The Reverend Paul Nicholson writes:
I met John* after his three month sanction had ended. He lived in a fifth floor council flat and was wondering whether to throw himself off the balcony. He had a history of depression and I do not like to speculate what would have happened if he had been left on his own.
He had been sanctioned for three months by a job centre for attending a job-related interview a day late. His GP immediately sent him to the NHS for twelve sessions of therapy. Rent and council tax arrears had piled up because the job centre’s computer is connected to the local council’s computer. When John’s £73.10 Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) was stopped, the job centre’s computer sent a signal to the council’s computer telling it that John was no longer eligible for JSA. That signal automatically cancelled his eligibility for housing and council tax benefits, which were then stopped by the council’s computer.
Then the bailiffs called at 7.30 in the morning demanding £400 the next day for a TV licence fine that John did not know existed. He called me at 8 am and I called the bailiffs telling them that they should not waste time enforcing that fine because we were taking the case back to the magistrates to seek remission of the debt and their fees. I also reminded them that there is guidance issued by the Ministry of Justice which advises them to return to the magistrate’s court cases involving “vulnerable situations.”
Anyone summoned to court, who attends without legal representation, is allowed a McKenzie Friend; so called because the person who won the right to a friend in court was called McKenzie. I have supported people that way for many years. I went to court with John and they let him off £135 of unpaid fine and dismissed the bailiffs without their fees.
The next thing to hit John was the news that his council flat was due to be demolished.