Select Committee on Work and Pensions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence




  The Leeds ONE Pilot was one of four Private/Voluntary Sector (PVS) models in the country.[43] Deloitte Consulting were the private partners and, during the visit, were represented principally by Mr TD, the Pilot's Operations Manager. Ms KD of the Benefits Agency (BA), who is responsible for the management of the ONE Pilot's contract, also took a key role in the visit.


  After a short tour of the ONE office, the Committee had a meeting with three of the Pilot's New Client Advisers (NCAs), who conduct the "work-focussed" interviews with clients. The NCAs informed Members that they, and their colleagues, had come from either the BA or Employment Services (ES) or been externally recruited through Manpower recruitment services. Recently, most new staff had been recruited through the latter route and there was apparently a high turnover of staff, with BA and ES staff returning to their home agencies when promoted.

  During the conversations, it emerged that the NCAs did not, as had been originally planned, manage their own diaries or have a particular caseload, which would enable them to build up a continuous relationship with clients. The volume of work meant, instead, that they were on a rota for first and second client interviews; they were simply a "front-end" service. Most of their time was taken up in checking clients' benefit applications and they felt that the ratio of three NCAs to one benefits checker was too high.

  Around 70 per cent of forms were not completed correctly by clients. Ideally, the NCAs said they would like more resources devoted to helping clients with form-filling, as, otherwise, valuable time was taken up during the work-focussed interview.

  The NCAs believed that, in theory, ONE was a good idea. Clients appreciated having all the services in one place and had given very positive feedback to advisers. Staff, on the whole, also seemed to have a better sense of job satisfaction in the ONE offices: "you feel like you're getting somewhere". They did not believe the unscreened environment posed any difficulties. Significantly, however, they were able to send clients seeking Crisis Loans, who were potentially more likely to create difficulties, to another BA office. They described the Pilot as "not really a Benefits office", rather that they simply checked benefit application forms and gave work advice.

  Training emerged as an important issue. NCAs only received two weeks basic training in all of the benefits (Income Support (IS), Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), etc) while BA staff would usually have at least 12 weeks for Income Support and 16 weeks for Incapacity Benefit (IB) alone. Those staff who had not come from the BA certainly felt that they had been "thrown in at the deep end". The targets for the number of clients entering work after an interview were seen as tough to meet but not impossible. The targets varied according to the client's distance from the labour market: 13,000 JSA claimants per year, 1 per cent of through-flow for non-JSA claimants (about 230 clients).

  The Chairman took up an issue raised in the DIAL UK submission to the Committee, where it was suggested that work-focussed interviews had been suspended in the Leeds Pilot during the summer.[44] The staff spoken to thought that this might be a reference to the fact that personal capability assessments were being delayed: there was a backlog of cases to be assessed.


  The Committee later met some members of the Pilot's steering group. The steering group, in full, comprised representatives from the BA, ES, local authority (not present) and Deloitte, the private partner. Deloitte had a contract with the steering group that set out its terms and conditions, and the delivery targets for the Pilot. The contract price for Deloitte's management of ONE comprised three parts: 75 per cent was guaranteed income; 10 per cent was performance-related; and there was a further 15 per cent innovation fund, which the steering group could use to reward innovative ideas.

  Echoing the NCA's, those present felt that staffing and recruitment had been one of the most difficult problems to overcome. Initially, the staff had been mainly seconded from the BA and ES, with the rest coming from Manpower. (BA and ES staff were paid by their home agencies who then reclaimed the money from Deloitte—a very unwieldy system.) Increasingly, though, the Pilot was being forced to rely upon Manpower, as the BA and ES were no longer willing to second any more staff to a Pilot which was coming to the end of its life. As Manpower recruits had no benefit background, this was inevitably affecting the Pilot's performance. This had led to the waiting days target, of four days between initiated start-up interviews and Personal Adviser meeting, not being met. Other reasons for the longer delays between start-up interviews and Personal Adviser meetings, were surges in demand, caused, for example, by the summer influx of students, and staff holidays.

