4 Setting appropriate JSA job-searching
67. In this chapter we examine JCP's approach to
agreeing appropriate job-searching conditions for JSA claimants.
The standard tool for this is now the Claimant Commitment. This
was designed as part of the policy development for Universal Credit,
to replace Jobseekers Agreements, which were used in the JSA system,
but Claimant Commitments are already being used in almost all
JCP offices, ahead of Universal Credit's full implementation.
68. The intention is that Claimant Commitments further
intensify job-searching activities; DWP can require claimants
to undertake up to 35 hours of job-searching activity per week.
It also gives claimants greater scope to record the steps they
have taken towards finding employment, and allows Work Coaches
to monitor whether claimants have taken the agreed steps. Claimant
Commitments should reflect individual claimants' needs and capabilities,
and involve claimants in the process of developing a job-searching
strategy which is appropriate for them. They are intended to be
"living documents", which are updated regularly according
to changing circumstances.
The Claimant Commitment in practice
69. We were supportive of the introduction of the
Claimant Commitment, concluding in our November 2012 Report on
Universal Credit implementation that it had "the potential
to help benefit claimants return to work, by making clear what
job-search requirements they must fulfil." However, our Report
also noted witnesses' views that the effectiveness of the system
would to a large extent depend on the ability of JCP staff to
identify claimants' needs and ensure that these were properly
reflected in the document.
The Department's written evidence to this inquiry was very clear
Any requirements placed on JSA claimants should take
into account any restrictions agreed within the Claimant Commitment
as well as the claimant's individual circumstances and needs.
70. Several witnesses were concerned that in practice
Claimant Commitments were being formulated principally by the
Work Coach, with limited input from the claimant.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) told us that it had advised a number
of claimants who believed that their Claimant Commitment had not
been sufficiently tailored to their personal circumstances. This
included people with "very severe literacy problems"
which were not adequately reflected, for example.
The PCS union told us that Claimant Commitments tended to conform
to a fairly standard template. It also reported that JCP staff
were "not encouraged" to include flexibilities to reflect
claimants' individual circumstances. PCS's view was that the primary
focus tended to be on increasing the number of steps claimants
were required to take. Helen Flanagan, PCS's DWP Vice President,
told us that, whereas the JSA Jobseekers Agreement would typically
require a claimant to apply for three jobs per week, the Claimant
Commitment sometimes required the claimant to take more than 40
individual steps. She also reported that in some JCP offices the
35-hour job-search requirement was already being applied to JSA
claimants, ahead of the implementation of Universal Credit.
71. Ben Robinson of Community Links, a third sector
contracted provider, believed that it was still "early days"
for the Claimant Commitment. In his experience, the level of tailoring
of Claimant Commitments to individual circumstances was "patchy"
across the JCP network. There was also a mixed picture of Claimant
Commitments being used as "living documents", reflecting
changes in circumstances over time. He agreed with the PCS union
that, in general, the Claimant Commitment had increased the number
of mandatory steps claimants were required to take to find work.
72. Keith Dryburgh of CAS told us that that a number
of claimants it had advised felt they had no choice but to sign
the Claimant Commitment, as they believed that they would be sanctioned
if they did not. His view was that Claimant Commitments which
did not properly reflect claimants' needs were "setting people
up to fail."
73. Chris Hayes told us that the effectiveness of
the Claimant Commitment would be fully evaluated by DWP, and that
an evaluation report was scheduled to be published in Summer 2016.
74. We recommend that DWP's evaluation of the
Claimant Commitment includes an assessment of: whether claimants
are fully involved in the process of developing a suitable job-searching
strategy and in setting realistic and achievable targets; and
whether reasonable conditions are being set for all groups of
JSA claimants, including those with physical and mental health
conditions, learning disabilities and caring responsibilities.
We also believe that more than another year before the findings
of this evaluation are published is too long a wait for an assessment
of new benefit conditions affecting so many claimants. We therefore
further recommend that DWP expedite its evaluation and publish
initial findings as early as possible in the next Parliament,
and certainly before the end of 2015. We believe that there is
a specific need to review whether the conditionality applied to
those claiming JSA while a decision on ESA eligibility is being
reconsidered or appealed should be altered to reflect this, and
the individual's specific circumstances.
