A4e From a Clients Perspective.

O.P.A.W. has received a blog entry from someone who is well experienced with the ‘client focussed’ nature of A4e. The author wishes to remain anonymous as the threat of future sanctions is a very real one when speaking out against the governments work providers. We thank the author hugely for the insight that this piece delivers.

As someone with previous experience of these companies who are providing work placements and training I want to set the record straight on exactly what people can expect. Not what the Government, or Job centre Plus or the work providers themselves will tell you. I have asked to remain anonymous; I’m scared to speak out about A4e as I worry about the sanctions that can be arbitrarily handed out. I know others feel the same but are also afraid of speaking out. However if we don’t speak out how are things to be changed for the benefit of us all?

I have experienced A4e on three occasions. I want to work; I live in the North of England; I have some osteoarthritis but I also have some I.T skills, a level 1 Health and Safety Certificate and am good with other people.

My first experience of A4e was in 2008. In 7 weeks I saw a different member of staff almost every week. Each time I saw someone new I had to go over the same information again; my name; background; previous experiences; health issues; what I wanted to do. It started to feel normal that I would be lectured; talked down too, feel demeaned; continually faced being told it was MY FAULT I hadn’t found a job!

Not all staff were that bad, there were one who had their own experience of being unemployed, they knew what it felt like but mostly I felt as though staff looked down on me for being unemployed.I thought A4e were supposed to be boosting my confidence, not undermining it?

The training centre was badly resourced.  We were expected to do job searches with 60 or more people fighting to access a handful of old computers too slow to be of any real use; out of date newspapers to search for jobs and one telephone to call for application forms.

I attend workshops and training sessions to help people to find work, but I saw one tutor effectively bullying people for not trying hard enough. One occasion someone spoke to their advisor at the Job Centre about what was happening at A4e.  When they got back it was obvious that there had been a telephone call, and a tutor ‘ripped’ into them in front of everyone for having spoken about their concerns with Job Centre Plus.

Another occasion the tutor lectured everyone in the room about the need for personal hygiene and what was the best way to wash clothes, apparently this involves boil washing everything.

I was told that A4e would find me a placement to give me some recent experience for my C.V.  All that materialised was a stint on the A4e reception, but I wasn’t allowed to use the computer as I hadn’t signed a confidentiality agreement and nobody knew what the procedure for doing that was. So my experience of being a receptionist now means I know how to answer a door intercom!  I left A4e still unemployed and feeling badly let down.

In 2010 I was sent to A4e again. Very little had changed. It was a hot summer and there was little ventilation in the building and only two electric fans to cool down a building with up to 100 people in it. There were five more computers, not really an improvement as there were more people competing to access them.There was also a security guard who would stalk the building looking for trouble.  Why was a security guard required in such a place?

Even though I felt A4e had failed me previously, I wanted to give them another try in the hope I would move into work.

The induction session was led by very politically outspoken guy who was quick to blame previous governments for everything that went on. I was really uncomfortable with this, it was unnecessary and did nothing to help people move into work.  I wanted to speak out but bit my tongue; I really wanted to get a job and didn’t want to get on the wrong side of staff at A4e.

Things started off positively, a couple of staff tried to help and were supportive, but not much had changed. I was told that there was a possibility of a work placement with the local Hilton Hotel, would I be interested? Of course I said yes, it seemed a great opportunity.  I was told A4e would get it sorted out for me.  Then the excuses came, “they haven’t got back to me”, “I can’t get hold of them”. Nothing came of it again.

All the time I was applying for jobs, sometimes two or three a day, I was writing speculative letters, emails sending out my C.V. all in the hope that eventually my luck would break and I would be offered a job.

I was sent for an interview for a placement, A4e promise that everything is personalised around you; placements are matched to your skills, but when I got there the company wanted someone with technical knowledge of website design.  It sounded like they were looking for someone to do a piece of work for them, not give them experience in the workplace.

