Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Hounslow Welfare Benefits and Money Advice Unit

WHO WE ARE

  The Social Inclusion Unit comprises the Welfare Benefits and Money Advice Unit and the Community Funerals Service (incorporating statutory public health funeral duty). The Unit is part of the Corporate Policy and Regeneration Division within the Chief Executive's Directorate of London Borough of Hounslow.

  The Money Advice Service established in 1988 and the Welfare Rights Unit established in 1990 merged in 1990 to form a unified service. The refocusing of the service into a more corporate strategic role—whilst retaining our practical advice service base—was made in 2003 and the Unit became the Social Inclusion Unit. We are a second tier advice service and hold the Community Legal Services specialist quality mark.

OUR MAIN ACTIVITIES ARE

Casework

  For local residents who are at risk of losing their home through rent or mortgage arrears or who have a complex benefit problem (eg involving an appeal tribunal) and due to mental ill health or disabilities would find it difficult to access other advice services.

Outreach

  These surgeries are provided in (1) a Social Services specific mental health setting; (2) a sexual health clinic at the local hospital; (3) at the same hospital's centre for cancer patients and their partners/carers; (4) at Brentford County Court each Monday and (5) six sessions week for Hounslow Homes (the previous local authority housing stock/tenancies).

Public helpline and staff consultancy helpline

  These sessions are held three times weekly for the public for benefit and debt enquiries and four sessions a week for equivalent staff enquiries.

Training

  We deliver a minimum of 12 training courses a year.

  Other activities include information provision, take up campaigns and contributing to social policy initiatives at local and national level.

  Statistics: between July 2004 and June 2005, we took on 181 new clients in addition to long standing clients and represented at County Court on 116 occasions and represented at 47 appeal tribunals as part of our core Unit Work. Over a nine month period for Hounslow Homes we carried out 402 interviews with clients to include 202 new clients Of these Hounslow Homes clients 56 were disabled or from a household including someone with a disability. Although we cannot immediately access the equivalent statistics for the outreach surgeries under 1, 2 and 3 above, by their nature they will all be in relation to people with acute, chronic or terminal health conditions.

Borough profile

  The local authority has a high BME population with almost 35% from minority ethnic communities (9% is average for England) and those of Indian origin represent 17% in total. Requests for translation and interpreting for over 120 different languages have been made to our in-house specialist unit. Hounslow ranks 102 on the 2004 Index of Deprivation for England and Wales—although more deprived on some measurements/SOAs.

  We welcome the opportunity to present our comments to the Select Committee and would like to emphasise that this is based on the years of experience of advising and representing clients; close contact with staff and community organisations within the local authority and of monitoring and drawing social policy conclusions from the work of the Unit.

SUMMARY OF MAIN POINTS

  We generally welcome the proposal to engage more people in the world of work.

    —    In the current climate of efficiency savings, we are concerned about the scale of the resource implications for Jobcentre Plus (JCP) to conduct the reform programme for incapacity benefit based customers effectively (guided by recent research findings in DWP report no 278).

    —    We believe that the personal advisers (PAs) within Jobcentre Plus will only be able to deliver this vision of moving substantial proportion of incapacity benefit based customers off benefit and into sustainable employment with considerably enhanced training, building on the life skills expertise many have already developed, but working in conjunction with occupational health specialists and organisations with specialist knowledge/expertise of certain client groups This is especially relevant in respect of clients with mental ill health and complex health problems including substance misuse.

    Job-entry targets should only be one measure-of success for outcomes of work with these customers.

    —    We believe that a significant programme of work is required with employers to consider how best to encourage/induce them into recruiting and retaining employees with enduring health problems. There is a need to understand that public sector employers receive conflicting messages around management of absence and achieving efficiency savings which may conflict with the need to have a more inclusive approach to employing and retaining staff with health and disability needs. Private sector employers—especially small businesses—may find it more difficult to think of employing staff who may not always be able to perform optimally due to health needs because they are running much smaller units on much slimmer operational margins.

    —    Access to Work needs to be better resourced and promoted both to individuals and employers. In-work subsidy of salary cost schemes (as seen elsewhere in Europe) need to be researched to see if that would act as an inducement to increase sustained employment for those moving from/staying off incapacity benefit. Tax credits do not have the income reach to perform this role.

