3 The employment support process |
The typical "signing on"
35. After the initial 40-minute meeting
described in the previous chapter, the main interactions JSA claimants
have with Jobcentres are regular face-to-face interviews with
Jobcentre Advisers, in which compliance with their Jobseekers
Agreement (JSAG) is monitored. These interviews typically occur
every two weeks and are known within JCP as fortnightly job-search
reviews (FJRs) and, more commonly, as "signing on".
36. The National Audit Office (NAO)
has highlighted that Jobcentres have applied a considerable amount
of flexibility to the signing on process, for example by cutting
the average time of FJRs or conducting interviews over the telephone
or in groups, in order to cope with large and fluctuating caseloads.
This was particularly the case in the recent economic downturn,
during which JCP cut the average time of FJRs from 5-10 minutes
to 4-7 minutes.
37. Jobcentres also have flexibility
to vary the timing, length and number of more in-depth, work-focused
interviews (WFIs), in which Advisers offer support and advice
and can refer claimants to external sources of support where appropriate.
The NAO found that JCP prioritised compliance-based FJRs over
WFIs during the height of the downturn: between 2008-09 and 2009-10
the number of FJRs increased by around a half, while WFIs increased
in absolute terms by only 11% and decreased as a proportion of
all Jobcentre interviews from a quarter to a fifth.
38. Witnesses, including the PCS union
and Inclusion, were concerned that JCP's predominant focus was
now on compliance monitoring with less attention given to meaningful
and in-depth employment advice and support. Inclusion called for
JCP to "re-balance their relationship with claimants [...]
towards offering higher levels of positive support."
In the 2013 Spending Round, which set out plans for financial
year 2015-16, the Government announced a return to WFIs at specific
points in claims (see chapter 7).
The Claimant Commitment
39. The Claimant Commitment was designed
as part of Universal Credit (UC) but DWP has taken the decision
to apply it to JSA claimants ahead of the slower than anticipated
implementation of UC (see below). DWP started to apply the Claimant
Commitment in around 100 Jobcentres per month from October 2013
and it is expected to replace the JSAG across the whole Jobcentre
network by late spring 2014.
40. The key aim of the Claimant Commitment
is to more clearly and specifically set out what claimants must
do to try to find work: each claimant "will be given a weekly
timetable of tasks to complete". Launching the Claimant Commitment
for new JSA claimants in October 2013, the Minister for Employment
(Esther McVey MP) said:
The Claimant Commitment marks the
start of a redefinition of the relationship between the welfare
state and claimants. In return for state support, we expect claimants
to do all they can to meet their responsibilities to return to
It also strengthens the ability
of Jobcentre Plus staff to support claimants back into work at
the earliest opportunity. Work coaches and jobseekers will agree
regular specific tasks and training opportunities and the penalties
claimants could face for failing to meet their responsibilities
to get into work will be clearly spelt out.
41. Under the Universal Credit Regulations
2013, UC claimants can be required to commit to up to 35 hours
of job-searching activity per weekexceptions are made for
jobseekers with caring responsibilities and those with physical
or mental health conditions or disabilities.
The Government's intention is to instil in the majority of unemployed
claimants the notion that "looking for work is a full-time
42. During our visit to the North West
of England, JCP staff told us that the Claimant Commitment was
an improvement on the JSAG as it enabled them, and claimants,
to set out more specific and measurable job-search activities;
in contrast, the JSAG often simply stipulates that the claimant
complete two or three job-search activities per week. However,
staff also reported that there was a high volume of claimants
who were finding it difficult to fulfil the terms of their Claimant
Commitment, particularly the requirement to spend 35 hours per
week looking for work.
43. Some witnesses believed it was important
that JCP take care in how it "operationalised" the full-time
job-search requirement. Adam Sharples told us that JCP had taken
positive steps in recent years towards a greater focus on outcomes
rather than processes. Tony Wilson argued that JCP needed to avoid
process-driven, box-ticking behaviour. He highlighted research
undertaken by the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team (BIT,
often called the "Nudge Unit") in Loughton Jobcentre,
where BIT had piloted a new approach to the FJR process. This
offered "a different form of intervention with more time"
and in which the claimant is asked to "set out what you are
going to do, verbalise what you are going to do, come back two
weeks later and discuss whether you have done it or change your
objectives, go out and do it again." He believed that the
trial had achieved better outcomes as a result of this "more
focused one-to-one engagement" between Jobcentre Adviser
and claimant. The
trial achieved a 15-20% increase in off-flow from benefits at
13 weeks of claim.