.I have a Health and Safety level 1 Certificate and as A4e offered training at level 2, I thought I could get a better qualification. A4e staff also suggested to me that as I was good with computers I might be interested in a ‘Preparing to Teach in Life Long Learning’ (PTLLS) Course in computing. It sounded really positive. Head Office would need to approve the funding.  Whilst that came through I could peer support the other clients on how to use the computers as the staff member who was supposed to help clients never seemed to have the time to do it. I didn’t mind helping, I enjoyed it and thought it would help me and others but it got to a stage where the staff started to ask me to help them as I was the expert.

Newspapers frequently arrived late; C.V’s couldn’t be stored on computers (so called security and data protection issues). There was never any stationery (I eventually took my own supply of envelopes).  Whenever you had a C.V. or letter prepared you had to take it to the staff member for them to sign it to show them you were applying for a job.  It would be put into the internal post, we couldn’t post the applications ourselves.

I was sent for one job interview, at a place with no public transport connections and I do not drive.  I managed to get my way there as previously someone had been sanctioned for refusing an interview.  It wasn’t an interview, they simply asked me to fill in an application form which I could have done at A4e. The manager there saw I looked in pain through my osteoarthritis and called me a taxi back to A4e.

A4e then told me if I had problems with the distance and the lack of public transport that I could have said no to the interview.  This is the first I knew prior to this and I was more worried about the fear of sanctions

After 13 weeks A4e couldn’t (or wouldn’t) send me on the PTLLS Course; and even though I had a level 1 Health and Safety Certificate they wouldn’t put me on the Level 2 course. I left  A4e feeling badly let down yet again.

Then I was sent to A4e again!  It was supposed to be another provider, and I thought that might be different, but no, there was a mix up and its back to A4e again for me!

From my very first appointment there was a mix up of dates, the wrong interview time, come back, we have double booked. When I did see their advisor she asked why I wasn’t working.  I said “because there aren’t that many jobs out there”. “Rubbish, there are lots of jobs out there!”.

I was my fault.My application forms can’t be working; my C.V doesn’t have the right Boolean search for terms. I’m looking for the wrong jobs in the wrong places.

She asked about medical conditions. She dismissed my osteoarthritis as there is no evidence of it from the Job Centre. I said I could work part time or full time.  It was supposed to be a one-to-one meeting, but it was in an open office within hearing of everyone else and with lots of noise and distraction.  At the end she arranged for me to go to an application form session as that must be a reason why I am not in work.

It had nothing to do with current economic climate; dozens of people competing for every job; or major employers in the area moving away or closing down.  Yet again A4e have left me feeling it is my fault I am out of work

I don’t hold out much hope for these new schemes, A4e state it’s now completely different.  Yes it is, it’s mandatory. There are tougher sanctions and it can last longer.  I might be called at any time. A4e could require me to attend every day, or once a week, or once a month, work 30 hours a week, whatever they want and if I say NO, then I could easily face tough sanctions! After all it’s my fault I’m not working. Isn’t it?

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19 thoughts on “A4e From a Clients Perspective.

  1. so well said we have been through almost word for word the same thing with Avanta, you dont have a life of your own when you are with these providers its a living nightmare, like you say they make you feel you are doing something wrong, they do nothing to help you at all. When at the end of the day all you want to do is get a job, things have to change and soon.

  2. Over recent weeks I have spoken to so many people who have voiced similar experiences. People have highlighted the same problems, under resourced, lack of of decent equipment, not getting access to what on affordable and appropriate training, broken promises. More worryingly nearly everyone I have spoken to has said they are scarred to tell their story publicly because it will affect their future contact with providers. And as I type that I get an Orwellian shiver down my spine and some sinister notion of “the providers”.

  3. This brings back memories of the late 80’s when there was high unemployment. I volunteered to go in a Job Club. 9-4pm Monday – Friday. Fortunately one of the ‘better ones’ but the Job Advisor was such a bully and putting so much pressure on me to put out more and more speculative approach letters each day, even though I had 2-3 application forms to fill in each day. It got so bad that I left. The whole irony of it, was that I liked being there!

    I made a few friends and we all encouraged and supported each other with our job searches and interviews. It was company. I lived on my own. It was nice to have someone to have a little chat with, though I did work very hard there.

    There was an ex policeman who had been on the dole for years and he openly said he had no intention of working. The job advisor was scared of him as he was quite a big fella and VERY vocal in his refusal to even look at job adverts.