    —    We disagree that there should be a holding rate of benefit if it is to be at JSA level of payment. Ill health and disability are well researched to show the additional costs they incur. Disability Living Allowance is not triggered until three months of eligible needs are met—and with a further six month qualifying period so some seriously ill people would not qualify (eg cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy).

    —    We do not believe that it would be helpful to divide an incapacity based benefit into two streams. One benefit at higher rates as proposed would be welcome.

    —    The deficiencies of the current PCA and appropriate expertise of the medical services—especially but not solely in relation to mental ill health needs to be addressed.

    —    Incorporating the expertise of other health professionals including occupational health advisers and work psychologists—as employed in the Pathways to Work Pilots—is to be strongly welcomed in having a holistic and empowering route back to employment for whomever of the JOP customers wishes to or is capable of making that journey.

    —    More credibility must be given to gathering evidence by DWP/JCP to make the work related assessment and the revised PCA more valid from the people who have a professional relationship with the IS customer—their G P/CPN/social worker/community support worker.

    —    It is essential that IBPAs/residual DEAs within JCP know about in-work benefits and tax credits and can facilitate fast tracking of such claims. They also need to know about and promote information of the benefit linking rules which may encourage a person to set aside their fears of benefit/income insecurity and try the move into work.

    —    The knowledge base on benefits generally needs to be significantly enhanced within JCP at local level.

    —    There is a real lack of coherence in the way that the DWP agencies, HMRC/tax credit office and local authority housing benefits interface both from the customer access perspective and between the different benefit delivery agencies/staff-themselves. The move away-from locally provided benefit services at Jobcentre level to geographically remote claims and processing centres is causing a fragmented service and places greater knowledge resourcing demands on limited staff at local Jobcentre level In addition, this new range of channels of communication envisaged for full roll out by 2008 denies proper access to benefits information to more vulnerable groups such as speakers of other languages/those with severe mental ill health/those with basic skills and learning disabilities and those with communication impairments.

    —    Tax credits need to be reformed. They should be rethought into a current income/fixed time award basis if they are to provide the income supplement security envisaged by the policy makers. There is a need for them to be available higher up the income scale for disabled people without children. Consideration should also be given for making tax credits available for sub 16 hour employment as many people with severe and enduring or fluctuating health needs/disabilities cannot sustain eight regular working week of 16 hours minimum.

    —    There is a need to prevent an automatic revision of a person's DLA when they move into employment. This was built into the guidance and training when the permitted work rules were introduced as a result of consultation but needs to be reinforced as part of the reform programme envisaged for incapacity benefit customers.

GENERAL COMMENTS ON THE PROPOSED REFORMS

  1.  There is evidence of concern in respect of the capacity of personal advisers (PAs) to acquire appropriate level of expertise to deal with specialist needs of certain client groups especially those with mental ill health and substance abuse.

  2.  The workload capacity for PAs dealing with a significant proportion of clients with complex needs is under resourced and under assessed.

  3.  There is already evidence of conflict between the enforcing and enabling role of PAs both for the JOP staff and its implications for the customer experience.

  4.  The use of sanctions must be very carefully considered if the overall message is to be one of can-do optimisation of moving people into sustainable employment.

  5.  There is a strong risk of mismatch between raising customer skills/expectations and employers' capacity to employ a sufficient proportion of this cohort of ex-lB customers as well as retention of existing employees with acute/chronic health needs or disabilities.

  6.  There is the need for Government, employer's organisations and trade unions jointly or separately to make a business case for employers to retain employees with long term health conditions and to examine current practices on management of absence and redeployment.

  7.  The in-work support dimension from JCP which is currently not visible will need to be introduced but may need to be done in conjunction with community based organisations on a contractual basis.

  8.  There is a need to have a national contract framework for organisations who will be assisting JCP in achieving their targets of enabling incapacity based customers to move into sustained employment. This would include looking at equivalent competency standards as for the Community Legal Services Quality Mark—linked to NVQ standards.

  9.  There is a clear risk of not getting people with enduring health problems and disabilities to the "starting gate" of sustainable employment in a very target driven JOP climate focusing on lob starts rather than other valid measures of customer progress. This is of relevance to the job satisfaction of the specialist IBPAs as well as of legitimate encouragement in a longer time scale for the customers. We suggest the need to have more sophisticated targets than just job entry as measure of success.

  10.  There is a need to accept that enhancing life and social skills for some of the more complex clients—even if it does not lead to meeting short term in-work target outcomes—is still a valid outcome from the WFI/PA process.

