Homeless people, seeking benefits, opening bank accounts

Several years ago I was involved in a project which helped people with mental health issues (the clients) but because we wanted to remove stigma etc. we preferred to call them volunteers. It was then deemed at the time that getting them CRB checked would be a good idea. It is when the problems began.

What was needed was to be able to account for one’s movements over the past five years, provide a passport or driving license plus two proofs of address that would be evident from correspondence from official organizations. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy one might think, which for some of course it is, but not for several of our volunteers, who often fell short on proving what on the face of it seemed like a reasonable request.

I had this in mind when earlier in the week I accompanied a homeless man who was told he needed to open a bank account. He needed to open a bank account because the helpful lady at the job centre, we had earlier visited, said he needed to do so in order to be able to process his claim for benefits (he had previously been sanctioned over a technicality although the helpful lady who I knew to have vast experience on these matters reckoned he ought to qualify although he needed to start from scratch with a new claim).

Visiting the banks was an instructive experience and we went for the more likely. We ended up visiting three in the High Street and each time was greeted by a polite, suited man, who enquired how he might help. It didn’t take long to realize that the rules they were governed by meant my homeless friend could NOT open account as he did not possess the requisite paper work and to do so would mean engaging in the sort of palaver that causes many a person to opt out. We were able to joke that in at least one case one of the nicely dressed bank gentleman was gearing himself up for the possibility that my friend might lose it out of frustration.

Having fallen down at this first hurdle we decided to return to our JobCentre lady who was sympathetic and started talking of a plan B (opening an account with an entity that didn’t require this paper work). That is where we left it and we await the outcome. I hope for the best and prepare for the worst. It got me thinking on the system of welfare that is in place. Some of my homeless friends do receive benefits and some even work but there are some who don’t receive benefits who I reckon ought to. While some might not qualify, many would but the stress for some trying to qualify had proved too much, and so they opt out. And I haven’t even begun to touch the plight of some of our homeless friends with no recourse to public funds.

While the reasons for systemic dysfunction may be many and varied, the experience I had that day was an eye opener, highlighting real concerns over a flawed system and sympathy for those I try to help.

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