    So she picked on me the weakest there, as I was and am quite quiet. I used to sit quietly working on my application forms and so I was easy prey. I really worked very hard at getting a job, not only in the day, but in the evening too, filling in application forms. I was absolutely terrified of having my benefit stopped and too frightened to report the advisor of bullying. Would they believe me?

    I left anyway because I was so over-worked from not only filling in so many application forms throughout the day but also the advisor constantly peering over my shoulder and checking up on whether I had sent enough speculative approach letters out.

    During the time I was there the Dept of Employment insisted that people in job clubs had to send out 10 speculative approach letters every day. This proved impossible when I would have sometimes 3-4 applications forms to fill in and also sometimes a job interview.

    I remember the terror and the fear of having my benefits stopped for leaving the job club.
    In those days bullying was not recognised or talked about and acknowledged like it is these days. Thankfully they did not stop my benefit.

    I believe everything this gentleman has said. Nothing surprises me.

  4. Can certainly chime with that description. Not me personally but my daughter. Not A4e for us but a very similar ‘provider’. They sit you in a creche with a few rusty laptops. 40 ‘clients’ to 1 ‘counsellor’, sometimes more. They are supposed to help you polish your C.V. and apply for jobs. Every single time my daughter came home and they’d never had enough time to get round to helping her. She just withered before my eyes… when I first heard of it I thought it would have been a good thing for her but no. My daughter got so sick of reading the same old adverts for HGV drivers and bank Nurses but all the time the ‘provider’ kept moaning at her asking her why she hadn’t applied – not being able to drive and not being a qualified nurse might have had something to do with it!

    There are no jobs and that’s that. Asda opened a branch near us and 45 people applied for every available post – what chance do people stand? Bullying people to chase non-existant jobs is just sick. When is the ‘tax payer’ going to wake up to the fact the biggest leeches on the system are these ‘providers’??

  5. Ah but these places are not there to get you a job.. They are there to get you job ready… Whatever that means.. I have been told that several times..

  6. Pingback: An A4e experience: ‘bullying, changing staff, out of date resources’ [Link] | Help Me Investigate Welfare

  7. Thanks for sharing this. Is it possible to identify any of the centres involved to get some sort of explanation of what they should do when someone raises concerns, for example?

  8. When you can be sanctioned for any reason, let alone speaking to the press. When you feel threatened if you speak out. If anything this new work programme deal is making it harder for people to speak out. I can understand being anonymous because speaking out is not encouraged in these schemes especially as one of the replies said, it may seriously affect your chances of getting anything. “More worryingly nearly everyone I have spoken to has said they are scarred to tell their story publicly because it will affect their future contact with providers. And as I type that I get an Orwellian shiver down my spine and some sinister notion of “the providers””

    Can you blame the people who have to deal with these groups for 2 years or more..when they have the powers of financial life and death in their hands..

  9. Thanks Paul We will be looking into ways of following up on this particular experience and others, we are aware of the sites involved, but also the very real fears from individuals about potential repercussions. Similar stories appear around the country in relation to A4e and other ‘workfare’ contractors. How to record a complaint:

    How to make a complaint. If you feel able to make a complaint, give as much detail as possible, time location, staff involved, witnesses, any documentation. Your provider will have a complaint procedure (A4e, Ingeus, and G4S below). Make a copy of any complaint you make. Give a copy to your Jobcentre Advisor and if you feel it appropriate give a copy to an Advocacy Project or Welfare Rights Office. If as a result of your complaint you feel as though you are being victimised or bullied consider contacting you local MP and advising them of the situation.
    If you are unhappy with any aspect of your complaint you can ask the Independent Case Examiner to look at your complaint. http://www.ind-case-exam.org.uk/

    A4e complaints policy http://www.mya4e.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/compliments-and-complaints-policy.pdf
    online at http://www.mya4e.com/make-a-complaint/

    Ingeus
    http://www.ingeus.co.uk/pages/about_us/427/feedback_and_complaints.html
    G4S
    http://www.g4swelfaretowork.com/jobseekers/affect/default.php

  10. I worked at a4e South Shields for four months in 2002, just long enough to get another job. I genuinely tried to help people and while I never experienced any bullying such as that described above I can relate to the problems regarding overcrowding and lack of resources. Obviously things have got worse in the last ten years. While I worked there the Internet connection was a very slow dial up system shared between about ten computers. When I suggested broadband should be installed I was told that was not possible because all of be centres had to have it installed at the same time because of company policy and some centres were out of range for broadband. I was also told that I had to take the clients on a twenty mile round trip on the Metro to Newcastle to visit the Job Centre just to fill in the time, even though the local Job Centre was a two minute walk down the road.