  11.  The Pathway to Work pilots which engaged with work psychologists in both customer-facing interviews and in training/supporting the IBPAs is a positive development which needs to be included in the programme of reform.

  12.  The greater use of occupational therapists is to be welcomed in any extensive reform programme to move significant numbers of people with health problems and disabilities from benefit into work or to retain them in current employment.

  13.  The Condition Management Programmes again show a holistic approach to successfully integrating people back into the world of work and we would hope that these would be integral for customers with both mental health as well as limiting physical disabilities (especially where pain management is an issue). There are major benefits to be gained from encouraging greater referral rates to physiotherapists. However, these again have resource implications for DWP and the

NHS

  14.  From an occupational health perspective, there is a need to reflect on a more appropriate management of absence policy which deals with those with short term intermittent health need absences and those needing more support to return on an incremental basis to work after a period of absence. This would include appropriate occupation health input with a more formal rehabilitation procedure and involvement of Access to Work assistance.

  15.  Closer working between occupational health and GPs in planning rehabilitation would be helpful in the retum to work/retention process as would greater use of intervention services such as physiotherapy and osteopathy where these have good evidence based support outcomes.

  16.  Another option is to consider the role of counselling in moving people towards job-readiness. Some illnesses may have a psychosomatic basis (but real in their impact) or they had previous poor work experiences which may be interpreted as causing them to be "work shy" but have a legitimate basis which counselling support could address.

  17.  We do not agree with the holding option of JSA equivalent rate of benefit for an initial 12 weeks whilst awaiting the PCA. Research has shown (Joseph Rowntree Foundation for example) that the levels of benefit for single adults and child free couples are inadequate. Many people with health problems have already had additional costs/loss of income before they make the claim for incapacity based benefit and DLA requires a three month initial qualifying period before disability related costs can be acknowledged. The rapidly increasing cost of fuel already has serious implications for disabled people (examples include those with MS. rheumatoid arthritis, undergoing chemotherapy). Research exists to show the higher costs incurred by people with health problems and disabilities.

  18.  We do not see the need for a separate naming of benefits for people deemed to have less severe and incapacitating health needs and more severe/terminal conditions. If JCP have a clear and supportive agenda to encourage people that work is viable and achievable even with enduring health conditions, there is no need to try and spell it out within the renaming of the benefit. We do not believe anyway that there is a clear synchronicity between the severity of health conditions and a consequential incapacity for work. It is a complex process and depends on individuals/psychological and emotional responses and support networks—including appropriate and potentially fulfilling work with supportive employers.

  19.  We welcome the acknowledgement that benefit rates for people with enduring health problems and disabilities need to be higher than current rates.

  20.  We acknowledge that the new approach outlined in the reform proposals will require a change to the current PCA to incorporate—hopefully with the input of work psychologists/occupational therapists—the assessment of future work capacity. We are concerned that the professional competence in the revised PCA/associated work assessment needs to be considerably enhanced particularly with reference to customers with mental ill health but also in relation to some of the more common physical health conditions. Our Unit—in common with other specialist advice agencies—find that we have a very high success rate at appeal tribunals involving incapacity and disability benefit claims. The general rate for successful appeals is just over 50%. With adviser representation this level of success is significantly higher. This reflects the thoroughness with which we gather the medical evidence from the relevant health professionals involved in the person's health/disability care and our application of this to the relevant regulations.

  21.  The 2004 indices of deprivation for London Borough of Hounslow show high employment rates but low income rates from This employment. The labour market in Hounslow is generally made up of low paid jobs in the service industries. It is doubtful whether these industries could employ large numbers of people with disabilities and enduring health problems.—The better jobs are to be found in companies located on the A4 "golden mile" and these tend to go to highly skilled people who are not borough residents. There are income viability issues for single adults and families with children who the reforms would wish to move off incapacity based benefit and problems then with a tax credit system which as currently conceived can generate problems for people trying to manage on a low income. As indicated above, there is always the concern that JCP customers with health problems may get directed into low skill/low paid employment with adverse physical/mental health outcomes.

  22.  The fragmentation of different elements of DWP delivering connected services on benefit claims and training/job search for customers must be addressed if the JOP is to deliver on its customer service commitments on the benefits part of its business. Our experience in 1-jounslow has been that the process is unsatisfactory and adversely impacts on the most vulnerable customers.

