The Trouble with JSA

Ok, so now I’m signed off, I can happily write all about my gripes with Jobcentre Plus (henceforth referred to as JCP).

I will begin by saying that I never dealt with any mean people at JCP; everyone I dealt with was polite, and even if they weren’t exactly friendly, they weren’t patronising either. Some began by being patronising, but once they got to know me they readjusted their demeanour appropriately.

My number one rule for success at the JCP: BE POLITE. Let’s face it, I am sure there are plenty of arses working at the JCP. There are in every single profession on the planet. But most people working there are just that: working there. It’s not the people that are against you, it’s the system. People working at the JCP know they aren’t that far away from being the other side of the desk. They have reports to write and targets to hit (even though IDS denies it!) and I am sure most of them just want to do the bare minimum to get by and take some money home. So don’t be a dick to them: I once saw a bloke having such a go at this poor woman working there and she was nothing but polite and patient with him, and he just threw it back in her face. It must be a thankless job. A little civility goes a long way.

ANYWAY. If I were in charge of this whole JCP farce, what would I do? What are the problems with it?

For starters, and I’ve said it time and time again: they don’t know how to deal with educated people. They just don’t. The only courses they can offer you are basic literacy, numeracy and computer courses. They try to push you into lower skilled jobs that you don’t have a hope in hell of getting because any canny employer would be able to see the second you could, you’d be off. And this is also unfair to less educated people who rely on those low skilled jobs. Once you have a glut of graduates working in retail, where are the people who dropped out of school going to end up?

So the first thing I would do is tailor advice and jobs to the jobseeker’s actual needs. Don’t recommend work experience if you can see they already have work experience! Don’t send them on ridiculous courses about CVs when their CV has already been seen by tens of people who have declared it perfect!

The most knowledgeable person I saw throughout my entire time on JSA was a lady from the National Careers Service. I didn’t have to see her, but I thought I’d go along with it to look willing. And this lady was really helpful! She took me seriously, helped me refine my CV (and I trust her a whole lot more than the people at Ingeus that I met!) and told me to stop applying for low skilled jobs. She emphasised quality over quantity, which is something the JCP doesn’t do. Of course, this woman wasn’t affiliated with the JCP other than holding her meetings there.

So my next point is: hire people like her! People who know about getting people into work: helping them discover their skills and the key areas of the job market they should be attacking. Of course, due to the sheer numbers of people on JSA, the JCP hires people who don’t seem to know very much about employment and career prospects and know less about operating a computer than me (which isn’t hard, I admit). But they need these experts, instead of pawning people off to outside companies like Ingeus and wasting millions in the process.

Next point: be more helpful. Stop hiding telephone numbers in obscure, far-reaching places of the internet. Let me know what I’m entitled to, other than housing benefit. When I was googling how to sign off (who knew it was all in the green booklet that you you use to sign on?!) I came across all these grants you’re entitled to for setting up your own business – why wasn’t I told about these? They wouldn’t have mattered to me of course, but just even giving people a leaflet outlining these could be helpful. The same goes for courses and anything else – I got my Swedish class at a reduced price due to being on JSA but this isn’t widely publicised (at least in the circles I run in).

My next gripe, and it’s one of my biggest, is with Universal Jobmatch, which I believe is now mandatory for all jobseekers. Word to the wise: untick the boxes that let your advisor see your job searches and allow them to email you. Just do it! It won’t help you, and I’ll explain why in a second.

Universal Jobmatch is a hideous, ugly site, that was designed by people who hate clean lines and user friendliness. I am extraordinarily computer and internet savvy, but that site makes me want to cry with frustration.

The first glaringly obvious problem with it is that there is no facility to include a cover letter. Out of all the jobs I was forced to apply for on there (next point), I never got one reply. My guess is the lack of a cover letter. It’s just basic job application etiquette! When the site was first set up I actually emailed them and asked them if this was going to be added as it seemed a glaring omission. They basically fobbed me off in their reply, so it doesn’t seem like that feature is coming any time soon.

Also, the site emphasises lazy job searching. Job searching shouldn’t be hard; no one likes filling in page after page of an application form, but when you make it this simple, this automated, you stop engaging your brain and you put even less effort into it than you were doing when you were using other sites. It’s just, ‘Oh I can do this job’, click apply, select CV, click send. That’s it. The amount of CVs employers must get that bear absolutely no relation to the job advertised must be astounding.

There are a few other small gripes I have with the Universal Jobmatch site: problems with formatting (job descriptions appearing with no paragraphs), no end dates (this is a problem for most job sites, actually), throwing up unrelated jobs. When I have searched for admin in the past, it has thrown up driving jobs, cleaning jobs, teaching jobs. What a colossal waste of time.

