COMMITTEE VISIT TO BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Wednesday 9 January 2002
At its meeting on Wednesday 7 November 2001,
the Committee agreed to visit the Buckinghamshire area ONE Pilot
as part of its inquiry into the ONE Pilots. Buckinghamshire was
one of the four areas nationally chosen to pilot the Call Centre
Model of ONE. During the day Members visited both the area's telephone
call centre, in Milton Keynes, and a ONE service caller office
in High Wycombe. They met management and staff in the ONE Pilots
and, in High Wycombe, representatives of local client groups.
The visit had been arranged by the Committee staff in co-operation
with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
2. CALL CENTRE,
Mr DH, the ONE Manager, welcomed the Committee
to the call centre and delivered a short presentation on the organisation
of the Buckinghamshire Pilot, its method of operation and its
recent performance. He explained that Buckinghamshire was one
of four areas chosen to pilot the Call Centre model of ONE (the
other three being Calderdale and Kirklees, South East Gwent and
Somerset). The county was mainly rural with three principal centres
of population: Aylesbury, High Wycombe and Milton Keynes. The
job centres, or local authorities, in all three had ONE personal
advisers based in them, in addition to some at Amersham, Bletchley
and Chesham. As ONE Manager, Mr DH was responsible to the Pilot
Management Group for the operational side of the ONE Pilot. This
included not only the call centre but all the Personal Advisers
across the county. Many of these advisers had dual responsibilities,
both to him and their Employment Service (ES) managers.
Call Centre process
Mr DH then explained the standard ONE call centre
process by means of a diagram (below). The call centre staff were
divided into three teams of start-up advisers: team one received
incoming calls; team two made the outgoing, longer calls; and
team three, who mainly dealt with calls from clients who were
using HOT phones (see below).
* The integrated claim form (ICF) is an electronic
claim form developed for ONE that incorporates Jobseeker's Allowance
(JSA) and Income Support (IS). It does not include Incapacity
This represented the "standard" process.
Some clients, often those in direct need, contacted the call centre
through a HOT telephone at one of the ES or ONE sites in the county.
These calls were dealt with by team three who could, if needed,
fill out an ICF with the client immediately and arrange a PA interview
at very short notice. Team three also dealt with claims that were,
mistakenly, sent in by post to Benefits Agency (BA) or Local Authority
The Milton Keynes call centre was linked to
those for the other two call centre pilot areas, located in Cwmbran
and Taunton. If the volume of calls at any one centre were too
great, clients could be diverted to a start-up adviser at one
of the other centres. However, the call-back would be handled
by the local office.
Performance of the ONE Pilot
Mr DH concluded his presentation by outlining
the performance results for the ONE Pilot over the period April
to December 2001. The key results are given below:
| ||April-December 2001
||Change since last year
|Clients entering ONE, of whom:||25,575*
|Clients whose work-focus interview was deferred (eg owing to recent bereavement)
|Clients submitted to a job||12,158
|by call centre staff||816
|by personal advisers||11,342
|Job entries achieved||686
|by call centre staff||43
|by personal advisers||643
* The increase in the number of JSA clients had taken the
Pilot by surprise and had been caused chiefly by an unforeseen
rise in the number of high-tech job losses in the area.
He also outlined some of the performance details of the service
achieved by the call centre:
| ||AprilDecember 2001
||Change since last year
|Total calls received||53,473
|Total calls answered||48,461
|Abandoned calls (caller replaced receiver before speaking to adviser)
||5.1%||12% previous year
A majority of call backs (69 per cent) were made within 48
hours of the initial call, with 48 per cent being made on the
next day. On average, there was a five to seven day delay between
the initial call and a PA meeting.
When asked what he would like to improve about the ONE service,
Mr DH asked for "two wishes":
(i) completely integrated IT. He would have liked a system
where information could be inputted once and be available to all
the appropriate agencies: BA, ES, LA etc. The ICF was an improvement
but there was still "double-keying" involved: the client's
personal information was entered onto the Vantive system and then
an appointment made on another system. Owing to data protection
legislation, client details were electronically "cloned"
for the different agencies (eg removing data pertinent for a housing
benefit claim from the form sent to the BA), who then printed
them off. Full electronic integration would make this labour-intensive
(ii) joined-up thinking by DWP, BA and ES. Nearly all
important changes, eg benefit rate increases, the abolition of
SDA, etc happened in a rush in March to take effect in April.
