Select Committee on Social Security Seventh Report


The ONE Service


  46. The title, "start-up meeting", does not fully convey the scope of the initial ONE interview. As well as recording basic, verifiable personal details, the interview will explore the possibility of applying for a job immediately, clients' special needs and other issues such as whether the client should be in contact with the Child Support Agency.[83] It is of vital importance that the information collected at this stage is accurate and complete, as it will influence clients' future course through the system. The nature of the start-up meeting will also be one of the major factors determining clients' attitude to ONE; and witnesses argued that it should be seen as more than a reception service.[84] Lancashire County Council Welfare Rights and Social Inclusion Services suggested that the identification of particularly vulnerable clients, such as those with mental health problems, literacy problems or learning difficulties, should be a priority at this stage.[85] Vulnerable individuals do not always present themselves as having problems, and witnesses emphasised to us the importance of staff involved in the start-up meetings having the skills and sensitivity to be able to identify clients' particular needs at an early stage.[86] The average length of a start-up interview will be 20 minutes, and in the call centre variant, 40 minutes, to allow time for claim forms to be filled in over the phone.[87] If the start-up meeting is to be seen as anything more than a reception service, we are concerned that insufficient time may have been allocated for the interviews and that problems with daily scheduling may occur.


  47. The ONE personal adviser will be very different from an ES new claims adviser. They will have more skills and knowledge and they will have the support of a team of experts and specialists who they will be able to call to support them in dealing with the client.[88] Adviser meetings will last between 12 minutes (for clients who are not eligible to claim benefits) to two hours, depending on the individual client's needs. We were told that the average length of the meeting would be between 50 minutes and one hour.[89] Its primary objective will be to help as many people as possible to find work, take up training or undertake activities designed to help them move towards independence.[90]

48. When we visited Calderdale and Kirklees, one of the call centre pilot areas, we were told that the average personal adviser's caseload had yet to be determined, although the ONE Project Team told us that an average of 55 personal advisers had been recruited for each of the basic model pilots. Ministers have since told us that they "might expect the range [of caseloads] to be anywhere between 30 and 100 clients".[91] We would welcome a wide remit for ONE personal advisers—the extent to which they are able to assess their clients' needs and offer a wide range of advice and support to help clients meet those needs will be central to the success of ONE. In our view, they will only be able to do so if their caseloads are not overloaded.

49. Mr Lee Brown told us that, in the recruitment of personal advisers, the focus will be on "someone who wants to do the job, is sensitive to client needs, is client focused".[92] Newly-recruited advisers will be given four or five days of ONE-specific training, followed by further training appropriate to their needs. For example, an adviser recruited from the ES may need further training in benefits advice and one from the BA, training in job matching skills. Many of the ONE advisers will be people who are already working as advisers in another capacity, for example in the New Deal.[93] Advisers will also receive training on the needs of specific client groups and will be expected to continually participate in training. Ministers told us that personal advisers would initially receive between 42 and 300 hours' training, with a median of about 180, depending on their previous experience.[94] Within each area, advisers will operate as a "virtual team", with a manager who will ensure that there is discussion between advisers about how to handle different situations to ensure that there is consistency in their approaches.[95] In the basic model and the call centre variant, advisers will be recruited from the ES, BA and local authorities. It will be important to ensure that the teams are composed in such a way that the full range of relevant expert knowledge, whether benefit or labour market related, is displayed.

50. Throughout our inquiry, Ministers and officials involved in the implementation of ONE have been keen to stress that the Service is about treating people as individuals rather than as members of particular client groups.[96] We believe that this is a commendable approach. The ONE client groups are not themselves homogeneous. A service which examines the needs of claimants as individuals has the potential to be much more effective than one which offers them an "off-the-peg" service designed for, say, lone parents, disabled people or part-time workers. Such a system will, however, place much greater demands on the personal advisers working within it. They will require a greater breadth of knowledge of the needs of people with different personal circumstances. They will need the sensitivity to elicit full and accurate details about clients' needs and the ability to develop effective working relationships with organisations providing specialist advice and guidance in the local community. We recommend that the Government should ensure that local user groups are actively involved in developing specialised training for personal advisers and, where appropriate, delivering that training.

51. While every client will have his or her own individual needs, there is one client group about whom we are particularly concerned: people with mental health problems. Members of the Rehabilitation and Social Psychiatry Section of the Royal College of Psychiatrists expressed a number of serious concerns about ONE. Patients with a severe mental illness who receive an invitation to attend an interview may react adversely. Some may ignore the request and risk losing the benefit income on which they depend, others may misinterpret the request in a psychotic fashion and behave irrationally or, in extreme circumstances, in such a way as to endanger themselves.[97] MACA pointed to the danger of clients giving misleading information during the interview due to delusions or their desire to return to work.[98] We recommend that, in the light of these concerns, personal advisers from each team should receive specialist training on how to provide a sensitive and effective service for clients with mental health problems.