  23.  Attention to must be given to the cost to customers of interfacing with DWP delivery agencies to meet new WEI expectations and to maintain their benefit/tax credit claims. Many of our clients do not have a landline as they have not been able to afford this (or have been disconnected due to debt) and so rely on mobile phones. The emphasis on accessing benefit claims and maintenance of these via telephony comes at a heavy cost to these customers. Consideration should be given to 0800 access for all these call centres but even on mobile phones there is a charge for 0800 access so there is a residual need for customers to be able to access this information via Jobcentres or other community based settings. The so called warm phones in the Jobcentres are fiercely guarded in terms of customer access and do not even allow access to the district crisis loan direct service—shortly to be moved to a regional telephone service in London.

  We hope that our comments prove helpful to the inquiry process and are grateful for the opportunity to reflect into the process from the perspective of our Social Inclusion, Welfare Benefits and Money Advice Unit. We have also spoken with our economic development and business team and with the senior occupational health adviser for London Borough of Hounslow,

  We are appending some case studies which illustrate some of the issues we have addressed in our response.

APPENDIX CASE STUDIES

Client A (Jobcentre Plus: lack of interface/lack of knowledge)

  A current client of ours seen through our Hounslow Homes advice session was found fit for work following a medical examination—prior to seeking help from us. Due to a failure by JCP to adequately inform the client and a failure to stop his benefit for six months from the decision date, payment of benefit (IS) continued and thus no link was made by customer between the failed PCA examination and benefit entitlement. He did in fact get a letter from IS stating there had been a change of circumstances noted but that benefit would continue. Benefit then stopped after six months but client could not get a satisfactory response as to why and what action he should take when he made contact by phone to JOP. (This client has basic skills needs and finds it difficult to understand the complexities of benefits and the written communications.) He then took his letters into the local Jobcentre for advice on which benefit he should be claiming but they told him it was not their role to advise him and to go the Citizens Advice Bureau. He lived for two months on intermittent crisis loans until he established a need to claim JSA whilst appealing the incapacity decision. This client is now being assisted with his late appeal and clarifying his housing benefit.

Client B (failure to identify customer's mental ill health needs within PA/WEI framework leading to inappropriate training referral)

  Client was referred to one of our Hounslow Homes advice sessions due to her rent arrears in July 2005. She is aged 53. She had been in receipt of JSA since 2002 but this was stopped in June 2005. Benefit was stopped when she stopped attending a computer course as she couldn't cope with it and failed to attend a follow up interview at the Jobcentre. During her interview with our adviser, the client kept bursting into tears over the stress she had experienced struggling with the computer course and stated all she was capable of was cleaning work. We referred her to her GP to discuss her depression and anxiety and he then medically certificated her. We are assisting her with her new benefit claims and backdating requests. Her WFI following her claim for IS on incapacity grounds was handled with appropriate sensitivity by the IBPA. However, her inappropriate training referral whilst on JSA had not helped her mental health and may make it more difficult to re-engage her into work related activities when her GP deems her well enough to seek work again.

Client C (special needs not identified by PA and client reluctant to acknowledge these).

  Known to the Unit but not a current client.

  Young man now aged 21 has a diagnosis of ADD and Tourette's Syndrome Received his secondary education in a special needs boarding school. In receipt of ULA middle care/lower mobility. He does not want to acknowledge special needs and presents as a pleasant, enthusiastic if somewhat chaotic young man. He has had some problems with activities leading to police/court involvement. Was unable to sustain his place on a college course after leaving school at 16 with moderate GCSE results. Has worked intermittently but unable to sustain the employments after varying lengths of time. There has been no referral to Connexions for appropriate assistance when he came within the age remit for this service nor have any of the PAs working with him been able to identify that he does have special needs and give him the additional support he needs to get into appropriate, sustainable employment.

Client D (inappropriate failure of PCA for severely mentally ill client)

  This client has been assisted on more than one occasion with claims/appeals for both Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance. He has a history of severe, possibly psychotic depression and has had a lengthy relationship with local adult mental health services within the Mental Health Trust. This has included hospitalisation following a significant suicide attempt and a long period as a day patient whilst he was being compliant. However, even with such severe history of mental ill health, self harm and neglect, this client only successfully retained his DLA on two occasions by our intervention and representation at appeal using the medical evidence provided by the psychiatric services he uses. Additionally, twice we had to assist with appeals/revision requests when he was deemed to have failed the PCA—on the last occasion with our assistance his mental health score was well in excess of the PCA threshold.