Identifying vulnerable claimants
75. As noted in chapter 2, the Oakley Review found
that "vulnerable" claimants, particularly those with
mental health problems and learning disabilities, were more likely
to struggle to understand and fulfil their benefit conditions.
He recommended that the Department "should consider how vulnerable
groups might be identified and helped to claim hardship payments
and/or access support services offered through Jobcentre Plus
and contracted providers."
76. A range of witnesses believed that JCP's systems
for identifying vulnerable claimants were inconsistent, and reported
that vulnerable claimants, including those with mental health
problems and learning disabilities, were often subject to inappropriate
conditions resulting in sanctions. Witnesses believed that more
clarity and consistency was required around the definition of
77. Chris Hayes reported that in the last year DWP
had issued new guidance to JCP Work Coaches on identifying vulnerable
claimants. This included taking account of "people's circumstances,
life changes or certain medical conditions." He also told
us that, in relation to ESA, DWP took "extra special care"
before applying sanctions to claimants with certain medical conditions.
We consider ESA sanctioning separately in chapter 6.
78. The Department subsequently sent us a copy of
its Vulnerability Guidance for JCP staff. In the guidance a vulnerable
person is defined as: "An individual who is identified as
having complex needs and/or requires additional support to enable
them to access DWP benefits and use our services." Complex
needs are defined as: "difficult personal circumstances and/or
life events." The guidance lists a number of personal circumstances
and life events which could be considered to indicate potential
vulnerability, including: disability; ethnicity; domestic violence
and abuse; care leaver; alcohol misuse; drug misuse; refugee;
ex-offender; homeless; and lone parent. The guidance is clear
that JCP staff can make a judgement on whether individuals in
these circumstances need "additional support to enable them
to access DWP benefits and use our services", including additional
support to fulfil benefit conditions; however, it also states
that: "The aim is for individuals to follow the standard
Customer Journeys and we need to work with them to identify how
we can enable them to do this."
79. DWP's new Vulnerability Guidance is a welcome
step forward in trying to more routinely identify claimants who
are vulnerable and require support to "enable them to access
DWP benefits and services". However, we are concerned that,
while the guidance we have seen is a good, general purpose document,
which includes helpful definitions of what might constitute vulnerability,
it does not give clear guidance on the level of support vulnerable
groups would need in order to fulfil their benefit conditionality.
There remains a danger that some vulnerable individuals are being
"set up to fail".
80. We recommend that DWP, drawing on specialist
advice from health experts, develop guidance on vulnerability
which is specifically intended to assist JCP staff in identifying
vulnerable JSA claimants, including those with mental health problems
and learning disabilities, who may face difficulties in understanding
and/or complying with benefit conditionality. This guidance should
include examples or case studies to illustrate how conditionality
can be tailored in a range of circumstances. We further recommend
that the Department amalgamate this guidance into the broader
Claimant Commitment guidance, so that it becomes part of the routine
process of developing appropriate and tailored JSA conditionality.
81. In addition to actions set out in Claimant Commitments,
Work Coaches can require JSA claimants to take specific actions
by issuing individual Jobseeker Directions (JSDs). JCP guidance
states that JSDs can be used to "mandate a claimant, under
risk of a sanction, to undertake a specific course of action".
It explains that JSDs "would usually be considered when a
claimant does not voluntarily undertake a particular action, which
will improve their prospects of finding work."
JSDs were introduced in the 1990s, as part of the JSA system.
82. Helen Flanagan of PCS reported that, in some
JCP offices, JSDs were being used more frequently now than they
were before the introduction of the Claimant Commitment.
Official data show that the number of sanctions relating to "failure
to comply with a Jobseeker Direction" has remained low as
a proportion of all sanctions, and at a stable level since 2012
(around 3% of all adverse decisions, see chapter 5); however,
there are large variations between JCP offices, and in some offices
the application of JSDs has increased.
83. Given that the Claimant Commitment is intended
to intensify job-searching requirements, include more specific
steps, and be a "living document" which can be regularly
updated, we wanted to know why JSDs were still necessary, and
their use increasing in some offices. Chris Hayes told us that
JSDs tended to be used in "very specific circumstances",
including mandating claimants to undertake a particular type of
skills training. Claimant Commitments tended to set out "general
work search and availability conditions". However, he did
agree that there was scope to include more of the types of activity
currently being mandated through JSDs in Claimant Commitments.
