Universal Credit: support for disabled people Contents

4Support in Jobcentre Plus

Conditionality and claimant commitments

73.As in the legacy system, some Universal Credit claimants are required to take steps towards work as a condition of receiving the benefit. This is referred to as “conditionality”. The level and intensity of conditionality varies according to the claimant’s circumstances. Failure to meet conditionality requirements can result in claimants receiving a sanction. This means that their benefits are stopped or reduced for a fixed period of time. Our detailed conclusions and recommendations on setting claimant conditionality are set out in our recent report on Benefit sanctions.151

74.UC claimants who have a health condition that they consider affects their ability to work, or look for work, are required to declare it at the outset of their claim. They may then be required to attend a Work Capability Assessment (WCA): a functional assessment of their capacity to work. JCP Work Coaches use the outcome of the WCA to determine which conditionality group claimants are placed in:152

a)Claimants assessed as “fit for work” are subject to “full conditionality” or “all work related requirements”. They are required to undertake intensive searches for work.

b)Claimants assessed as having “limited capability to work” (LCW) now but who are expected to be able to look for work in future are placed in the “work preparation” group. They are expected to take steps to prepare for work, but not to actively search for work. This is the equivalent of the ESA-Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) in the legacy system.

c)Claimants assessed as having “limited capability to work” and “limited capability for work related activity” (LCWRA) are not subject to any conditions, and not expected to take any steps to look for or prepare for work. This is the equivalent of the ESA Support group.

75.Most UC applicants are required to attend a meeting with their Work Coach at the outset of their claim to discuss and agree the conditions attached to their receipt of benefits. The resulting agreement is called a “Claimant Commitment”.153 The appointment at JCP must be arranged within seven days of applying for UC. Failure to do this means the application is terminated. The wait for a WCA is often much longer, however.154 In the interim period, Work Coaches have to set conditionality based on their understanding of the claimant’s health condition, how it affects their ability to work, and any other extenuating circumstances (such as having young children). This differs from the legacy system where claimants do not have any conditionality set while they are waiting for a WCA.155

76.The Department told us that Claimant Commitments should reflect individual claimants’ needs and circumstances, irrespective of whether a WCA has already taken place. Work Coaches can, for example, choose not to apply any conditionality while a claimant is waiting for a WCA if they feel that the effects of a health condition are sufficient to prevent a claimant from taking steps towards work.156 The NAO, citing the Department’s own research, reported that Work Coaches frequently struggle to identify claimant support needs accurately. This can be because:157

a)Work Coaches lack the time, knowledge and ability to identify claimants who need additional support;

b)They lack the confidence to apply processes flexibility and to put in place appropriate adjustments;

c)They feel overwhelmed by the volume of claimants who report health problems—even though the vast majority of current UC claimants do not have health conditions that would be assessed via the WCA as preventing them from working.158

Mencap’s Rob Holland echoed these concerns. He explained that there is often a large gap between how agreeing interim Claimant Commitments should work, and what happens in practice:159

How it should work with these interim Claimant Commitments is that you should be sitting down with the Work Coach and talking through what might be reasonable for you to do in the timeframe, how many applications you should be putting in, and so on. Instead, we have had cases where people have been presented with a generic Claimant Commitment and said, “Well, you need to really agree this in order to progress your application” and people agreeing that, not necessarily understanding what they are signing up to and being sanctioned following that.

77.Gemma Hope from Shaw Trust, a specialist disability employment support provider, told us that requiring people to take steps towards work that are inappropriate or unmanageable too early on in their claim can erode trust between claimants, Work Coaches and other JCP support providers from the outset.160 Work Coaches then “don’t have enough time to build that relationship and try to regain that trust” further down the line. She explained that imposing conditionality prior to the WCA can be counterproductive, concluding that “our advice would be don’t, because we can’t see how it would really support people moving into work”.161 NAWRA’s Daphne Hall emphasised that even if claimants are not sanctioned as a result of inappropriate conditionality, “the stress that is put on people is overwhelming”.162 This can be unhelpful in aiding a return to work compared with a lighter touch, voluntary approach.163 She, and others, suggested that there should be no conditionality for people awaiting the WCA: “it should just be about support, support, support, until we know where we are”.164

78.Under the legacy system, claimants awaiting a Work Capability Assessment cannot have conditionality applied to them. This is a vital safeguard. It protects claimants from having to meet conditions that may be unmanageable and inappropriate. It also helps avoid souring the relationship between claimants and their Work Coaches from the outset. But no such safeguard exists under Universal Credit. We recommend that the Department immediately amend its guidance to Work Coaches to state that Universal Credit claimants who are awaiting a Work Capability Assessment and who can present a valid Fit Note stating that they are not able to work should not be subject to any conditionality. We set out this recommendation and the evidence underpinning it in greater detail in our recent report on Benefit sanctions.165

Employment support for disabled people

79.Disabled people who are claiming UC or a legacy benefit can access a range of support to help them prepare for a return to work. This includes:

a)The Work and Health Programme (WHP). The WHP is delivered by external contactors. It replaces the previous Work Programme and the Work Choice specialist disability employment support scheme.166

b)Ongoing support from their Work Coach. The Department intends for UC claimants, as far as possible, to have the same Work Coach for the duration of their claim.167 It hopes this will enable them to build an understanding of claimants’ specific circumstances and signpost or refer them additional discretionary employment support.

c)Discretionary, ad-hoc support available via Work Coaches. Work Coaches can select from a range of external services via the JCP District Provision Tool, which lists available local employment support, and refer claimants to this support as appropriate.