44. The Minister told us that monitoring
compliance with the Claimant Commitment would include Jobcentre
Advisers checking job-search activities such as: how many jobs
claimants had applied for; and how many interviews they had attended.
Neil Couling confirmed that claimants would be expected to keep
a diary of their job-search activities but indicated that Jobcentre
Advisers would not set strict minimum expectations on the number
of hours to be spent looking for work. JCP had taken the Nudge
Unit research into account and the Claimant Commitment was intended
to be "much more of a discussion" between claimant and
Adviser. The approach being adopted was a "hybrid" of
the Nudge Unit approach and that used in the UC Pathfinders and
would be evaluated as it is rolled out over the next few months.
45. The trial undertaken in Loughton
Jobcentre using a different approach to the fortnightly job-search
review was not only different insofar as it was about future rather
than past activities; it also involved the Jobcentre Adviser spending
more time with the claimant. Evaluation of the trial must take
this into account.
46. Claimants are required to make themselves
available for jobs within a radius of 90 minutes' travel time
from their homes. We were concerned that 35 hours per week job-searching
might increase travel expenses incurred by claimants and that
some might therefore struggle to afford "full-time"
job-seeking. As noted in the previous chapter, claimants have
no absolute right to claim travel expenses from the FSF.
47. The Minister assured us that reasonable
travel expenses would be available through the FSF for those claimants
who needed them. Neil Couling said that in his experience claims
for travel expenses tended to be turned down only where JCP had
some doubt about whether the claim was related to a genuine job
opportunity. In general, claims for travel within the 90 minute
area would be met. The Minister indicated that, when recording
time spent looking for work, claimants could legitimately include
time spent travelling to and from an interview, as well as the
time spent at the interview itself.
48. We welcome the introduction
of the Claimant Commitment and the greater clarity and support
for claimants that it should bring. We consider that to be fully
effective it should represent a discussion between the claimant
and the Jobcentre Adviser. It would be highly regrettable if
the Claimant Commitment resulted in a process-driven, box-ticking
exercise in which Jobcentre Advisers measure the length of time
claimants spend searching for jobs, regardless of the likely effectiveness
of the job-search activities undertaken. We recommend that guidance
on this issue is set out clearly for Jobcentre staff.
Improving ongoing support through
49. The original intention for UC was
that almost all claimants would make and manage their claims online.
One of the policy intentions of this "digital by default"
approach within UC was to produce efficiencies in benefits administration
50. Adam Sharples noted that there had
already been significant progress in online claiming of JSA.
Recent figures show that 84.2% of JSA claims made in October 2013
were made online.
He believed that online management of ongoing UC claims
had the potential to achieve greater efficiencies, with less need
for manual intervention from JCP staff in the event of changes
in circumstances as UC rolls out.
51. However, it should be noted that
the implementation of UC, and the requisite IT, has proceeded
at a far slower pace than originally intended. An initial Pathfinder
began in four Jobcentres in Greater Manchester in April 2013.
Claims in the Pathfinder Jobcentres were initially restricted
to relatively simple new claims from single, childless claimants
who would otherwise have been eligible for JSA. The first phase
of national implementation was originally scheduled to start in
October 2013and be fully completed in 2017but was
scaled back to include only six further Pathfinder Jobcentres
and initially restricted to the same simple types of claim.
52. The NAO reported in September 2013
that DWP "does not yet know to what extent its new IT systems
will support national roll-out." It found that the Pathfinder
systems had limited functionality and did not yet allow claimants
to report changes of circumstances online.
In oral evidence on UC implementation on 9 December, Howard Shiplee,
DWP's Senior Responsible Officer for UC, confirmed that IT systems
could not currently support online management of claims and that
the development of a system which could do so might "take
some considerable time."
53. DWP set out its plans for the next
implementation phase of UC in a Written Statement on 5 December
2013, after we had concluded taking evidence for this inquiry.
It will start to test the functionality of the UC system in relation
to couples, from summer 2014, and families from autumn 2014, in
the 10 Pathfinder Jobcentres. DWP's current "planning assumption"
is that a UC service will be: "fully available in each part
of Great Britain during 2016, having closed down new claims to
the legacy benefits it replaced; with the majority of the remaining
legacy caseload moving to Universal Credit during 2016 and 2017".
