patient - these tips should speed up the process and put you one step ahead of potential issues but it can take months with many hurdles and problems along the way. I have been out of work for 5 months and am still waiting to hear on some of my claims.
7) Don't Assume something has happened when you have been told it has - If someone tells you something has happened or has been sent off double check with whoever is waiting for it that it has arrived and it is correct. Don't assume that everything is in place - it will save you time instead of hearing 6 weeks late that something hasn't arrived.
8) Company Directors of one man companies - If you are one STOP PAYING YOURSELF A SALARY NOW. You will not get paid JSA if you pay yourself a salary regardless of how much it is and regardless if you are getting any money into the business. I know it can be tough to have money in the business and not being able to touch it but you MUST leave it there. (My mistake of paying myself minimum wage for 3 months ended up costing me £5k!)