It has been a tough few months for Jessica and it’s apparent in her voice. She sounds at once distressed and determined when she discusses her situation: “At the end of August, I was dismissed from work because I saw something that violated [the law] and I reported it. The manager dismissed me on the spot. I called Citizens Advice Barnet asking for advice.”
We advised her on the options available including how to make a claim to an employment tribunal. “When they dismissed me, I went to a lawyer and it cost me £125 and they gave me bad advice. Citizens Advice Barnet is free and has excellent law advisers. They’ll tell you if it’s white, that it’s white and when it’s black, it’s black.”
Citizens Advice Barnet also helped her apply for Universal Credit. A delay in payments meant, however, that she was without any income support for nearly three months. Coupled with the dramatic rise in the cost of living, her funds were stretched past the breaking point, and she was already in debt.
“I haven’t paid all the things I owe because I don’t have the money.”
When she is able to, Jessica pays money towards her priority debts – rent, council tax and energy – going short of food to do so. She feels paying for these is more important than buying food as they keep her in her home.
She also has a multi-pronged strategy to keep her costs low:
“The energy goes so fast. What we do is: I do the washing once a week or once every two weeks. I try to cook whatever doesn’t take me too long. Now that it’s getting cold, the big pain is the boiler. Sometimes we wash ourselves with water from the kettle…I go to the supermarket only when they reduce prices – around seven or eight o’clock. I get dairy products or things we need at the moment only when they’re reduced.”
In addition to cost-saving, she continues to search for a job in earnest. “I’m looking for work. I had an interview yesterday and I have another tomorrow. My coach at Universal Credit is telling me that nobody is going to hire me in December, but I want to work so badly.”
Meeting her work coach regularly is a requirement she has to fulfil to claim Universal Credit;, however, this presents its own challenges and costs. “To go to the Job Centre, I have to take two buses each way. Imagine how expensive that is! I was walking to save money and it is really very far. I asked for a travel card from Universal Credit, but they turned me down because my previous job [disqualifies me].”
“Thank god for the foodbank. It’s only one bus.”
Citizens Advice Barnet continues to support Jessica through the employment tribunal process and with phone, fuel and foodbank vouchers, but her situation is unlikely to change soon. An employment tribunal can take up to two years. In the face of this, it’s humbling to see her determination and her gratitude.
“Whenever there is a person who approaches me with a problem, I always say go to Citizens Advice Barnet; they give good advice in accordance with the law…The people really help you.”
Without your help, we couldn't make it.…I am very grateful to you.