The Secretary of State confirmed in oral evidence on UC implementation
that about 700,000 ESA claimants would not migrate to UC until
54. JCP's system for advertising local
job vacancies to benefit claimants has developed considerably
in recent years with advances in technology. It has moved from
a system of vacancies on cards displayed on boards in Jobcentres
to vacancy databases accessed through computer terminals, known
as "job points", in Jobcentres. The most recent development
is the introduction, from November 2012, of Universal Jobmatch
(UJ), which is both an online vacancy database and a recruitment
website on which benefit claimants, and other jobseekers, can
search for and apply for jobs.
55. Claimants are required to register
with the website as a condition of receipt of benefit and their
online job-search activity can be monitored by Jobcentre Advisers.
JCP staff in Greater Manchester confirmed during our visit that
claimants who did not wish to record their activities on UJ, or
did not wish to allow Advisers to view their online activity,
had the option to bring in their activity record in hard copy
to the Jobcentre. However, all claimants were encouraged to create
a CV and upload it to the UJ site so that it could be easily sent
56. A number of witnesses agreed that
UJ represented a considerable improvement on the previous system.
Matthew Oakley of Policy Exchange believed that a key potential
benefit of utilising technology in this way was that it could
enable Jobcentre Advisers to monitor claimants' job-search activity
more proactively between interviews with claimants and
therefore facilitate a more "interactive" and personalised
approach to employment support during interviews.
Jobcentre staff also highlighted this benefit of the new system
during our visit to Greater Manchester.
57. Adam Sharples believed that UJ
had "the basis of a very useful and quite sophisticated system"
but that there were a number of ways in which it might be further
developed in the future. His view was that a more developed system
could have "huge potential":
[...] if when you signed on, you
were given your own account with access to a library of training
material, videos, online tools for job search and CV templates,
you could imagine a world in which the whole process of job search
was so much more helpful, friendly and sophisticated than it is
now with your chance to go in and see a Jobcentre Plus Adviser
for three minutes once a fortnight.
We discuss the current functionality
of the Universal Jobmatch system, in relation to supporting an
effective and flexible labour market, in more detail in chapter
58. Universal Jobmatch has great
potential to facilitate effective job-search. We recommend that
DWP guidance to Jobcentre staff makes clear that Universal Jobmatch
should be promoted to claimants as a potentially effective tool
to find work, and that Jobcentre staff should provide advice and
support on getting the best out of the system. Universal Jobmatch
also provides a useful tool for monitoring claimants' compliance
with benefits conditionality. However, we recommend that guidance
makes clear that this is a secondary function, with the emphasis
on the benefits of using Universal Jobmatch to monitor compliance
between claimant interviews, freeing up more time for advice and
support during interviews. We also recommend that DWP explore
the potential for increased functionality of Universal Jobmatch,
particularly in the areas of assessing quality of CVs and the
likelihood of success of job applications, to ensure that claimants'
job-search activities are focussed and effective.
Support for vulnerable claimants
59. In our November 2012 Report on Universal
Credit we concluded that there would be a significant increase
in demand from claimants for advice and support services in the
transition to the new benefit. We recommended that DWP quantify
and provide the extra resources necessary to ensure the successful
implementation of the new benefit for all claimants, including
the most vulnerable.
60. DWP has taken significant steps
to provide online access and support for claimants in Jobcentres.
The job-points used by claimants to access the old JCP vacancy
system are currently being replaced by computer terminals, known
as Internet Access Devices (IADs). Around 9,000 IADs are being
installed across the network of 719 Jobcentres.
The Minister for Welfare Reform (Lord Freud) told us in December
that Wi-fi access was now being made available in Jobcentres.
During our visit to Greater Manchester we heard about plans for
a "digital Jobcentre" in Oldham (see chapter 7).
The Local Support Services Framework (LSSF)
61. In February 2013 DWP published,
with the Local Government Association (LGA), the Local Support
Services Framework (LSSF), a document which broadly sets out the
types of advice and support services likely to be required as
UC rolls out and how they might be delivered through local partnerships
including JCP, local authorities and community-based providers.
It was explicitly only an outline, the "start of a conversation"
about how benefit support services might be delivered in the future.
62. The stated intention is to provide
"better support under UC than has ever been available before."
The LSSF states that the existing benefits system involves a large
number of organisations delivering advice and support across the
range of working-age benefits. It assumes that some of this support
will no longer be required under UC and states that therefore
"UC creates the opportunity for support organisations to
focus more of their resources on higher value-added activity aimed
at helping people overcome their barriers to becoming self-sufficient
and independent of State support".
