If you move to the UK and apply for a National Insurance number, it’s likely that you’ll need to go to a Jobcentre Plus for a face-to-face interview. Until recently, I was one of those interviewing officers. I was so embarrassed by how badly run our service is that I had to leave.
My bosses said I should be able to complete the interview in 25 minutes, but I had to collect lots of information from customers. Many of the people I saw only started to learn English and we also had to collect sensitive information, like the dates marriages ended or partners died. I’m sorry that I politely moved you along to the next question while you cried, but I could see my manager listening to our conversation, while checking against the diary to see how we were doing for time.
As my manager subtly reminded us at every weekly meeting, we had to prove to senior managers that our cost was justified by completing as many interviews as possible.
Most of our customers were so happy that they have an interview that they weren’t too bothered if they were seen late. But there were occasions on which people had to sit and wait for more than two hours for an interview. I’m sorry that we didn’t come and tell you we were running behind, already so stretched.
A colleague told me that there used to be fewer interviews booked with more time to do them so we could properly ensure people were safe and their stories added up, but rather than employing more staff this changed when demand kept increasing.
When you book an appointment through our outsourced and overworked call centre, you’re supposed to get a letter in the post confirming it. The letter says that if you need an interpreter, we will provide one. I’m sorry that I used a card with my questions in different languages rather than an over-the-phone interpreter. If we use the service too much, senior managers challenge our use. They accuse us of being carefree with public money and make it clear that it won’t happen on their watch.
When I asked you for your details and your reason for applying for a National Insurance number, I am sorry that I didn’t challenge the private security guard who yelled “for benefits!” from behind me. I did raise it with my manager, who promised something would be done, but it happened again, time after time. I don’t think sorry is good enough, but I hope it’s a start.
Overall, I am sorry that I buckled to pressure from above. Our interview should have taken as long as we needed so I could make sure, above all else, that you were safe. I should have used an interpreter because you should be able to access government services – you’ll soon be paying taxes like everyone else. I should have challenged the remark from the security guard. No one deserves to be treated like that.