Client E (multi-agency approach for a client which indicates substantial resource implications of supporting one client who will be typical of the caseload IBPAs will be responsible for).

  This man has been a client of this Unit since 2001. He has had a history of benefit and debt problems which have needed our continued involvement.

  He is aged 46 and single. He is a housing association tenant. He has a history of mental health issues, centred around alcoholism and depression. He has been treated as both an in- patient and out-patient in the psychiatric department of his local hospital. He does not currently have a social worker although he is known to the local Community Mental Health Team. He does, however, have a support worker from a specialist mental health agency (REAP). This person maintains regular contact with him, seeing him at least weekly and more frequently if necessary. She has helped him with his lifeskills and has now taken responsibility for liaising with his numerous unsecured creditors. She has also helped him learn to budget his limited income properly and is working with him on his life skills as his social housing tenancy has been threatened by his behaviour when under the influence of alcohol.

  He has not been fit enough to work for the last 18 months. He is still officially employed as a security guard but is receiving no pay from his employer. He has been signed off as unfit to work by his GP for a variety of reasons In addition to the problems mentioned above he has been hit hard by a large number of deaths of both family and friends over the past year. Recently he has been receiving assistance from an organisation (Shaw Trust) which specialises in helping people with mental health problems obtain work. He is at last succeeding in getting job interviews as a result of this help.

  Our involvement with this client has principally revolved around the following:

    —  assisting him with benefit claims, eg incapacity benefit, income support;

    —  housing/council tax benefit, disability living allowance;

    —  sorting out issues which have arisen over these various claims;

    —  liaising with his employer over statutory sick pay;

    —  writing to his creditors (although this is now being done by his support worker); and

    —  representing him in possession proceedings brought by his housing association for £3,500 rent arrears (he is paying his arrears under a suspended possession order)

  It should be noted that our involvement with this client will not stop if and when he obtains employment. He will need assistance in claiming in-work benefits such as working tax credit and housing/council tax benefit based on his income. However, we cannot be confident how sustainable his employment experience will be.

  Our client has twice contacted us when he has felt suicidal. On the first occasion about three months ago he said he had taken an overdose. This situation is one of the very few occasions where we can break client confidentiality, so we alerted the ambulance service. On the second and more recent occasion the adviser, who is not a trained counsellor, spent 20 minutes on the telephone trying to dissuade him from his stated intention to take an overdose.

CONTACT CENTRES IN THE DWP

Accessibility of DWP contact centres

  The contact centres which are generating the greatest level of concern for Hounslow residents are those utilised by Jobcentre Plus. We have been a full JCP district since August 2004. JCP customers have had to make initial claims for key benefits through the Pembroke Dock call centre in South Wales. Advisers have had no access—despite requests—to the scripts used by call centre staff to establish where a breakdown of communication in benefit claims could occur. For example, where a person is making a claim for incapacity benefit but will also be eligible for Income Support as well as or in place of incapacity benefit;, there do not appear to be the prompts from the call centre staff to ask the appropriate questions to facilitate the 1.5 claim as well if that was not the presenting claim.

  Customers are still experiencing long periods from their initial call to the Contact Centre for either their claim call backs and for their work focused interviews. Today we spoke to a caller to our Unit who had called the Contact Centre on l3 September and was being offered a call back to take the claim on 27 September. They would still then have to suffer a further delay for the work focused interview at the local Jobcentre. We had extensive examples of delays when the contact centre started operation last year but this is clearly still an operational issue.

    —  Since late June all benefit processing work was transferred to Glasgow from Hounslow and customers and advisers now have to ring there to report changes of circumstances or enquire about progress of a claim. There is a menu system in operation for this which experienced advisers at national forums had warned DWP were inappropriate for a significant proportion of their customers. We are finding that either the main 0845 number is busy and you get through to be told by an automated voice that all lines are busy or you get through the main entry point and then find that the menu option you choose is engaged and have to start the process all over again—at a high cost to claimants who are on very low benefit rates, On Monday we took a call from a local disability organisation to ask how one of their very unwell service users could notify DWP that she had married and was no longer entitled to her Income Support. She had found it impossible to get through on the Glasgow number and had visited two local Jobcentres so anxious was she to report this change in circumstances only to be turned away at both Feltham and Hounslow and told she had to call the unobtainable Glasgow number!