63. The LSSF recognises that a significant
proportion of claimants will require support in at least two key
areas: coping with the online application and claims management
processes; and opening a bank account and managing household budgets
after the move to a single monthly benefit payment. It highlights
the need to identify vulnerable claimantsfor example, homeless
people, those with addiction or mental health problems and people
with learning difficultieswho may be in particular need
64. Some witnesses argued that JCP should
take a much broader approach, establishing closer links with a
diverse range of local services which are involved in tackling
not just digital and financial exclusion but also the range of
social and health issues which can contribute to worklessness.
Chris Johnes of Oxfam argued that particularly disadvantaged jobseekers
required help to address these types of problems before they could
think about returning to work.
Jobcentre staff in Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham told us that they
were increasingly building working relationships with local support
services, for example hostels, probation officers, local authority
welfare advisers and Registered Social Landlords, as part of their
response to the current welfare reforms.
65. The LGA believed that the LSSF,
as a broad framework, provided a "huge opportunity"
to improve support services for benefit claimants. Its vision
was of "a locally commissioned and very diversely sourced
range of support". However, it was unable to describe in
any detail which types of services would be delivered and by which
organisations. London Councils told us that it was unable to give
its full backing to the approach because the current LSSF lacked
detail and clarity. Both the LGA and London Councils told us that
they urgently needed information about how the LSSF would be funded
because councils would soon need to set their budgets for 2014-15.
Councillor Sharon Taylor of the LGA told us that: "the sooner
we can have the information around the funding of this, the sooner
and better we will be able to plan for what our role is going
66. Citizens Advice acknowledged that
the slower than anticipated roll out of UC would offer the opportunity
to more fully develop the LSSF.
However, it also highlighted that, without "any strong sense"
of available funding levels, it was "impossible" for
local authorities and advice organisations to start planning.
67. DWP published an updated document,
Local Support Services Update and Trialling Plan, on 6
December 2013. This is not yet a comprehensive LSSF to support
national roll out of UC; it is "an interim document"
which reflects the slower than anticipated implementation timetable
outlined above. The document focuses on provision of online and
budgeting support but also lists support for claimants with "complex
needs" within the scope of the framework. It states that
"different arrangements for partnership working, financial
management [and] the effective delivery of front line services"
will be tested over the course of 2014. A further LSSF document
will be published in Autumn 2014, "to allow local partnerships
to plan their services for the 2015-16 financial year and beyond."
68. We welcome steps taken by DWP
to improve online access and support for claimantsthis
will be crucial in the roll out of Universal Credit. However,
DWP has been slow to produce a detailed framework for the delivery
of a comprehensive range of Universal Credit support services,
and there remains a lack of clarity about how these services will
be funded or what JCP's role will be in delivering or coordinating
them. We believe that a diverse range of services, which go beyond
online support and help with budgeting, will be necessary if the
Government is to achieve its aim of "better support under
Universal Credit than has ever been available before."
69. The slower than anticipated
roll out affords Jobcentres the opportunity to build strong relationships
with a range of local services to support claimants in the transition
to Universal Credit and beyond. We recommend that DWP identifies
good practice in building local services and disseminates this
across the Jobcentre network as the Universal Credit Pathfinders
are expanded through 2014.
70. The Local Support Services
Framework, now due to be published in Autumn 2014, will set out
the agreed process for providing support to claimants. We request
an assurance from DWP that this will be a comprehensive document,
which provides a best practice framework for the provision of
a diverse range of support services and sets out a robust plan
for how these services will be funded and delivered nationally
from financial year 2015-16, so that local authorities are able
to make budgeting decisions and commission services.
Support for claimants with health
conditions and disabilities
71. Over half (53.2%) of all working-age
disabled people in the UK were either unemployed or economically
inactive in the fourth quarter of 2012, the most recent period
for which data are available.
The very difficult challenges of supporting jobseekers with disabilities
and health conditions into work have recently been highlighted
by the poor performance of the Work Programme in relation to ESA
72. A number of witnesses highlighted
with concern the relative lack of JCP resources devoted to supporting
ESA claimants. Jobcentres
have specialist Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) but some
witnesses believed that there were insufficient DEAs to support
the ESA caseload: there are around 900 DEAs spread across JCP's
719 Jobcentres. The total ESA caseload, excluding those in the
process of being assessed, is around 1.2 million, of which 546,000
are in the ESA Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) and likely to
be subject to some level of job-seeking or work-preparation conditionality,
depending on their prognosis.
