Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Letter to the Chairman of the Social Security Committee from Rt Hon Andrew Smith MP, Minister of State for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities and Ms Angela Eagle MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (SG 44)

  When giving oral evidence to the joint Select Committees on the new ONE pilots last week, we undertook to come back to you on a few points. You have also subsequently written, asking for some more information related to targets and evaluation, which we attach.

  Firstly there was the issue of the number of clients which ONE personal advisers can expect to have on their caseload. Although we have issued detailed guidance to ONE staff on how caseloads can be more effectively managed, we have been careful not to specify exactly how many clients each adviser should have on his books at one time. This is in recognition of the fact that the needs of ONE clients will vary considerably. We might expect the range to be anywhere between 30 and 100 clients. Some advisers are likely to have smaller caseloads of harder to help clients, whilst others will have larger caseloads of those who are more job-ready. A proportion of the caseload is also likely to be "dormant": that is, not wishing to participate in the ONE service for the time being. We do need, therefore, flexibility in the size of the caseload for the personal adviser service to operate as it should.

  Another question which arose in our meeting was that of the length of the registration and orientation interview. It has always been our intention that this intervention will be reasonably short, allowing clients' benefit needs to be identified quickly and for the officer to arrange the more in-depth personal adviser interview, or to assess that this should take place later or not at all. For this reason, the registration and orientation interview is timed to last an average of 20 minutes, although its exact length will of course depend on the individual client. In the call centre the average will be longer—about 40 minutes—which will allow time for the client's claim forms to be filled in over the phone.

  A third point raised was the proportion of the capacity of the various call centre pilots that will be taken up with the "overflow" from other areas. The idea of the "overflow" is to improve customer service: if all the operators in a particular area are busy, the clients's call will be re-routed to another area, rather than their hearing an engaged tone. This will be for the initial, three minute call, which the client makes. Every effort will be made to ensure that the adviser who calls the client back for the 40 minute registration and orientation interview comes from the same region as the client. This is to recognise the value of local knowledge in advising clients. Some of the call centre areas have larger capacities than others, because they have access to more advisers and larger premises. It may be that those with larger capacities will handle more overflow calls, although it is difficult at this stage to predict exactly what the volume will be at any time. As we made clear at the Committee hearing, we do want to keep overflow work to a reasonable minimum compatible with overall operational efficiency.

  On the issue of deprived areas, we should explain that the answer we gave was in response to questions about the selection of the pilots in representing deprived areas, particularly inner cities. The previous comments by officials were designed to explain the scope of the evaluation and its primary units of analysis.

  The pilots were designed to be nationally representative. The location of the pilots includes areas with characteristics associated with deprived areas, for example, with a concentration of minority ethnic groups and areas where homelessness is an issue. The evaluation will identify areas where there are difficulties in providing the ONE service and the implications for its delivery. The evaluation will consider the factors that are associated with the labour market outcomes across each variant, and this will include indicators such as the concentration of minority ethnic groups.

  We have learnt since our meeting with you that  *  *  *  although you will understand that this information is commercial in confidence.

  We are writing in similar terms to Derek Foster.

30 June 1999

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