52. The preceding discussion highlights the complexity of the task that personal advisers are expected to undertake. Achieving successful outcomes will depend on the skill of the adviser in assessing the needs of the client and the extent to which they can adopt an entrepreneurial approach to combatting the barriers to independence faced by the client.[99] As part of the continuing process of improvement that is taking place in the New Deal, a diagnostic tool is being developed which would help New Deal personal advisers to identify clients' strengths and the barriers to employment that they face.[100] In some countries, notably Australia, Canada and the USA, early identification tools have been adopted which classify clients by their degree of labour market disadvantage. The level of assistance that clients attract is then dependent on the degree of labour market disadvantage as determined by the classification tool. However, these tools appear to be crude and their purpose ambiguous—in the Australian example the classification instrument has a role in controlling social security expenditure.[101] Any diagnostic tool developed for the use of personal advisers in the UK must be more sophisticated than that. It must be able to measure people's detachment from the labour market and any movement towards independent living that results from the intervention. The value of such a diagnostic tool to the ONE advisers and their clients is self-evident. It would aid personal advisers in their assessment of clients' needs, enable them to measure their impact, and it would help to establish a high and uniform standard of intervention. We welcome the development of a diagnostic tool for use in the New Deal Gateway and recommend that, once established, it should be made available for use by ONE advisers.

53. One of the key features of ONE is that it offers an open-ended opportunity for assistance. Personal advisers will have an ongoing relationship with their clients and will continue to monitor their progress and offer support. Longer-term clients will participate in a series of interviews, triggered by changes in their circumstances, and may have more regular and frequent interviews if they wish. Personal advisers will also be able to offer ongoing support to clients making the transition from benefit to employment until they are firmly settled in a job.[102] This is particularly important given that two-thirds of entry-level jobs are not on a permanent contract and more than 50 per cent of those who leave the claimant count because they have found work make a new claim within one year.[103] Ministers told us that one of the aims of ONE was to improve clients' employability, move them closer to the labour market and help them find sustainable employment, rather than just "any kind of job".[104] We welcome the fact that personal advisers will be able to provide ongoing support for clients moving into work, and we recommend that eventually this should go beyond the initial stages of settling into a job and focus on improving the job retention and job progression of clients who remain on in-work benefits.

54. As we have already noted (paragraph 48), it will be important to control the personal advisers' caseloads in order to ensure that they have sufficient time to deal properly with each of their clients. In its initial stages, the entry rate for the New Deal gateway, which was dealing with both the stock and flow of long-term unemployed people, was very high and this led to an early peak in the demand for staff resources. In turn, this led to delays in scheduling some of the initial interviews and demoralisation among some clients, as well as some clients getting stuck in the gateway.[105] It will be important to ensure that, while ONE remains a client-focused service, it does not become too client-led. We welcome the fact that clients will be able to ask for additional meetings with their personal advisers, but advisers must have the autonomy to balance the demands placed on their time and resources by all their clients.

55. With the development of ONE, it is likely that clients' expectations of being able to move towards independence will increase. If this is to become a reality, then a full range of provision must be available. Personal advisers will need to develop close working relationships with private and voluntary organisations delivering specialist assistance. However, we heard evidence which suggested that such provision was often in a precarious state. Mencap indicated that many of their Pathway services had closed in recent years as a result of reductions in financial support from local authorities.[106] For those who are eligible, the various New Deals will provide one route to specialist provision. Andrew Smith indicated that it was the Government's aim "to move towards closer integration of the New Deals and the ONE service".[107] However, the Government has not yet announced any firm plans for a national roll-out of the New Deal for Disabled People, and entry on to the New Deal for Young People brings with it a range of obligations that might not be appropriate for many ONE clients. If it is found that the needs of clients cannot be met by existing local provision then the gaps in provision will need to be met. One option might be to admit non-JSA clients on to New Deal Gateway provision on a voluntary basis. An alternative would be to develop specific provision to meet the needs of the ONE service.[108] We recommend that the pilots should be used to consider the possibility of developing a suite of Gateway-style options for non-JSA clients, based on the needs identified through the adviser meetings, for use in any national roll-out.