84. We note the concern expressed by some witnesses
that use of Jobseeker Directions has increased in some JCP offices
in recent years. While we appreciate that there may be circumstances
in which it might be appropriate for JCP staff to mandate a JSA
claimant to undertake a very specific type of work-related activity,
such as particular skills training, it is not immediately clear
why such activities could not invariably be included in Claimant
Commitments. Intuitively we would expect there to be minimal,
if any, use made of Jobseeker Directions, as the Claimant Commitment
becomes more firmly established. We recommend that DWP's evaluation
of the Claimant Commitment include an assessment of the appropriate
use of Jobseeker Directions and their interaction with the Claimant
Single parent protections
85. Gingerbread, a single parent charity, drew on
official data to illustrate that single parent JSA claimants appeared
to be more likely to receive a "non-adverse" sanction
decision than the general JSA claimant population. Non-adverse
decisions can be the result of the claimant proving "good
reason" early in the process, in which case the claimant's
benefit payment is not affected. The majority of non-adverse decisions
affecting single parent JSA claimants are made at this early stage,
but Gingerbread noted that a significant minority are applied
later, at the decision-review stage: 26% of low level sanctions;
46% of intermediate level sanctions; and 17% of high level sanctions.
In these cases the claimant's benefit will be stopped from the
point of the original decision until it is overturned at review.
Claimants will be reimbursed following the review but are likely
to be without their benefit payment for a number of days or weeks.
FIGURE 1: NON-ADVERSE JSA SANCTION DECISIONS, OCTOBER
Source: DWP, Jobseekers Allowance and Employment
and Support Allowance sanctions: decisions made to June 2014,
FIGURE 2: SINGLE PARENT NON-ADVERSE JSA SANCTION
DECISIONS BY SANCTION LEVEL AND "DECISION TYPE"
Source: DWP, Jobseekers Allowance and Employment
and Support Allowance sanctions: decisions made to June 2014,
86. Gingerbread believed that the relatively high
incidence of non-adverse sanction decisions in relation to single
parent JSA claimants was a consequence of both claimants and Work
Coaches being insufficiently aware of the flexibilities which
should apply in relation to single parent conditionality. These
flexibilities are defined in a set of 12 statutory safeguards,
which include scope for single parents of children under the age
of 13 years to restrict their working hours to the school day,
and protect single parents from sanctioning where they refuse
a job offer because they are unable to find suitable and affordable
childcare, for example. It believed that a lack of awareness of
these flexibilities was leading to inappropriate conditions and
sanction referrals. It also pointed out that "only
one of the 12 regulatory safeguards has been transferred in its
entirety into Universal Credit", and was therefore concerned
that, under Universal Credit, "single parents will be at
greater risk of incurring sanctions and less likely to find work
because vital safeguards have been removed."
87. There is evidence that single parent JSA claimants
are more likely to receive a non-adverse JSA sanction decision
than the general JSA claimant population. Whilst not necessarily
causing individual financial hardship, it should be recognised
that the raising of a "doubt" in itself can cause distress.
Notwithstanding the fact that many do successfully offer "good
reason", there may still be some claimants who experience
an adverse decision if they are not enabled and encouraged to
offer "good reason". We also note concern from those
representing single parents that claimants and JCP Work Coaches
may be insufficiently aware of the statutory flexibilities designed
to protect single parents from inappropriate conditionality, and
that this may be leading to unnecessary sanction referrals which
are subsequently overturned by Decision Makers.
88. We recommend that DWP increase training
for JCP Work Coaches on the regulatory flexibilities which should
be applied to the benefit conditions of single parent JSA claimants.
We also recommend that DWP produce a straightforward, plain English
guide to the flexibilities, which should be given to all single
parent JSA claimants. We further recommend that DWP review the
regulatory flexibilities afforded to single parent Universal Credit
claimants, with a view to ensuring that they are offered the same
level of protection from inappropriate conditionality and sanctioning
as JSA claimants.
