AN inquiry has been launched at a Jobcentre after a sex-change patient was allegedly told she should dress as a man to improve her chances of finding work.

Andrew Cook, 54, who worked in the construction industry all his adult life, felt he was trapped in the wrong body from the age of six.

Last February, after decades of cross-dressing, he began gender realignment treatment and is now in the process of becoming Tina Cook.

As part of the treatment, Ms Cook, from Darlington, must live and dress as a woman or face being withdrawn from the realignment programme.

After being made redundant from her construction job 18 months ago, Ms Cook began to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance.

When she was at the Jobcentre in Darlington last week, she says she was advised to go back to dressing like a man for interviews if she wanted to improve her chances of securing a job.

“I have been living in the wrong body for 53 years and have only recently summoned up the courage to be the way I want,” said Ms Cook.

“I have given up so much for this. My family don’t really talk to me and I have no friends.

“How can they expect me to give it up to get a job? I think it is really insensitive.”

Ms Cook is about a quarter of the way through her gender realignment process and has a further three years of operations and treatments to complete.

She added: “I don’t go to the Jobcentre to get disrespect and abuse.

“All I need to do for that is walk down any street or go into any pub. Somebody will always say something, but I don’t expect it when I am trying to get off benefits and get back into work.

“I suppose it is just something I have to deal with.”

Ms Cook also claimed that workers at the Jobcentre referred to her as “darling”.

“They wink at me and say it – I know they are making fun,” she added.

Throughout her transition process, Ms Cook has received help and support from her wife, Vaudine, despite the fact they no longer live together.

Vaudine said: “It is so insensitive for them to suggest this. They do not know the repercussions it could have, not only on Tina, but also on me.

“I grieved for my husband and have long since said goodbye to him. It would knock me sideways seeing Tina dressing as Andrew. It is a ridiculous thing to ask.”

Janett Scott, of the Beaumont Society, a nationwide self-help charity for transgender people, said: “If Tina were to dress as a man she could be kicked off her programme.

“She needs to live as a woman 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or else she will not be able to continue with her treatment.

“If you ask me, they need some sensitivity training at the Jobcentre.

“If you were to ask a homosexual to act straight, or suggest to an ethnic minority that the reason they were not getting work was because of their race, then there would rightly be an outrage.

“This is exactly the same thing.”

Emma Roebuck, joint project co-ordinator at Gay Advice Darlington, described the Jobcentre advice as “unprofessional”

and added: “She is trying to improve herself and establish herself in her new life. If she was to dress as a man, she would be kicked off her programme immediately.

“People need help and support through this process. If you have a Government agency saying you are never going to get a job dressing like that, then they are effectively saying you are a failure.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Jobcentre Plus is committed to treating all individuals fairly and equally.

“We will not tolerate discrimination and will take any allegations seriously. We are aware of this complaint and are investigating.”