  56. We hope that the use of call centre technology in four of the pilots will prove to be efficient and convenient for the majority of clients. However, some people may not wish to give personal details or discuss sensitive subjects such as bereavement or the state of their health over the telephone. Likewise, for clients who do not have a telephone, the provision of telephones in ONE centres which they can use to call the call centres seems to offer little benefit.[109] The Government has told us that a residual start-up service will be offered face-to-face for those clients who cannot or will not use the telephone,[110] and we believe that it is important that this service be maintained. Clients who would benefit from a face-to-face start-up meeting must not be coerced or cajoled into using the telephone in the call centre pilots when, for whatever reason, they would prefer not to.

57. Call centres may not be the most appropriate option for clients whose first language is not English. In Huddersfield, we were told that efforts were being made to recruit staff who spoke languages other than English, but that Language Line would also be used. We welcome the intention to recruit start-up advisers who are fluent in languages other than English and we believe that these staff should be properly rewarded for this work and receive appropriate training on how to operate as intermediaries, if they are to work as interpreters as well as advisers. It is unlikely that ONE will be able to recruit sufficient bilingual staff to meet every conceivable language need which may arise, and we note that the Benefits Agency recommends that telephone interpreting services should only be used when face-to-face services are not available in the required language.[111] We recommend that ONE should follow Benefits Agency best practice guidance in the use of interpreters.

58. It will be important for ONE staff to reflect the ethnic makeup of the communities with which they are working, and also that all staff should receive training to reflect the language and cultural needs of an ethnically diverse community.

59. In the first instance, clients will telephone the call centre themselves and, once some very basic details have been taken, a start-up adviser will call them back to conduct a full interview. If all the operators in a client's area are busy, the client will be re-routed to another call centre rather than hearing an engaged tone. Ministers have assured us that, in these cases, every effort will be made to ensure that the start-up adviser who calls the client back will be from their own area.[112] We welcome this assurance from Ministers, and we believe that the need for start-up interviews to be conducted by advisers from outside the client's area should be avoided wherever possible.


  60. If the timetable for the implementation of the ONE pilots has been challenging, the timetable for implementing the private and voluntary sector variant has been particularly demanding. There were 375 initial expressions of interest from private and voluntary sector suppliers and 58 responses to the supplier questionnaire. Sixteen bids from seven organisations were shortlisted and the final invitation to tender was issued on 25 June 1999. The proposals will be evaluated during August. Ministers will be notified of the outcome of the competition on 6 September and the contract awards will be announced on 10 September. Contractors will start operating in the four private and voluntary sector variant pilots by 30 November 1999 at the latest.[113] It was suggested by the Local Government Association and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that this tight timetable has presented difficulties for local authorities in the pilot areas (which were not consulted on the timetable for the implementation of ONE) and that the short timescale for the implementation of the private and voluntary sector variant is likely to militate against the private and voluntary sector's ability to develop innovative proposals.[114] We are concerned that the number of bidders invited to submit bids in the pilot areas has diminished and that the choice of bids may therefore become limited. We do not believe that contracts should be awarded unless bidders can satisfactorily demonstrate that they can add value to the basic ONE model.

61. This is not the first project in which the private sector has been involved in the delivery of employment services and benefits, and we understand that some of the private sector organisations bidding for ONE contracts have been involved in the delivery of the New Deal. However, during the course of our inquiry, the Government was not able to offer us any indication of either the types of proposals which had been made by the private and voluntary sector or details of the type of proposals which they had expected to receive when they invited the private sector to participate in ONE. The Minister explained that the purpose of the pilots was to find out what value the private and voluntary sector would be able to add. He suggested that they might be able to "manage the front end more efficiently", they might have more vigorous and robust regimes for performance improvement against the indicators of performance or they might have original ideas to how the initial interview was to be conducted.[115] We welcome the opportunity to evaluate the contribution that the private and voluntary sector could make to ONE, but we believe that, in the absence of any initial expectations about the level of service they will be able to provide, or indeed the nature of that service, proper evaluation of the private and voluntary sector will be all the more important. When we visited them in Sheffield, the ONE Project Team explained to us the work which had been done with the private and voluntary sector bidders to help them understand the nature and scale of the work involved. We believe that a proper evaluation of private and voluntary sector involvement in ONE should take into account the level of public sector resources invested in bringing the private sector up to speed on the delivery of services in which it has hitherto had only limited involvement. Experience with the New Deal indicates that decisions about bids from private and voluntary sector providers made at regional ES level sometimes conflict with the needs of the local area as identified by the ES local New Deal teams. We recommend that decisions on bids by private and voluntary sector organisations should be taken as close to the local level as is practical and consistent with financial accountability.