Potential for a more targeted
approach to conditionality and sanctions
89. There was a perception amongst witnesses that
the current approach to conditionality and sanctions was based
on an assumption that most unemployed claimants would not do enough
to find work unless they were made to do so. This assumption was
90. Kirsty McHugh of ERSA told us that contracted
providers' experience was that strict conditionality backed up
by financial sanctions was necessary in only a minority of cases,
where claimants had a record of not engaging with the support
on offer, and where this lack of engagement was "motivational
or behavioural", and therefore susceptible to behavioural
change. She believed
that it was important to distinguish these claimants from those
whose lack of engagement was a consequence of vulnerabilities
such as mental health problems.
A range of witnesses believed that in many such cases sanctions
were likely to actively hinder a claimant's capability to look
for work, because dealing with practical financial issues resulting
from sanctions took up time that might otherwise be spent job-searching.
91. In oral evidence the Minister emphasised that
it was often claimants who were "most reticent at first"
to engage with employment support who ultimately found that "conditionality
or mandation was instrumental in getting them a job". She
believed that the application, or deterrent threat, of sanctions
in these cases had often been a "push in the right direction".
92. Research published by DWP in 2011 suggests that
it may be possible to categorise unemployed people into eight
different groups based on their motivations and attitudes towards
seeking work. The primary purpose of this research was to develop
a "highly actionable segmentation tool that is driven by
attitude and behaviour and underpinned by behaviour change principles",
for application in DWP's communications and marketing strategies.
93. Employment services professionals believe
that strict conditionality, backed up by financial sanctions,
is necessary in only a small minority of circumstances, in particular
where claimants have a history of poor engagement with employment
support, and where their lack of engagement is "motivational
or attitudinal". If the intention of sanctioning is to change
behaviour, we believe that it is important to identify and focus
on those claimants whose attitudes towards job-seeking and work
the Department seeks to change. We believe that an effective targeted
approach to strict conditionality, which focuses on this group
of claimants, would have the benefit of protecting more determined
jobseekers, and the vulnerable, from inappropriate, and potentially
counter-productive, sanctions. We recommend that DWP draw on its
2011 research into the attitudes of unemployed people towards
job-seeking and work, and consider whether its insights could
inform a more targeted approach to benefit conditionality and
sanctioning. We recommend that DWP establish a small-scale pilot
to test the efficacy of a targeted approach based on segmentation
of claimants by their attitudes and motivations.
72 "Claimant Commitment to spell out what jobseekers must do in return for benefits",
DWP press release, 29 August 2013 Back
The Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations 2013 (Regulation 9) Back
"Claimant Commitment to spell out what jobseekers must do in return for benefits",
DWP press release, 29 August 2013; "Jobseekers to start signing new Claimant Commitment today",
DWP press release, 14 October 2013 Back
Work and Pensions Committee, Third Report of Session 2012-13,
Universal Credit implementation: Meeting the needs of vulnerable claimants,
HC 576, paras 168-71 Back
DWP (SAN0142) Back
See, for example, Citizens Advice Scotland (SAN0096); One Parent
Families Scotland (SAN0146); The Scottish Federation of Housing
Associations and the Housing Support Enabling Unit (SAN0140) Back
Q52 [Keith Dryburgh] Back
Qq138-9; Q142 Back
Oakley Review, p 38 Back
See, for example, Keep Volunteering Voluntary (SAN0131); The Scottish
Federation of Housing Associations and the Housing Support Enabling
Unit (SAN0140); ERSA (SAN0145) Back
DWP, Vulnerability Guidance-Additional Support for Individuals
[not published] Back
DWP Freedom of Information release, FOI 626, 13 February 2013
[available via the What Do They Know? website, accessed 17 February
DWP Freedom of Information release, Statistics on Jobseeker's directions issued in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire JCPs: Sept 2012 to Aug 2014,
January 2015 Back
Gingerbread (SAN0115), figures 1 and 2 Back
Gingerbread (SAN0115) Back
See, for example, Q47 [Dr Webster]; Mind (SAN0106); PCS Union
(SAN0109); Gingerbread (SAN0115); Keep Volunteering Voluntary
ERSA (SAN0145) Back
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and the Housing
Support Enabling Unit (SAN0140); Derbyshire County Council (SAN0111);
Newcastle upon Tyne Citizens Advice Bureau (SAN0072) Back
DWP, Beliefs about work: an attitudinal segmentation of out-of-work people in Great Britain,
DWP Customer Insight Research Report 1, 2011 Back