  A major problem at the start-up of the Pilot had been an active trade union campaign against ONE, which had been influential in the rejection of initial plans for some BA staff to second fully to ONE whilst others worked alongside them as benefit experts. (This concept had been taken up, to an extent, in the Jobcentre Plus offices, where clients were dealt with by one adviser specialising in benefits and one in employment issues.) This shortage, they believed, had helped to worsen the artificial divide between front-line delivery and the processing of claims.

  Benefit issues had continually dominated the interviews, with clients, naturally, more immediately concerned about receiving an income than in discussing work. The accuracy of delivery was not over 70 per cent across all benefits but had been adversely affected by the number of new employees with no background in the BA or ES and the limited training available. They not only lacked the specific benefits knowledge but an awareness of welfare issues such as those surrounding disability, lone parenting etc.

  Mr TD (Deloitte) had initially believed that the private sector's role in ONE was to innovate about welfare provision. Deloitte had tried to innovate but had felt unable to change the way core services were delivered. Ms KD felt that the Pilot could have worked equally well without the private sector, which had not really brought any new money. She understood Deloitte's frustration, though, at being unable to alter the very strict processes that governed welfare provision (data protection etc).

  In general, those attending expressed their frustration that the Pilot had not been allowed to run its full course before the launch of Jobcentre Plus. They believed that there were still many valuable lessons to be learned form ONE, which had not necessarily been taken up in the new Jobcentre Plus offices. Mr TD stressed, in particular, the need to tackle fully the complex IT problems (ONE was still reliant upon three different IT systems) and a massive change in the IT infrastructure was required. In addition, those at the meeting highlighted the need for greater flexibility in the processes used, increased attention to the job design of advisers, more staff and better building design as crucial elements in any future scheme.


  The Committee later held a short meeting with officials from Leeds City Council, including Mr SC, Head of Leeds Benefit Services, and Mr PB, Senior Assistant Chief Financial Officer. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss how the Council appraised the performance of the ONE Pilot, especially in relation to its delivery of Housing Benefit (HB).

  Overall, the Council had been disappointed with the ONE Pilot. It was felt that the complexities of HB and the different focus of ONE (getting clients into work) had delayed the administration of HB claims by at least one or two weeks. Accuracy in the completion of forms had initially been very poor, at about 20 per cent, but had now risen to a more acceptable 80 per cent, after extensive training provided by the Council.

  On a wider issue, the Council felt that the verification process for all benefits could be usefully standardised.[45] A different set of rules applied to the verification of HB than to BA-administered benefits, which had contributed to the number of inaccuracies in HB applications originating in ONE. There needed to be a greater harmonisation of benefits and alignment of the verification requirements. This would, for example, allow the merging of home visits, which at present required two people in order to obtain different information. In general, the Verification Framework for HB had doubled waiting times and led to a reduction in the quality of service for HB. Any integrated service would require considerable IT investment; previous attempts had foundered through problems associated with the varied systems operated by LAs. The constant flow of Departmental circulars modifying the HB rules had only exacerbated the problem.

  In conclusion, the Council expressed their relief that plans for the new Jobcentre Plus did not include HB. They had managed to deliver HB, "in spite of ONE, not because of it".


  On the following day, the Committee visited the new Jobcentre Plus in Huddersfield. It was one of around 50 "Pathfinder" offices, which had opened on 22 October (two days before the visit). Like the ONE pilots, they combined BA and ES operations in a "one-stop" shop, with all clients being given a work-focussed interview.

Tour of office

  Committee Members were given the opportunity to tour the Jobcentre Plus "front of house". The interior was bright, modern and colourful. Close to the entrance was a bank of "Jobpoint" machines—a touch screen method of searching for jobs—which were being well-used. (The touch screens had replaced the previous jobs noticeboards.[46]) Beyond the Jobpoint machines was a large well-lit reception desk, a waiting area and individual desks for interviewing customers. The whole area was open-plan, although the interviewing desks were somewhat screened behind colourful wall-hangings with positive messages about work. Staff had a uniform which consisted of a purple neck scarf or tie.

  Customers coming into the building encountered a "floorwalker" who would identify their needs and send them to the right place. She had a clipboard with the day's appointments, a mobile telephone and a concealed "panic button" to enable her to summon a security guard. Two security guards, in uniform, were also discreetly patrolling the office.