62. Detailed information about the nature of the private and voluntary sector bids has not been disclosed to us on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. We recognise that the Government must respect commercial confidentiality in its dealings with the private sector, but we do not believe that this consideration should be allowed to vitiate the proper scrutiny of public expenditure. This makes it impossible for the Committee to evaluate this variant. We therefore recommend that, once the private and voluntary sector contracts have been awarded, the Government should publish full details of all the bids that were shortlisted.

Output-related funding

  63. In the four areas where the private/voluntary sector model is to be piloted, the Government has stated that the "funding will, in part, be outcome related".[116] Output-related funding has had a somewhat checkered history and concern has been expressed at its proposed use in this new initiative. The TUC argued that an incentive regime for private sector contractors related to moving people off benefits could lead to unfair treatment of claimants.[117] In the UK, output-related funding has most notably been used in the Work-based Learning for Adults Scheme and many organisations representing disabled people have indicated that this has presented a barrier to participation.[118] The Shaw Trust were concerned that "the narrow range of outcomes for which outcome-related funding has been paid, has limited the beneficial impact that [Training for Work] has had for the achievement of vocational qualifications by disabled people".[119] RADAR also argued that the emphasis on employment as an outcome of training put "pressure on providers to offer training to the most job ready candidates".[120] The use of output related funding in other countries has also attracted criticism.[121] Mr Chris Barnham, Divisional Manager, Welfare-to-Work Division, DfEE, told us that decisions on output-related funding would only be taken once the negotiations with private and voluntary sector bidders were concluded.[122] We were left with the impression that the bidders in the private and voluntary sector variant were in a position to decide what activities they wanted to engage in and how they wanted to be paid.[123] Mencap have argued against the use of simple output-related targets, such as the number of interviews per week or the number of participants entering into work, and we would argue that if output related funding is to be used it must be used in a much more sophisticated way.[124] Given the level of concern that has been expressed, we would urge the Government to proceed with caution on the issue of output-related funding. Any incentive scheme for private and voluntary sector providers must take into account the full range of clients and the full range of useful outcomes. We also recommend that the Government should evaluate the impact of output-related funding on the experiences of all sub-sectors of the client group.

83   Q. 11. See also paragraph 6. Back

84   See, for example, Q. 135. Back

85   Appendix 3, para. 13. Back

86   Q. 94. Back

87   Ev. pp. 118-119. Back

88   Q. 14. Back

89   QQ. 19-20. Back

90   Ev. p. 3. Back

91   Ev. p. 118. Back

92  Q. 32. Back

93  Q. 33. Back

94  Q. 265. Back

95  Q. 34. Back

96  See, for example, QQ. 16, 24, 51 & 279. Back

97   Appendix 8. Back

98   Appendix 26. Back

99   First Report Education and Employment Committee, Session 1998-99, HC 163, Active Labour Market Policies and Their Delivery: Lessons from Australia, Annex A paragraph 333.  Back

100   Q 245; Working Brief, Issue 104, May 1999, p. 1 Back

101   First Report Education and Employment Committee Session 1998-99, HC 163, Active Labour Market Policies and Their Delivery: Lessons from Australia, paragraph 19.  Back

102   Ev. p. 4. Back

103   Destination of Leavers from Claimant Unemployment, Labour Market Trends, Office for National Statistics, October 1996. Back

104   Q. 239. Back

105   Mr John Atkinson, Institute for Employment Studies. Back

106   Appendix 13. Back

107   Q. 247. Back

108   Appendix 1, para. 6. Back

109   Ev. p. 5. Back

110   Ibid. Back

111   Bridging the Language Barrier: a guide to communicating with deaf customers and provision of interpreting services, Benefits Agency. Back

112   Ev. pp. 118-119. Back

113   Presentation by ONE Project Team, Steel City House, Sheffield, 25th May 1999. Back

114   Ev. p. 94. Back

115   Q. 284. Back

116   Letter from Rob Wormald, Single Work-focused Gateway Procurement Strand, to organisations expressing an interest in bidding for the private an voluntary sector pilots, paragraph 9 (not printed). Back

117   The Gateway to Work, TUC Welfare to Work Briefing Paper No. 24, p. 4. Back

118   This Scheme has had several names including Employment Training and Training for Work. Back

119   Memorandum by the Shaw Trust to the Education and Employment Committee's inquiry into opportunities for disabled people, para 3.1 (not yet printed). Back

120   Opportunities for Disabled People, Minutes of Evidence taken before the Education and Employment Committee on 20 October 1998, HC1104-i, Session 1997-98, pp. 2 & 7. Back

121   First Report Education and Employment Committee, Session 1998-99, HC 163, Active Labour Market Policies and Their Delivery: Lessons from Australia, Annex A, paragraph 85. Back

122   Q. 67. Back

123   Ev. pp. 6-7. Back

124   Appendix 13. Back

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