Therefore the ratio of DEAs to ESA claimants requiring some level
of employment support is over 600 to one. The average JSA caseload
is around 140 claimants per Adviser.
73. Tony Wilson of Inclusion noted that
ESA claimants typically attend a Jobcentre no more than twice
a year and therefore "do not really have any engagement with
a personal adviser", prior to referral to the Work Programme
or Work Choice. He
argued that employment support for ESA claimants should be a priority
for the Government, as this is the group at greatest risk of being
95% of people on ESA are not in
the Work Programme, are not in Work Choice and if they are seen
by Jobcentre Plus they are seen every six months. That is a group,
among others, where we should be increasing resources, looking
at how we can use resource more flexibly. If that means, therefore,
spending less time with more employable job seekers, those are
the trade-offs we need to consider.
74. Following the particularly poor
job outcome performance of the Work Programme in relation to ESA
claimants, the Government recently announced three new pilots
to test approaches to employment support for this group. A group
of ESA WRAG claimants in central England "will be required
to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help
them address their barriers to workor face losing their
benefits". The effectiveness of the healthcare professional-led
approach will be compared against two other pilots: in southern
England a group of ESA WRAG claimants will receive "enhanced
support from JCP"; and in the North East of England a group
will receive increased help from Work Programme providers. In
all, around 8,300 claimants are expected to take part in the
three separate pilots, which are due to be completed in August
2016. We expect to
return to the issue of specialist employment support for unemployed
people with disabilities later in 2014.
75. The Government has recognised
the need to improve employment provision for Employment and Support
Allowance Work Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG) claimants. However,
the current ratio of one specialist Jobcentre Disability Employment
Adviser (DEA) to more than 600 ESA WRAG claimants is unacceptably
high. We welcome the three new pilots designed to test the relative
effectiveness of support provided by: healthcare professionals;
JCP; and Work Programme providers. However, the pilots will include
only around 8,300 claimants, from a caseload of over 540,000,
and will not be completed until 2016. This means that the very
large majority of ESA WRAG claimants will continue to rely on
standard Jobcentre support which often amounts to no more than
two interviews with an Adviser each year. We recommend that urgent
action is taken to improve the level of JCP support for job-seeking
claimants with health conditions and disabilities, including by
addressing the unacceptably high ESA WRAG caseloads per DEA.
30 National Audit Office, Responding to change in
Jobcentres, HC 955, February 2013 Back
Ev 115 Back
"Jobseekers to start signing new Claimant Commitment today",
DWP press release, 14 October 2013 Back
The Universal Credit Regulations 2013 Back
"Claimant Commitment to spell out what jobseekers must do
in return for benefits", DWP press release, 29 August 2013 Back
Q 17 Back
Q 516 Back
Q 518 Back
Q 516 Back
Work and Pensions Committee, Universal Credit implementation:
meeting the needs of vulnerable claimants, Third Report of
Session 2012-13, HC 576, para 17 [Hereafter, Committee's Universal
Credit Report] Back
Q 56 Back
DWP, Business plan transparency measures, December 2013,
para 15.1 Back
Q 56 Back
HC Deb, 10 July 2013, col 22WS Back
National Audit Office, Universal Credit: early progress,
HC 621, September 2013 Back
Q 31 Back
HC Deb, 5 December 2013, col 65WS Back
Oral evidence taken on 9 December 2013, HC (2013-14) 867, Q 53 Back
Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, Ev 112 Back
Q 58 Back
Q 56 Back
Committee's Universal Credit Report Back
HC Deb, 10 July 2013, col 22 WS Back
Oral evidence taken on 9 December 2013, HC (2013-14) 867, Q 75 Back
DWP/LGA, Universal Credit: Local Support Services Framework,
February 2013, p 6 Back
Ibid., p 9 Back
Q 67 Back
Q 284 Back
Q 291 Back
Q 290 Back
DWP, Universal Credit: Local Support Services Framework Update
and Trialling Plan, December 2013 Back
HC Deb, 20 November 2013, col 920W Back
See DWP, Work Programme statistical summary, 19 December
Q 8 [Tony Wilson]; Hackney Economic Development Network, Ev w33;
Richard Layard, Ev w40 Back
DWP statistical tabulation tool [accessed 25 November 2013] Back
HC Deb, 2 September 2013, col 238W Back
Q 8 Back
Q 18 Back
"Pilot schemes to help people on sickness benefits back to
work", DWP press release, 4 November 2013 Back