I am unemployed and I went to sign-on on Wednesday. When I got to the Mare Street Jobcentre Plus I was told that I didn't have to come in again for a month (it's usually every two weeks) because the centre would be shut by a strike on 28 March.
I checked and it turns out that the strike has not been confirmed yet - the decision on whether or not it will go ahead will be announced on Monday.
A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said it was the first time that Jobcentre Plus management had taken pre-emptive action like this. A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman wasn't so sure.
It is still not clear whether the Jobcentre will shut if the strike goes ahead - the DWP pointed out that no Jobcentres had closed in the London region during the last industrial action - but for some reason people like me are being told to skip a sign-on day.
I wrote about staff cuts at the Jobcentre Plus on Mare Street at the end of last year (Jobcentre cuts staff as unemployment peaks) and even without the strike things don't seem to be quite right.
When I sign-on for my Jobseekers Allowance, Jobcentre staff usually check my 'job search' - proof that I have actually been looking for work - but this hasn't happened for the last two sign-on dates due to staff shortages. Now it's likely to be another month before any one knows if I've been looking for a job.
That's just my experience, it may not have happened to anyone else.
I prefer not to be grilled about my attempts to find work (I am trying!) but I suspect that if there are problems on the front desk, there will be more in the back office too. I signed-on on 6 February 2012 and didn't receive a payment until 5 March. Luckily I can cover outgoing bills.
Not everyone is in this position. As per the comments on this Freedom of Information request from 2009, the problems caused by delayed payments will get in the way of looking for work. Back then, in 2009, the DWP said it aimed to pay JSA claims within 11.5 days and usually beat that target.
I asked the DWP what the current target was but was told it would take a lot of digging to get that number. If anyone wants to know what it is, I'll ask again. In retrospect it might be a good measure of how Jobcentres and their back offices are coping with what appear to be skeleton crews.