This required large amounts of re-training for staff, which effectively
wiped out March as a "productive month". Were these
changes spread over the year, it would make planning much easier.
Tour of office
Members were divided into three groups to see different parts
of the office and the call centre process.
Sitting with start-up advisers
Members had the opportunity to sit with the advisers receiving
inbound calls and making outbound ones. Those advisers spoken
to appeared quite content with the working conditions and environment.
They had experienced some teething problems with the new system
but most of these had been ironed out, although the IT was still
a little slow. JSA claimants seemed most at home with the new
system, but it could be difficult with some of the more sensitive
cases, for example a recent bereavement. Advisers were often surprised
by the information clients volunteered over the phone, which they
probably would not have done face-to-face or on a form. Some advisers
were uncertain about their future within the DWP, with the advent
of Jobcentre Plus.
Call centre management
Members were shown the real time management computer programme,
through which the calls were monitored. This allowed the supervisors
to see how many advisers were free at any one time, what duties
they were engaged in (administration, receiving calls, making
calls, etc) and how many calls were waiting. The system also produced
extremely comprehensive statistics for the centre on all aspects
of its performance.
With the other two call centres, Cwmbran and Taunton, the
management ensured full cover each day from 8.30 am to 6.00 pm.
They tried to offer staff flexibility in their hours and a variation
in their tasks. The management were aware that ONE did not match
some of delivery targets for commercial call centres, but were
extremely conscious of the different service they were offering:
"If a call takes two hours, then it takes two hours".
They were keen not to put the pressure on their advisers that
some private call centres did.
Electronic Data Systems (EDS)
EDS, under contract with the DWP, developed the Vantive system
for ONE (including the ICF) and were responsible for supporting
the IT on a day-to-day basis. In the call centre, three of their
employees worked side by side with ONE staff to both support the
system and to pass on feedback to developers. There had already
been four versions of Vantive in two years, in response to advisers'
New software was being developed, which was slightly faster
and allowed for better telephony, for example more options at
the first stage of the process. It had a greater capacity too,
which would allow increased flexibility in the future. The EDS
employees spoken to felt that there could have been more communication
between the two projectsONE and Jobcentre Plus. Many of
the problems they had overcome during the development of Vantive,
for ONE, were being faced again, by the developers of Jobcentre
Meeting with local stakeholders
The Committee then held a round-table discussion with members
of the local stakeholder group. They represented a variety of
local groupscareers service, probation service, etcwith
an involvement in ONE. The group met regularly throughout the
year and was administered by the BA.
All those present praised the good relationship they enjoyed
with ONE management. They felt their concerns were listened to
and that the BA and ES were interested in their views and input.
For example, one local disability group had been invited into
the office to speak to PAs about the services it offered. On
the whole, they also seemed pleased with the service offered by
ONE, describing it as a "friendly voice on the end of the
line". Most of the initial glitches had been quickly overcome.
The local careers service, however, said that it had created
more problems for 16 and 17 year old clients, who did not know
which route to take to benefits: the job centre or ONE. A disability
representative informed Members that often PAs lacked sufficient
knowledge to deal with some benefits, especially the more complicated,
nationally-administered ones, such as Disability Living Allowance
(DLA). She also regretted the fact that IB was not part of the
integrated claim form.
The work-focussed approach appeared to be effective, especially
for lone parents and disabled clients. The PAs were good at exploring
the in-work benefits available and encouraging clients to "dip
their toes" into the employment market.
A problem with the ONE approach was that clients often believed
that the PA knew all the answers, whereas in fact they needed
to make extensive use of other experts. This created further problems
if there were delays in the claims process later on, for example,
with Housing Benefit (HB). They would contact the PA whom they
had spoken to and assume that they could deal with the problem,
which was often not the case.
The issue of the telephone basis for the Pilot was raised,
Initially, it had been a significant issue (resolved by that time)
that ONE would not call back a mobile phonemany clients
found them cheaper to operate than landlines. There was a substantial
ethnic minority population in Wycombe and it was important to
have the appropriate language available immediately. There had
been problems getting translators especially for the initial call.
Clients had been encouraged to bring family or friends with them,
as translators, for the PA interviews, which some found distasteful
and intrusive. Some clients had apparently been told that if they
brought such an interpreter they could have an interview in a
few days, but would have to wait a week or so otherwise. Often
clients had to rely on the services of local charities to help.
Access to phones was also difficult for those in shared accommodation,
clients with learning difficulties and prisoners.