  11. Having read the above comments I remembered 2 schemes I went on in the 1980’s run by private companies. The Conservatives were in power then.

    In the early 80’s I was put on a scheme run by a private company that was supposed to help and prepare the unemployed to get work. They claimed to have lots of jobs in the pipeline for everyone but not one person got a job. The assembly room was chocker block full of people every day. There were about 50 of us and they clearly were unprepared for us. Many people had to stand.. No ventilation at all. The room reecked of cigarette smoke and body odour. I made a point of arriving early in the morning. It was the only way to be guaranteed a seat to sit in. Many crouched on the floor.. There were only 2 Amstrad computors there and both were not working. No paper, envelopes or pens. No newspapers, phones or telephone directories. I was there for 2 weeks. What was so disheartening is they kept promising they had job interviews lined up for me and others but nothing materialzied. Ironically, it was held in the Chambers of Commerce in Manchester.

    Around 1985 I was placed onto a another scheme run by a private company in a very expensive house in the posh part of Manchester. This time I was told they had a job lined up for me and if I refused it my benefits would be stopped. They sent me for the interview and told me if the company offered me the job I had to accept. I deliberately ‘balsed up’ the interview as I absolutely did not want that particular job. The result of my not getting the job resulted in one of the staff turning particulary nasty. She tore me to bits. Laid into me something rotten. I ended up crying and she continued threatening to have all my benefits stopped if I did not ‘try more’ to help myself. She said I had to accept any work she offered me irrespective of whether I like it or not. I walked home crying only to meet a friend on the way home who told me I should complain. I left this scheme and then went to join a job club where again I was bullied by a Job Advisor.

    It is quite obvious that history is repeating itself.

    Excellent article David.

  12. This whole webpage (article + all comments) should be sent to ALL UK MP’s and brought to the attention of the appropriate Select Committees with a view to improving quality of service provision.

    Treating people like caged animals and threatening us with financial/benefit sanctions is one of the most inhumane and cynical acts of fascist UK plc I’ve ever known. This awful treatment of unemployed, sick and disabled people MUST cease.

    We demand dignity. We demand a right to be treated with respect. We demand a job. We demand fair pay for a fair days work.

  13. Pingback: Jobseekers’ complaints – how they should be handled by A4e, | Help Me Investigate Welfare

  14. Pingback: Jobseekers’ complaints – how they should be handled by A4e, G4S and Ingeus | Help Me Investigate Welfare

  15. My personal experince is that a4e is a fraud and i have unfournately used this service and got nothing from it.

    Whatever money going to it from taxpayers, its not going on the general staff, resources, equipment, building maintance etc. The money seems to be disappearing elsewhere. How is it that a service that gets paid hundreds of millions a year in government contracts isnt closely monitered?

    The service was useless, the resources were old newspapers back dated by several weeks and months where the jobs were no longer available. There was one landline phone to make telephone enquirers, there were 6 computers which were slow and outdated and not fit for purpose as they kept crashing. There were 40 – 50 people crammed into a small space, the staff werent even there they just went and left us in a room, they would be gone for hours. We were offered no support, advice or aid. How was a4e suppose to help me get a job? As far as I could see this company was a scam used to fiddle taxpayers money.

    I feel anger that this company can get away with such sysmatic abuse that is has got away with. I felt let down both by the company and by myself because it felt like I wasnt trying hard enough eventhou I was doing everything possible. This company as far as I could see uses those who are vunerable and at a point in there life where they have hit the bottom. After my experince I wanted to kill myself because I felt there was nothing to live for. Thankful I didnt go through with it.

    Emma Harrison should hang her head in shame, she is nothing more than a benefit thief in a mansion. She abused the vunerable to get where she is today and I for one will look forward to the day that the police investagations find evidence of the sysmatic abuse of this organisation.