    —  There are certain client groups for whom the contact centres place a significant barrier to entitlement in addition to the above. Clients who speak another community language and cannot communicate at all or with legal confidence in English—over 120 languages at a conservative measurement in Hounslow—face enormous barriers in accessing contact centres and are often asked if their children or a friend can give their details for the claim to be processed rather than using language line, Many of our poorest service users do not have landlines but rely on mobile phones—the cost to them of calling these Centres if they are pay as you go is unacceptably high. Customers with mental ill health, learningdisabilities and communication impairments also find claiming benefits and reporting changes over the phone very challenging or impossible. Not every vulnerable person has access to a support worker or adviser and they can just fall through the net and rely on family and friends when unable to negotiate through these telephone systems for their correct benefit entitlement. Our local Surestart brought one case to us easier this year of an Arabic speaking family previously supported by NASS who were assisted initially to make a telephone claim but then had to move accommodation. They went for weeks without their benefits whilst awaiting the processing as the local Jobcentre having used language line for the initial interview then just abandoned them to contact the local crisis loan direct service by phone where it remains impossible to get through and did not offer to get languageline to make this contact for them.

    —  The reliance on phone systems and old telephony at that for the Crisis Loan Direct service from February 2004 has been the cause of many complaints to our service from clients, residents and other local organisations. We have written in detail twice to the District Manager raising our concerns that people just cannot get through on the phone. We had to arrange bypass systems using email to the local benefits manager—clearly not available to most JCP customers. We also had to ask for reassurance that vulnerable customers were assisted by JCP staff and not just turned away from the office and instructed to go home and phone. Even when we move to a London wide system in 2006 with improved telephony, there will be cost and access problems for especially the most vulnerable customers as detailed above.

    —  The Pension Centres seem to be much more accessible to callers and do not use an inappropriate menu system. They also offer to find information and call customers back.

Quality of services at call centres

    —  In terms of the movement of benefit processing to established centres such as Glasgow, advisers have more confidence that staff there have a higher level of benefits expertise than at the initial Pembroke Dock contact centre or at the local Jobcentres where this has been the cause of concern arising from our monitoring of casework. We have again written to the District Manager highlighting examples of persistent poor benefits knowledge/practice. We have also found that staff at Makerfield have a better understanding of benefits. The level of knowledge at Pension Centres was very poor initially but we believe that this has improved (Dundee was our initial Pension Centre and staff there displayed very poor benefits knowledge).

    —  We remain concerned that there is an appropriate interface between the various delivery arms of the DWP and HMRC for tax credits both at Contact Centre level and via IT systems.

Delivering the DWP business objectives

    —  Stakeholders need to be actively included in the work of the DWP on the ground as well as in national forums. There needs to be enhanced communication and regular liaison between the relevant contact/processing centres and local advice agencies including localauthority strategic units such as ours. We are creating our own corporate partnerships within our local authority and with—in our case—the six local authorities who make up the West London Alliance. If we are to meet the wider obligations of regeneration, economic and business development, joint work with the Pension Service and the PCT, then an efficient, accountable and transparent DWP benefits service is essential. If there is to be an increased flow of JCP customers from benefits to work, then an efficient benefits system will provide a more appropriate springboard for people to make this transition. We need to have access to the management/key operational staff network of the contact centres/processing centres/local caller offices that serve the resident population. We do not even have the most basic of contact directories for these services currently.

    —  We are able to offer suggestions as to how to make the contact centres effective for those able to use these routes but also need to discuss the residual services that will need to be in place at local JCP level to meet the needs of those who cannot access adequately the telephone based future. The contact centres need to be adequately staffed—which they are not currently—and with staff who are far better skilled in benefits knowledge including associated disability benefits and tax credits. The remaining local Jobcentre staff need to be appropriately knowledgeable about the benefits system and to provide a service generally for those unable to use the contact centres unassisted.

    —  With the introduction of tax credits and the reconfiguration of benefits delivery into—Jobcentre—Plus especially, the Pension Service and the Disability and Carers Service, the workload of advice agencies has increased and become more complex. There are costs associated with this for the agencies themselves and for the funding authorities.

  These are brief comments on some of the issues around the use of contact centres as a replacement for the holistic benefit service which were provided prior to April 2003 and the reconfiguration of benefit delivery services.

Theresa Rowe

6 October 2005



 
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