The brilliant thing about all this was that my advisor was equally as frustrated with the site as I was, and didn’t hide her frustration.Yet she seemed powerless to do anything about it.

My final problem with the JCP further emphasises the problem of lazy job searching: because I was on JSA for so long, I was referred to another advisor that I had to see every week. The difference between this advisor and the others I met was that she would personally find jobs for me on Universal Jobmatch and save them for me to apply for later (this is why I said to not allow your advisor access to your account). We would go through the job listings together and would agree on which ones I would apply for. She usually found me 3-4 jobs a week. Sounds brilliant, you may think. Not exactly. I don’t know what other people’s experiences of this are, but for me, it made me extremely lackadaisical. I only saw this lady for two months before I signed off, but for about a month of that, I stopped looking for jobs to apply for myself. She would look for jobs for me to apply for and I would apply for them: this made her happy and it also filled in my weekly quota of how many jobs I had to apply for. So I thought, ‘Why bother applying for any more?’

I know that was a stupid way to get and I thankfully recognised I was doing it and knew the only way to get myself out of that rut was to sign off. Going to the JCP had become a boring weekly routine that did nothing to motivate me and actually propelled me into the apathetic job seeker I so quickly became.

I don’t know why they make your advisor find jobs for you to apply for. I could understand using the technique for helping people who had literacy problems or were having trouble finding jobs to apply for themselves. But I wasn’t, I was regularly finding in excess of three jobs a week to apply for in my chosen industry. A lot of jobs aren’t advertised on Universal Jobmatch so most of the ones my advisor was saving for me were admin ones. Now I am off JSA, I have stopped applying for admin jobs: I have very little experience and was getting no interviews.

What’s the point of making me apply for jobs I won’t get just to satisfy the target of making all jobseekers use the Universal Jobmatch website? Surely it is better for me to find my own jobs on other sites that I actually want to do and have a good chance of securing an interview for!

Honestly. All this sounds like such obvious stuff. Maybe I should be given a job in overhauling the system! 😉


I had just been searching for blogs on Universal Jobmatch and came across this one: look at this email in the comments someone was just sent by their advisor:

Dear All

It has come to the attention of the Jobcentre that when you apply for a job on Universal Jobmatch and attach your CV, unless your CV is marked ‘public’ the employer receives a blank CV.

You can hold up to 5 CV’s on Universal Jobmatch for different job types, but only 1 can be marked ‘public’ and the rest must be ‘private’. If you choose to send a ‘private’ CV, the employer will receive a blank piece of paper.

What a shame we’ve only just found this out. I apologise for this. It is a huge fault on Universal Jobmatch in my opinion that I hope gets rectified soon.

In the meantime, what I suggest you do if you are holding more than 1 CV on your account is ‘save’ the jobs that you want to apply for. Once you have all the vacancies saved that you are applying for that day, start applying for them by job type making the CV that is relevant to that position ‘public’ before you apply.

Hope this makes sense. Any questions please ask me at our next meeting.



That site is not fit for purpose. I had three different CVs on there and of course only one was public (as you can’t make them all public). No wonder I wasn’t getting any responses!

Nikki x


5 thoughts on “The Trouble with JSA

  1. I would simply abolish the whole system altogether. The JCP, the DWP etc. and replace it with the basic income idea. I’d devolve support and advice for job hunting to education providers, councils & voluntary orgs who could provide both the premises and experts to properly assist and understand the individual. The monolith that is the DWP doesn’t seem interested or capable of designing a benefits system that reflects people’s needs and gets so politicised – which usually ruins everything. But ultimately I think the JCP fails because the job market and the economy is the problem – not the people who sign on even though they get the blame and all the flak. I think it sucks that a system set up to help those who lack a job (i.e. an income) ends up undermining them so much they have to sign off. I just wish the situation would change, but I don’t hold out much hope of that for the foreseeable future.

      • just on the subject of UJ , you can only have one cv as public per day up to midnight i believe. so changing cvs for different applications the same day will not work. Also If you dont allow dwp access how did you expect them to notify you of training courses and opportunities? They will use the messaging facility for that if you let them. best wishes .

    • You are like a breath of fresh air. You could be me, although I am now 54. I agree with everything you say and you are great to pass on your knowledge to others.

  2. The jobcentre staff probably don’t want you to know about free study options. I do voluntary work and part time study to enhance my prospects by developing skills, yet I get the feeling that the jobcentre staff are opposed to this. They seem to fear that people doing this won’t look for work. Their only concern with me was ‘will it affect my jobsearch’. They actively advocate their own training courses or the literacy/numeracy/beginners IT, or rather those ran by other organisations in partnership, but if anyone does it off their own back they don’t like it. I suspect that it is a control thing, as they know exactly what is involved with their own. The information about free study is kept quiet for a reason.

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