2 Supporting the needs of claimants |
8. Jobseeker's Allowance is a conditional benefit.
Each claimant has an obligation to look for work and to be actively
seeking work. Jobcentre
staff sanction claimants if they have not met their obligation
to be actively seeking work.
Claimants are either removed from the benefit or remain but do
not receive money for a period of time.
9. We were concerned that these sanctions may
unfairly penalise the most vulnerable claimants. Citizens Advice
told us that although the number of inquiries from Jobseeker's
Allowance claimants has reduced overall, the number of inquiries
about sanctions had increased by 25% in the second quarter and
45% in the third quarter of 2012-13.
It told us that the people with queries about sanctions were overwhelmingly
from vulnerable groups and had no idea why they had been sanctioned,
or why their benefit had been stopped.
This particularly included people with learning disabilities or
mild mental health problems who often did not fully understand
what was required of them, or those who had limited literacy skills.
Citizens Advice was concerned that jobcentres were pushing people
into hardship without fully exploring with claimants why they
were unable to meet their requirements for claiming Jobseeker's
10. The Department told us that there are no
targets for the rate or number of people who are sanctioned by
managers monitor the sanctioning rate of staff in offices to ensure
that those being applied are reasonable.
While the Department does have information to identify which offices
issue the most sanctions, it told us that it does not use this
information to tell other offices to increase or decrease the
sanction rate. The
Department acknowledged that of the 1.5 million claimants jobcentres
deal with there are bound to be some individuals who struggle
to understand why they have been sanctioned.
The Department told us that people should receive a verbal warning
that they are about to be sanctioned, but accepted that this might
not always happen in practice.
The Department told us that the purpose of having face-to-face
contact with Jobseeker's Allowance claimants every fortnight is
to remind claimants of their obligations and to check that these
have been met, and it has been very clear to staff about how the
sanctions regime should operate.
It did not consider there was a need to formally write to claimants
before they are sanctioned, but told us that it was working towards
being much more explicit about the conditions of Jobseeker's Allowance,
and the consequences for the claimant, at the start of a benefit
claim as part of preparations for Universal Credit.
11. The Department does not routinely collect
data on who is most affected by the sanctioning system, for example
how many are people who have mental health problems.
In October 2012, the Department introduced a new sanctions regime
for Jobseeker's Allowance, and for Employment and Support Allowance
in September 2012. It told us it is monitoring figures carefully
to check Citizens Advice concerns that vulnerable claimants are
12. There is a risk that the emphasis on the
number of people who stop claiming benefits when measuring performance
may mean that the Department is 'parking' harder-to-help claimants.
In 2011-12, 19% of long-term claimants were not referred to other
sources of support and were not provided with additional support
by the Department. The Department said that some offers of third
party support had been reduced because it wanted to give jobcentres
more flexibility to decide what is in the best interests of claimants.
The NAO report, however, did not find evidence that additional
jobcentre support had been provided for those claimants who were
not being referred to other sources of support.
13. The Department's own evaluation of jobcentres'
services in 2012 found that Employment Support Allowance claimants
did not receive the same level of support in looking for work
as those claiming Jobseeker's Allowance.
30% of Employment and Support Allowance claimants did not discuss
the possibility of working in the future in their interviews with
personal advisers, and nearly half did not discuss what steps
they could take to find work. These claimants were also significantly
more likely to report that they left their initial meeting with
their adviser without an appointment for their next meeting.
14. The Department told us it had less interaction
with Employment and Support Allowance claimants than it did with
Jobseeker's Allowance claimants.
Advisers typically have face-to-face contact with Jobseeker's
Allowance claimants every two weeks, and every six months with
Employment and Support Allowance claimants.
It told us that the lower level of interaction is one of the reasons
why it is reassessing the Incapacity Benefit caseload so that
claimants who are able to work are moved onto Jobseeker's Allowance
and supported to find work. In addition, the Department told us
that it has changed the referral system so that Employment and
Support Allowance claimants gain access to the support provided
by the Work Programme much earlier.
15. The Department has 522 disability employment
advisers across 740 jobcentres, less than one adviser per jobcentre.
The Department explained that it did not make economic sense to
have a full-time disability employment adviser in very small jobcentres,
which are largely kept open because of their geographical location,
but did not explain how it was ensuring that the needs of disabled
claimants, who are likely to require more support, are being met.
16. The proportion of people applying online
for Jobseeker's Allowance is now 50%. The Department aims to increase
this to 80% as part of plans to increase the number of claimants
that apply and manage their benefit claims online.
The Department told us that the ability to use online services
is an important skill set for people to develop and that people
are unlikely to find it easy to find work if they cannot operate
online. 25% of job vacancies at present are only available online.
The Department told us that it had put 2,000 internet access devices
into jobcentres in the last six months to help people claim and
search for jobs.
It also told us that its work is part of a wider government aspiration
to provide adequate digital support.
17. While technology can improve services, some
claimants will struggle with online access. Online services, including
uploading CVs, can make job search easier for claimants. The introduction
of Universal Jobmatch, for example, can reduce the threat of sanction
for those claimants that have searched and applied for jobs online
as it automatically provides evidence to jobcentre advisers that
the claimant has been actively looking for work.
Citizens Advice warned that the impact of changes to services
was focused on the majority of claimants with little regard as
to how the minority, often the most vulnerable or those most likely
to struggle, were managing. Citizens Advice emphasised that moving
to online services was a big change and some people had a long
way to go before they would be able to use digital services confidently.
It told us that the changes to the way people claim benefits would
particularly affect vulnerable claimants, who are amongst the
least able to communicate and need extra support.
18. Citizens Advice told us that claimants are
often referred to their local library or to Citizens Advice as
somewhere they can get help with making and managing their claims
online. This assumes that local organisations, in an era of funding
cuts, have adequate infrastructure to assist people to undertake
functions that jobcentres should be providing.
The six-pilot trailblazer for claiming Jobseeker's Allowance online
resulted in many people urgently contacting Citizens Advice because
they could not claim online.
18 Q71 Back
Q 72 Back
Q 34 Back
Qq 5-6 Back
Q 27 Back
Qq 5, 27 Back
Qq 90-91 Back
Qq 86-87 Back
Q 72-73 Back
Qq 79, 81 Back
Q 73 Back
Q 74 Back
Qq 27, 94 Back
Qq 134-135; C&AG's Report, para 1.12, 2.7 Back
Q 135 Back
Q 136 Back
Q 136 Back
Q 140 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2 Back
Q 140 Back
Qq 153, 155-157 Back
Q 155 Back
Qq 17, 168 Back
Q 111 Back
Qq 116-117 Back
Qq 119-123 Back
Q 24 Back
Qq 1, 19 Back
Q 19 Back
Q 13 Back