Volunteering and Working in the UK (part 3)

So long as you are legally eligible to work in the UK – and it would state as much on your visa and/or your BRP – in theory, you do not need to register for an National Insurance Number prior to finding employment.

That said, despite this fact, hiring managers that I have spoken to have noted their unease with hiring people who do not have an NI number right from the word go; in their viewpoint, without one makes payroll a logistical nightmare because sometimes they can’t pay someone until they have an NI number and, of course, if they hire the person first and have them working without one, it then means that there is an issue with back-payments which is apparently an accountant’s worst nightmare…

Then there is the fact that it usually takes awhile for someone to obtain an National Insurance Number, even when they are legally entitled to have one, tends to put employers off. Armed with this information, it only makes sense to go through the application process as soon as possible to avoid companies having yet another crappy reason why companies do not want to “risk” hiring immigrants.

Which is, of course, what I’ll be covering in today’s blog post. In a previous posting, I shared the delightful experience I had with calling up the JobCentre and trying to schedule an appointment and the massive lie that was their unwillingness to look ahead in their calendar until after I had called on three separate occasions, trying to book an appointment.

The appointment was scheduled about three weeks ago and so, yesterday, I made my merry way over to my nearest JobCentre+ location with my personal documentation to prove that I am allowed to work in the UK.

While there is no threat of being sanctioned (never mind that this scenario is completely divorced from those who are claiming in the first place, they can’t sanction someone who isn’t allowed to claim anything), I took no chances of them somehow deciding that my appointment day would be the one that their clocks run fast and try to tell me I’m late somehow.

How much more time? Two hours to find my way on foot to their location should be enough for someone who is directionally challenged as myself.

Of course, it helps that I am out and about early anyway on account that (to be covered in another post) I also had an appointment with the Midwife to attend in the morning. So it was not from where I live, but from my nearest surgery that I took the bus and made my way into the city on a delightfully cool Tuesday morning so that I could be sure I was there before the afternoon hit.

Paranoid? Perhaps, but as I said: I’m not taking any chances.

In the course of moving and giving away things, I purged my local maps of the city, so first step was to make use of the many online maps there are (google being the most popular) to confirm the location of where I needed to go. For once, this was actually the easy part.

Getting there wasn’t too difficult, though as I said I left with plenty of time to spare because I knew (KNEW, I say, this is me we’re talking about – I’d get lost inside of a hat). Even with stopping for lunch, I arrived an hour early.

I can’t speak for all JobCentre+ locations, but this one had two items that I found interesting about it:

First, there was no public restroom inside the large building. I had to double back for a couple of blocks before I could reach an establishment with one. When I mentioned this to my husband, he gave me a rather quizzical look and asked, “why would they? They aren’t required to have one.” Maybe, but still, it’s pretty awkward to say the least. I’m honestly expecting people to have to sit and wait a fair amount of time – why wouldn’t someone eventually need to empty their bladder? But I digress…

Secondly, there are two separate doors to the same place, but depending on what you’re going there for you could find yourself in a similar situation to myself – i.e. going to the wrong door first and then having to waddle your way to the correct one.

That said, my impression of being greeted by G4S security guards, while on an individualistic level they were jovial and generally pleasant to converse with, is one of unease. Especially since they walked up to me as I came in. This held true regardless of which door I entered. Perhaps it is just me, but my overall feeling is that, if one’s goal is to create a welcoming environment, they ought to have those doing the greeting smiling and sitting from a non-threatening reception desk.

Then again, this is the JobCentre we’re talking about, and it would not surprise me if the sentries barring the preverbal gate was an intentional power-play to (in the UK vernacular) “remind people of their place.”

Being an hour early and having confirmed that I had, indeed, found the right place, I did have the decency to disappear for another 30 minutes before returning. I have to admit, I did play towards the better nature of the person who was in charge of security by highlighting the fact that I had been walking around for some time and impressively pregnant to boot. Perhaps I would have been let in anyway, but the excuse was good enough all the same for the security officer to use themselves as they showed me where to sit down and wait.

There were three or so other people waiting to be seen when I made myself comfortable. I can’t say as I’m overall very impressed with the use of the space – there wasn’t much privacy in the room and, even from the waiting area one could see and hear a lot of the conversations the people at their desks were having with clients. It left me feeling a tad uncomfortable due to the sensitivity of the materials being covered, but there was little choice but to go with the flow, even if the whole thing feels a little dehumanising and lacking in dignity.

In light of the fact that I was so early – something that seemed to be the exception more than the norm as every person that worked there was flagging it when I was mentioned – while I was waiting they asked for my identification in advance so that they could, in their words, “get a head-start on paperwork.”

Nervously, because I don’t think there is a person on this earth that wouldn’t be nervous about just handing over their national ID, I gave them my passport and my BRP. There were a great many jokes made about American standard government photos (as in they do exactly zero justice, photogenically), which I did my utmost to just roll with thinking it better not to fight over petty matters, before they walked off with my things to make photo copies and such.

Without my passport and BRP, I was left to try not to be nervous about waiting for my name to be called. Once called, I made my way over to the desks and sat down.

As it turns out, the part-and-parcel goal of being seen from the perspective of the workers there is, in their words, “to help you fill out the application form.” Well, okay – not exactly as advertised; on the phone and in the letter I got in the mail to confirm the appointment it was sold to me as though they just wanted to verify that I was eligible, but whatever, we’ll go with it.

Then came the routine questions: when did you arrive in the UK, how long have you been here, what is the reason for why you want a National Insurance Number, where are you living now… etc.

About the only question that stuck out as being weird – which the person assisting me noted as well – was one that asked if I knew my husband’s National Insurance Number. I’ll have to do some research on that, but for the moment I’m confused as to why that question even exists when it plays no role in the actual application process – it doesn’t effect the application if you know or not. It’s very literally pointless.

Once the application was completed and I had signed every line and piece of paper they gave me, I was informed that, due to the holiday season, I could expect there to be a delay in the letter with my NI number getting to me; normally it would be about two weeks, however, in light of this information one can expect to hear about it about a month from now. So perhaps that is another reason why being proactive in this respect is prudent; no worries because I won’t necessarily need it right away.

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