    • Inaddition

      My allegations are this…

      The service was useless and didnt provide what A4e stated it would provide.

      I was told that I would be having a one to one assessment on the first day to produce a personal tailored plan of the work programme to suit my needs and get me a job. This assessment didnt take place once during the course of the progamme instead I and everyone else was given meaningless tasks to do like writing out a CV, doing job searchs using backdated newspapers which were weeks and months old, where all the jobs were no longer available, we were made to do wordsearchs and other pointless irrelevant tasks such as childish puzzles which had nothing to do with getting a job.

      The resources we were given to use were old newspapers back dated by several weeks and months where the jobs were no longer available. Old yellow pages which were years out of date. There was one landline phone to make telephone enquirers and applications, sometimes the phone wouldnt even work. There were 6 computers which were slow and outdated and not fit for purpose as they kept crashing due to the bad internet dial up connection, if you got a computer it would take ages for a page to load. Many jobsite pages were blocked which made it impossible to look for work or application forms, even if you found something you couldnt access it. The equipment was badly maintained and not fit for purpose, the computers would constantly crash, there was one printer for all the computers which meant you couldnt print out CVs or letters. There was a lack of general resources.

      The building itself was badly in need of attention, there were 40 – 50 people crammed into a small space, there was no proper ventalation, the room was hot and the windows were kept sealed closed, you werent allowed to open windows to let in fresh air. The space was overcrowded and a possible health and safety issue. We werent allowed to go outside, we were kept in from 9am until 4pm for 7 hours with a 15 minuite break allowing for lunch, we were only allowed out for 15 minuites a day if you spent longer outside they threaten to kick you out of the programme and you would lose your benefits. The toilets were not fit for use, they were either broken or need badly cleaning, they didnt get cleaned for days, you could tell because of A. the smell and B. the floor was covered in urine.

      The staff werent even there they just went and left us in a room and they went in there little office, they would be gone for hours. When they did show up there were useless. We were offered no support, advice or aid we were just told to write a CV and a letter of enquiry and thats what we did for 2 whole weeks. We had to do job searchs using outdated materials which were nolonger relevant, using equipment which was not functional and fit for purpose, many of the jobsites were also blocked or unable to access. The people running the programme had no idea what they were doing, they clearly werent fit to offer advice or training, I doubt any had the relevant qualifactions to teach. We were promised to be shown interview techiques as well as been given the chance to do mock interviews to prepare us, these never happened. We were promised that they would arrange interviews with their list of contacts, these arranged meetings never took place, no sort of meetings was arrange for anyone in the entire group for the duration of the course.

      We were made to go into the community and take with us a blank document and gather signitures from different bussiness, what the signitures were for I dont know, they never told us, they told us we had to get 30 signitures and names and if we didnt do it then they would stop our benefits. Basically we felt threatened in doing this task. We had to write CVs and letters for about 50 companies a week and send them off, but before you could send them off you had to get the manager to make a record of the names and addresses for there records to prove we were doing job searchs, we then had to sign a document that we had written and submitted these CVs. They said that once we had signed off on them they would post them for us, but the following week the envolpes which we had submitted were still on the staff desk waiting to be posted. Whether they were posted I dont know but they sat there for a long time piling up.

      One of the members of staff was threathing to one of the cilents, this resulted in the cilent leaving. The cilent didnt done anything wrong, he wasnt rude or threathing, he was doing what we were all doing and that was trying to look for a job. The thing that the other cilent did was to mention that the service was really poor and that he wasnt statified with A4e. When the cilent said this, the manager became abusive verbally and there was a sense that physical violent might happen, instead the cilent was told to get out and dont bother coming back.

      The feel of this A4e branch was that it wasnt fit for purpose and I get the sense from talking to others there experinces with this organisation has been pretty much the same. A4e has no respect of its cilents, the service isnt fit for purpose. Whatever money is going to this company from government its not been spent on the struture or service which A4e promises to provide.

      This company is failing apparently from the top down. This is no way to run a business and its no way to spent hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer money. Something at A4e has clearly gone wrong and someone needs to investagate.

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