Department for Work and Pensions: Responding to change in jobcentres - Public Accounts Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  The number of people who stop claiming benefits is a flawed measure of jobcentres' effectiveness. The Department measures performance by the number of people that stop claiming benefits. In 40% of cases Jobcentres do not know whether those who have stopped claiming benefits have actually found work, whether it is temporary or permanent, or whether they have left the benefit system for another reason. Around 40% of people reclaim benefits within six months and around 60% reclaim within 2 years. The Department should identify which indicators it will use to ensure it has a full understanding of the performance of jobcentres under Universal Credit and the destination of claimants, and use this information to better understand whether its interventions are delivering a long-term reduction in the number claiming benefits.

2.  There is a risk that sanctions unfairly penalise the most vulnerable claimants and are applied inconsistently. Enquiries about sanctions to the Citizens Advice rose by 45% from October to December 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. Many enquiries were from vulnerable people, including those with learning difficulties, who found it difficult to understand their jobseeker obligations and why the sanctions had been imposed. Advisers do not always warn claimants that they may be sanctioned and the Department acknowledged that it can be difficult to impose sanctions consistently. The Department should give claimants written warning that they may be sanctioned and should monitor and publish the rate of sanctions by claimant group and jobcentre.

3.  Jobcentres have increased flexibility to take local need into account, but the Department does not yet know enough about what works and why. For example, caseloads per personal adviser vary between jobcentres by up to 30%. The Department has identified links between the time advisers spend with claimants and how many people stop claiming, but is doing limited evaluation of what works in different circumstances and does not have robust measures of value for money. The Department should gather information on how different jobcentres are managing caseloads and play a stronger role in identifying, evaluating and disseminating good practice.

4.  We are concerned that increased flexibility for jobcentres may leave greater scope for 'parking' harder-to-help claimants such as those with disabilities. We were surprised to hear that there are fewer disability employment advisers than jobcentres, with 522 advisers covering the 740 jobcentres. The Department's own evaluation of jobcentre services found that Employment and Support Allowance claimants do not get the same level of support as Jobseeker's Allowance claimants. The Department should review its ability to support disabled claimants, particularly in light of low outcomes for these groups on the Work Programme, and it should follow up in future evaluation work to test more rigorously whether 'parking' of claimants is occurring.

  1. Technology can improve the services available to jobseekers, but some claimants will struggle with online access and need more support from third parties. Online services such as uploading CVs to Universal Jobmatch can make job searches easier for claimants, and the Department has added 2,000 new internet access devices in jobcentres. But some people will need help to manage claims and job searches online, and this is likely to increase the burden on third parties, such as libraries and Citizens Advice—at a time when council and third party welfare services are under pressure. The Department should ensure that there is sufficient support in place to assist vulnerable claimants. It should also include an assessment of the burden on third party advisers in helping people online as part of its monitoring of online take-up under Universal Credit and predecessors such as Jobseeker's Allowance Online.

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Prepared 19 June 2013