Work Coaches are generalists: they provide support to mixed caseloads of claimants, and do not usually specialise in supporting particular groups (such as disabled people).168 As such, Jobcentre Plus also employs disability specialists. They include:

a)Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs). DEAs do not work directly with disabled claimants. Their role is to act as a “coach to the Work Coach”, providing a source of specialist advice.169

b)Community Partners. These are people with personal and professional experience of disability. Their role is to provide first-hand insight into the barriers that disabled people face in moving into and staying in work; to use local knowledge to identify sources of tailored local employment support, and to work with local employers on improving the recruitment and retention of disabled people.170

Work and Health Programme

80.The WHP was rolled out in the North of England and Wales in late 2017. It will become available across the rest of England during 2018. The programme is available to disabled claimants, the long-term unemployed, and some other groups who face disadvantages in the labour market (such as ex-offenders).171 It is delivered by external contractors.172 JCP’s Work Coaches are responsible for identifying claimants within their caseloads who could benefit from the kind of provision that the WHP offers and referring them to providers.

81.The WHP is in its very early stages. In November 2018 the Department published its first data on WHP starts, showing that 24,720 people had started on the programme up to August 2018.173 ERSA, the industry body for employment support providers, cautioned that there is unlikely to be any “meaningful” data on employment outcomes available for some time. This is because WHP providers can offer up to 15 months of out-of-work support and six months for those who move into work. Even the very first participants will not yet have received this duration of support.174 The Minister, assured us, however, that the programme is rolling out broadly as the Department expects. She said that “anecdotally in terms of referrals and how it is working I am getting good feedback that the profile that we would expect into those contracts is broadly on track”.175

82.We heard, however, that providers had so far seen somewhat lower referral rates to WHP than expected. ERSA told us that “the success of the Work and Health Programme will be squarely dependent on the ability of Jobcentre Plus” to identify and refer claimants who could benefit from, and are eligible for the programme.176 We heard that Work Coaches are struggling to identify and refer claimants consistently.177 Shaw Trust told us that this can be partly attributed to WHP being a new programme and taking some time to bed in. They explained that low referral rates could be partially addressed through better training for Work Coaches and improving awareness of the existence of the programme amongst JCP staff and claimants alike.178

83.Shaw Trust also explained, however, that in some areas it is the rollout of Universal Credit itself that is creating a barrier to referrals. Gemma Hope told us that the UC rollout is taking up so much Work Coach time that Coaches are “maxed out in capacity so they don’t have time to learn about the Work and Health Programme and the referral process to it”.179 Concurrently, the former, much larger contracted-out employment support programmes that WHP replaces (the Work Programme and Work Choice) have been phased out, bringing claimants who might otherwise have been referred to those programmes back into JCP for support.180 This means that Work Coaches have to assume greater responsibility for supporting claimants with a range of different needs, potentially placing substantial additional demands on their time. At the same time, the Department expects Work Coach caseloads to increase as UC rolls out: from 85 claimants per Work Coach in March 2018, to 373 by 2024–25.181

84.The Department launched the Work and Health Programme (WHP) at a time of considerable change in Jobcentre Plus. The roll-out of Universal Credit itself, and the decision to scale down externally delivered employment support, both place substantial new demands on Work Coaches. The success of the WHP and its contribution to closing the disability employment gap depends squarely on Work Coaches identifying and referring people who could benefit from the programme. But competing demands on Work Coach time bring the risk of this slipping down their agendas, and pressure on them will only increase at the UC rollout progresses. We recommend the Department ensure all Work Coaches undertake specific training on the WHP and its referral process. It should outline its plans for rolling out this training to Work Coaches in response to this Report. We also recommend the Department launch a publicity campaign for the programme in JCP. This should be aimed at both Work Coaches and claimants themselves.

Work Coaches, Disability Employment Advisers and Community Partners

85.The former Minister for Employment, Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, told our predecessor Committee that the Department had chosen a generalist, mixed-caseload model for its front-line Work Coaches while recognising that “there is always going to be a debate about whether your frontline staff should be specialists in one area or [ … ] generalists able to cover a range of areas”.182 Throughout successive inquiries, we have heard repeatedly that Work Coaches are expected to perform a range of tasks that require in-depth understanding of disability and of the barriers to employment that can accompany a health condition. Selecting appropriate discretionary support or knowing when the WHP might be appropriate, coaching, and setting conditionality all require a level of expertise.183 The Department told us that while all Work Coaches undergo basic training on disability, this expertise is provided predominantly by DEAs and Community Partners.184

