Benefits staff dole out suicidal advice to jobless

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FRONTLINE benefits staff are giving suicide prevention advice to claimants who have been refused state handouts.

Figures released this week show that 4,076 people in Hartlepool are currently out of work – seven per cent of the working population in the town.

And while that figure is slightly better than statistics released in May, where there were 4,109 claimants, the job queue in Hartlepool remains the eighth highest in the UK.

It has emerged that because of the number of claimants who are being informed they are either ineligible for benefit or that their handouts are being stopped, JobCentre staff are now trained how to deal with people who threaten self harm.

The Department for Work and Pensions has liaised with The Samaritans in an attempt to offer people the right guidance.

A spokeswoman for the DWP said: “This guidance is about supporting our staff and ensuring we can help our customers. It is right that a customer-facing organisation that serves more than 20 million, including the most vulnerable in our society, has guidance such as this in place.”

Joe Michna, manager of the Citizens Advice Bureau, in Park Road, Hartlepool, said his staff have had similar threats from people in financial crisis after being rejected for benefits.

Mr Michna added: “We have had occasions where people have come into us threatening to take their life because they have had a benefit issue.

“Some people may make the comment flippantly, others may be serious. It is a cry for help that is not uncommon to us. The problem is that we are not trained psychologists or mental health experts.

“What we have to do is offer support and signpost them in the right direction towards either a GP or counselling service.”

A Samaritans spokesperson said: “It’s very important that people who are struggling to cope are directed to appropriate sources of help.

“The Department of Work and Pensions has consulted several charities including Samaritans on the right support to give people.

“Samaritans is available for anyone in distress. We are open around the clock 365 days a year.”

Hartlepool Citizens Advice can be contacted on (01429) 273223.

The Samaritans 24-hour helpline can be contacted on 08457909090 or emailed at jo@samaritans.org.

And while that figure is slightly better than statistics released in May, where there were 4,109 claimants, the job queue in Hartlepool remains the eighth highest in the UK.

It has emerged that because of the number of claimants who are being informed they are either ineligible for benefit or that their handouts are being stopped, JobCentre staff are now trained how to deal with people who threaten self harm.

The Department for Work and Pensions has liaised with The Samaritans in an attempt to offer people the right guidance.

A spokeswoman for the DWP said: “This guidance is about supporting our staff and ensuring we can help our customers. It is right that a customer-facing organisation that serves more than 20 million, including the most vulnerable in our society, has guidance such as this in place.”

Joe Michna, manager of the Citizens Advice Bureau, in Park Road, Hartlepool, said his staff have had similar threats from people in financial crisis after being rejected for benefits.

Mr Michna added: “We have had occasions where people have come into us threatening to take their life because they have had a benefit issue.

“Some people may make the comment flippantly, others may be serious. It is a cry for help that is not uncommon to us. The problem is that we are not trained psychologists or mental health experts.

“What we have to do is offer support and signpost them in the right direction towards either a GP or counselling service.”

A Samaritans spokesperson said: “It’s very important that people who are struggling to cope are directed to appropriate sources of help.

“The Department of Work and Pensions has consulted several charities including Samaritans on the right support to give people.

“Samaritans is available for anyone in distress. We are open around the clock 365 days a year.”

Hartlepool Citizens Advice can be contacted on (01429) 273223.

The Samaritans 24-hour helpline can be contacted on 08457909090 or emailed at jo@samaritans.org.