Memorandum submitted by PCS (DM 15)
1. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is the largest civil service trade union with a membership of around 300,000 working in the civil service and related areas. PCS is the largest union within the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), representing over 85,000 members in the department and its agencies.
2. PCS welcomes the opportunity to input into this enquiry into decision making and appeals. It is currently within the power of the Department to control standards of decision making, however PCS believes that the Department's capacity in this area would be undermined and weakened if in future delivery of benefits were to be localised or contracted out.
Is the decision-making process effective?
3. The overwhelming emphasis for DWP staff is to meet targets based on the number of cases processed rather than how they are processed. This focus is embedded on the shop floor through the various lines of senior and middle management with the result that decisions are often made on skimpy or even non-existent evidence. Occasional drives to improve accuracy tend to be short-lived and invariably return to the back burner whenever there is a risk that key performance indicators may not be met.
4. This situation could be improved by removing such pressures and by senior and middle management placing far greater emphasis on quality rather than quantity and recognising that a failure to get something right first time can often lead to more work in the long run through re-working and more appeals. Where this balance is correct, a combination of quality training and strong support from management results in effective decision-makers.
5. This general problem has been exacerbated by inappropriate arbitrary management moves to downgrade much of the work of decision makers from Band C/EO to Band B/AO. The emphasis in JCP is shifting decisions from the complex category which are dealt with by EOs, to the straightforward category, which are dealt with by AOs. This has intensified the feeling that decision-making is being devalued and has also caused resentment among our members in more junior grades who have been asked to take decisions that they feel are not appropriate to their grade and for which they are not properly remunerated.
6. Every time JCP have reviewed the categories they have shifted them downwards. During the last full review PCS was able to argue against the changes with some success. We are concerned that the LEAN process JCP is currently undergoing will result in another major shift downwards.
7. There is a natural tendency for operational staff to seek to 'simplify' the process and not take into account the responsibility to ensure that the benefit system is protected, and that payments are made on the basis of entitlement. We are concerned that this leads to a greater number of incorrect awards of benefit rather than disallowances, and therefore does not then lead to more appeals. We believe there also remains an attitude from senior managers from an employment background to regard the correct application of the benefit decision making process as a barrier against achieving performance, and a view that those from a benefit background wish to make the process overly complicated. There is a danger that the emphasis is therefore swinging away from ensuring that awards are made on the correct application and interpretation of the legislation, and towards getting awards made and cleared out of the way so that the job seeking process can be undertaken.
Are there sufficient numbers of decision-makers? Is their training adequate?
8. There are large volumes of decision-making work outstanding. While some of this can be attributed to impact of the recession on workloads as Jobseekers Allowance claims have increased dramatically as a result of the current economic crisis, significant arrears are nothing new. The longstanding reliance on high levels of overtime over many years also suggests that there is a shortage of decision-makers.
9. The quality of training varies. Where it is class-roomed based it is usually of good quality with a strong emphasis on working on live cases. Full consolidation should be made available but this can be truncated due to other work pressures.
10. E-training is becoming more widely used. This is almost universally loathed by PCS members and is seen as an ineffective method of training decision-makers.
11. PCS would like to see the Professionalism in Decision Making and Appeals (PIDMA) training made more widely available to DWP decision makers. Where it has been used it has been found to be useful.
Is the process clear to claimants?
12. Feedback from PCS members suggests that the process is reasonably clear though more work could be done to improve the quality of the notifications and forms used to communicate decisions.
How effective is the review stage?
13. Many decisions are overturned at review stage, along with lapsed appeals. These include decisions where no additional evidence has been supplied which indicates a robust process is in place.
Is DWP effectively addressing official error?
14. The key problem here is the lack of emphasis put onto quality as opposed to quantity referred to above. Until this balance is addressed the official error rates will continue at too high a level.
How well does the decision-making process operate for ESA and DLA?
How effective has the DWP Decision making Standards Committee been in monitoring decision making?
16. The Committee has no executive power and so cannot ensure that its recommendations are implemented. Consequently there is a tendency for recommendations to be viewed as merely desirable by DWP rather than essential. This often means they are not, or, at best, only partially, implemented.
17. DLA claimants enjoy a 40% success rate. This shows a genuine appeal system is operating that is prepared to overturn DWP decisions.
18. Time limits are clearly explained on notifications, expenses are paid for travel to hearings and delays generally have lessened.
19. Timeframes for appeals are viewed by decision makers as reasonable in all but the most difficult cases. Late appeals are often sympathetically considered and more often than not are allowed to proceed.
20. The provision of support for appellants varies geographically with the geographical spread of welfare rights organisations. DWP staff sign post appellants to the relevant welfare rights organisation.