86.The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work emphasised that Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) and Community Partners have a “really important role to play” in providing a source of specialist support.185 James Wolfe, the Department’s Director for Disability Employment, explained that “every Work Coach has the opportunity to draw on the expertise” of specialist staff. He concluded this was a “better model to provide [ … ] personalised support” than using front-line specialists because “because people have complicated lives that have complex needs, and their disability is just one part of that overall picture”.186

87.The Department announced plans to introduce Community Partners, and to expand the number of DEAs, in its 2017 Work, health and disability green paper. It planned to recruit 300 new DEAs, taking the total to over 500, and 200 Community Partners. Prior to that announcement the number of DEAs had been in decline (see Table 1).187 As of September 2018 the Department had 458 DEAs in post: a ratio of one DEA to every 28 claimants. The Minister explained that “the actual headcount [is] above 500 when taking account of part time and dual role workers”. 182 Community Partners had also been recruited as of November 2018.188

Table 1: Number of Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs): Full-time equivalent

April 2014

April 2015

April 2016

April 2017

July 2018

DEAS (FTE)

413.28

306.71

202.78

480.28

458.12

Source: WQ188029

88.Witnesses told us that, even with these extra resources, Work Coaches are struggling to support disabled claimants.189 As UC continues to roll-out, getting the right expert support in place for disabled people will only become more challenging. Managed migration will see Work Coaches taking on a much larger cohort of ESA claimants amongst their caseloads.190 They will include claimants who have been on benefits for a long time, and who may have multiple health conditions and complex and challenging barriers to work.191

89.Sir Ian Diamond, Chair of the SSAC, told us that the scale of the challenge Work Coaches will face as the UC roll-out progresses means it is vital that JCP ensures it has “people with the skills to conduct interviews with complex people”.192 The Department confirmed, however, that funding for the additional DEAs and Community Partners is only agreed up to April 2019. In answer to a Parliamentary Question in November 2018, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work said:

Funding for Jobcentre Plus Community Partners and additional Disability Employment Advisers has been agreed up until 31st March 2019 [ … ] We are carrying out continuous evaluation, including a review of the Community Partner and Disability Employment Adviser role functions. Recommendations from this review will be considered by Ministers and DWP Senior Leaders as they decide how to ensure that we continue to provide a cohesive support offer beyond 31 March 2019.193

This means that funding is not guaranteed throughout the UC roll-out, which is not currently due to be complete until 2023.

90.Work Coaches are generalists. They undergo basic training on disability, but they do not specialise in supporting particular groups of claimants. Many of the roles they have to perform, however, require specialist knowledge. The Department is confident, and has told us on multiple occasions, that its Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) and Community Partners are the best way of delivering this. Yet funding for all Community Partners, and 300 of JCP’s 500 DEAs, is due to expire in 2019. This will coincide with the Department’s plans to begin migrating legacy benefit claimants onto UC. The lack of a concrete plan or funding beyond that point is deeply worrying, and threatens to undermine the Government’s laudable goal of getting more disabled people into work. We recommend that the Department commit to funding Community Partners and the additional Disability Employment Advisers throughout the process of migrating legacy benefit claimants to Universal Credit.


151 Work and Pensions Committee, Benefit sanctions, November 2018

152 See Box 1, ESA and Universal Credit payments for disabled people and Work and Pensions Committee, Benefit sanctions, p.7

153 Work and Pensions Committee, Benefit sanctions, p.31

154 See Chapter 2

155 Work and Pensions Committee, Benefit sanctions, p.31

156 Q21 (Esther McVey), Q59 (James Wolfe)

158 See Chapter 2 on UC caseloads.

159 Q683 (Rob Holland)

160 Q683 (Gemma Hope)

161 Ibid.

162 Q684 (Daphne Hall)

163 Mind (ANC0064), CPAG (ANC0056), DRUK (ANC0054)

164 Q686 (Daphne Hall)

165 Work and Pensions Committee, Benefit sanctions

166 Powell, A. Work and Health Programme, House of Commons Library briefing no. 7845, January 2018

167 Q141 (Damian Hinds), DWP (FJP0064)

168 Q141 (Damian Hinds)

169 Q140 (Penny Mordaunt)

170 DWP and DH, Improving lives: the future of work, health and disability, p.17–18, Q16 (Sarah Newton)

172 The WHP contractors are Shaw Trust, Pluss, Reed in Partnership, Ingeus and Remploy. See Powell, A. Work and Health Programme

174 ERSA (DMP0009). See also Pluss (DMP0012)

175 Q15 (Sarah Newton)

176 ERSA (DMP0009)

177 Q689–690

178 Q692 (Shaw Trust)

179 Q689 (Gemma Hope)

180 Work and Pensions Committee, The future of Jobcentre Plus, Second Report of Session 2016–17, HC-57, November 2017, p.7

182 Q141 (Damian Hinds)

184 Work and Pensions Committee, Disability employment gap, pp.17–18

185 Q19 (Sarah Newton)

186 Q21 (James Wolfe)

189 NAO, Rolling out Universal Credit, p.31, Q683 (Rob Holland), RNIB (DMP0006), Action for ME (DMP0005)

191 See Chapter 2 on “managed migration”

192 Q947 (Sir Ian Diamond)




Published: 19 December 2018