Claims process

  A person coming into the office to make a claim for benefit would be given a telephone number to ring a Call Centre. Calls were made by the client from the office, where phones were provided, or in their own home. The Call Centre completed an electronic integrated claim form (ie integrated for JSA and IS, not for other benefits such as IB), which was sent to a Jobcentre Plus "financial adviser" in advance. An appointment is arranged by the Call Centre at the Jobcentre Plus office. The person would be rung in advance of the appointment by the financial adviser to be reminded of any documents they should bring with them to the interview.

  In the case of IB, there is currently no electronic form, nor an integrated claim form (ie including IS). The Call Centre will go through the form on the telephone but the financial adviser does not see it in advance.

  The interview involved two interviewers: first the financial adviser would go through the claim form, explain the benefit and answer any questions (time allowed: 25 minutes). A personal adviser then took over to do a "work-focussed" interview (40 minutes). During the latter interview the claim form was checked and, at the end, the claimant had a further five minutes with the financial adviser to confirm the benefit claim and be given an estimate of when they would receive their first payment.

  The Jobcentre Plus office (formerly the Job Centre) dealt with new claims only. Changes of circumstances affecting benefit and continuing benefit queries were still dealt with at a different site, the old BA Office. This had not been refurbished. The Call Centre did not deal with telephone queries concerning ongoing benefit queries; these also had to go to the former BA office. IB work—setting up personal capability assessments—was also dealt with there. Similarly, anyone with a Social Fund claim was referred to the old BA office (still a screened environment), even those wanting an "alignment payment" (around 40 per cent of all crisis loan payments and not usually controversial, which staff thought unnecessary and inconvenient for customers).[47] The principal improvement staff said they would like to see, was having all business on one site so that documents did not have to go back and forth.

  The improved environment at the former Job Centre had led to a reduction in "incidents". In 1999-2000 recorded incidents had reduced by 57 per cent. Since then, there had been a further reduction of 74 per cent.

Meeting with union representatives

  The Committee later met the Branch Chair of PCS for the BA and two of his colleagues. The PCS in the area had recently voted to strike over the issue of working in an unscreened environment and the representatives had come from a picket line at another office. They expressed a number of concerns about staff safety in the new office:

    —  Risk assessment procedures. These were inconsistent between offices. For example, at ES sites in Huddersfield and Dewsbury, the risk assessments did not lead to recommendations for protective screens, CCTV or security guars. At Crossfield House in Halifax (part of Calderdale ONE pilot) there were four security guards, CCTV and four screened interviewing rooms. This compared to Houghton Street office (also in Halifax) where there were only two security guards, no permanent CCTV and no screens. The union wanted the risk assessment process to be carried out independently, ie not by management;

    —  Furniture. The union had objected to light flimsy chairs which were easily thrown. Their objections had been overruled.

    —  Right to interview in a screened environment. Benefit delivery, they argued, should be screened, with claimants only being interviewed face to face without a screen in certain safe situations, for example a bereaved widow or a pensioner. There should be security guards (not floor walkers, who were being put at risk) and adequate CCTV;

    —  Denial of benefit to people who had broken a Community Service Order. These were known criminals, who would have to be seen by members of staff—potentially in an unscreened environment;

    —  Under-reporting of "incidents". For example, in Huddersfield there were two to three incidents per week, which went unreported.

43   There are 12 ONE Pilots across the country: four are the so-called "basic model"; four involve the use of call centres; and four are private/voluntary sector (PVS) led. Back

44   DIAL UK memorandum to the ONE Pilot inquiry (OP 11), paragraphs 2-10. Back

45   The verification process is used to establish that a person's claim to benefit is based upon accurate and verifiable information; the person has to "prove" their claim. Most Local Authorities work to a "verification framework" established by the DSS for HB. This is more rigid than the procedures used for other benefits, where BA staff are allowed more flexibility to tailor the verification required to the level of risk. Back

46   One customer told us that he found Jobpoint frustrating, because it was quicker and easier to scan cards on a noticeboard to identify suitable jobs and newly-posted vacancies. Back

47   "Alignment payments" cover living expenses up to the first payment of benefit or wages. They are also paid where a person changes benefit and there is a gap between the old payday and the new. Back

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