Drawing special attention to: Jobseekers Allowance (Mandatory Work Activity Scheme) Regulations 2011 and Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules - Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee Contents


Further information from the Department for Work and Pensions

Q1. The scheme is for "a small number of JSA participants" - could you indicate how many the programme is aiming to accommodate both as a number and as a percentage of the total number of claimants. Will these be evenly distributed around the country and therefore reasonably local to the claimant?

A1. The Specification that was issued to potential providers as part of the Invitation to Tender set out that the Department expected a minimum of 10,000 Mandatory Work Activity placements per annum. This represents less than one percent of the 1.45 million people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance at March 2011.

The Department expects this number to increase, as the competition to deliver Mandatory Work Activity asked bidders to maximise the number of places that they offer. However, the final number is subject to the completion of the Mandatory Work Activity tendering process, which will be completed by early April.

The funding available for placements has been distributed around the country on the basis of an estimate of the number of customers that are likely to be referred in each area, in order to make the provision available where it is needed most. Additionally, customers will not be required to travel excessive distances in order to attend Mandatory Work Activity, and a customer's travel costs will be met.

Q2. What type of work/activity will they be offered? - the tender went out on 14 Feb and the scheme commences on 25 April - have any decisions been made. Can you yet cite some actual schemes?

A2. The contracting process for Mandatory Work Activity has not yet been completed, contracts will be awarded in April 2011.

We have not asked bidders to specify the placements that they propose to find for customers; instead we will rely on their ability to source appropriate placements throughout the life of the contracts. This is in keeping with changes across the Department, which focus on allowing as much flexibility as possible to consider what will best support customers.

However, all the placements that the providers find must offer people the opportunity to gain fundamental work disciplines, as well as being of benefit to local communities. The Department has stipulated that each provider will be expected to have placements available across a range of sectors.

Q3. Please confirm that the scheme starts nationally on 25 April ie there are no pilot schemes to be later followed by a phased roll-out (which some of your schemes have had)

A3. The scheme will be available nationally from May 2011. We will not be operating a pilot scheme.

Q4. EM para 9.1 says guidance will be issued detailing how JCP advisers will identify customers as being suitable for referral to mandatory work activity. Please can we see the extract from the guidance that sets this out.

A4. The Department is currently in the process of finalising the guidance for Jobcentre Plus advisers, and so is unable to share an example of the Guidance with the Committee. However, we are able to share the high level principles that will be used to identify suitable customers.

Jobcentre Plus advisers will consider evidence demonstrated by the customer against a set of standards to make constant judgements about whether the customer would benefit from the Mandatory Work Activity support. These standards will be underpinned by indicating behaviours associated with the disciplines that are key requirements of finding, securing and retaining employment. Customers who consistently fail to demonstrate a number of these indicators over a period of time will be considered for a referral to Mandatory Work Activity.

Some of the indicators Jobcentre Plus advisers may include:

  • tends to take no personal responsibility for job search activity, waits to be organised/contacted;
  • reluctant to make speculative approaches, follow up advice or job leads;
  • regularly fails to attend appointments and interviews on time;
  • has little or no recent work experience;
  • limited awareness of the types of support available to help them with their jobsearch; and
  • has no realistic appreciation of employer attitudes or requirements.

After the identification of a suitable customer, and prior to any referral, the Jobcentre Plus adviser will discuss the referral with a manager outlining the benefits of the referral to the customer.

Q5. If someone fails in their first referral they can be referred a second time after the sanction has expired. Could someone on long-term unemployment be referred a third or fourth time?

A5. If a customer's Jobcentre Plus Personal Adviser felt that Mandatory Work Activity continued to be suitable for a customer, they could be referred again at a later date. We would not expect customers to regularly be referred three of four times, but the final decision as to who to refer would rest with the Jobcentre Plus adviser.

Additionally, if a customer has a complaint about Jobcentre Plus they will be able to escalate this through the existing Jobcentre Plus complaints procedure.

Q6. Can you please confirm that a sanction would be complete cancellation of benefit for 13 weeks - under what circumstances and at what level would hardship payments be made? If the claimant was also eligible for say Housing Benefit would that continue unaffected if their JSA was sanctioned?

A6. I can confirm that for customers (other than those with joint claim Jobseeker's Allowance) the full amount of their Jobseeker's Allowance payment will not be paid for the full period of 13 weeks.

As is the situation for all Jobseekers Allowance customers, those participating in Mandatory Work Activity who are sanctioned can apply for, and receive hardship payments.

Hardship payments are made when a decision maker acting on behalf of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, having considered all the circumstances of the claimant or family determines that hardship will occur if Jobseeker's Allowance is not paid.

The process takes account of other income (including benefits), savings and debts together with other help from friends and relatives.

A hardship payment is the normal amount of Jobseeker's Allowance reduced by a sum equivalent to 40% of the claimant's personal allowance or 20% in a case where the claimant or any other member of the family is either pregnant or is seriously ill.

Although a customer has been sanctioned, they retain their underlying entitlement to income based Jobseekers Allowance and therefore their entitlement to Housing Benefits is not affected by the sanction.

Measures in the Welfare Reform Bill are intended to support some changes to the current system of hardship payments. For example, to make hardship payments to non-vulnerable claimants only available on a recoverable basis. Our aim is to ensure that these payments do not undermine the deterrent effect of sanctions. These proposals will be debated during the passage of the Bill.

Q7. What evidence do you have to support the assertion that "After their four week placement, they will be better placed to re-assess their approach and engage more effectively with the requirements of seeking work and other support offered by Jobcentre Plus."

A7. Mandatory Work Activity is a new scheme and therefore we have limited evidence.

Looking forward, evaluation is important for a new proposal such as the Mandatory Work Activity Scheme. We are preparing a detailed evaluation strategy which will include qualitative research with customers to gather their feedback on the policy. The qualitative research will also collect feedback from providers, Jobcentre Plus Advisers and others involved in delivering the Mandatory Work Activity Scheme. We also intend to conduct an impact assessment on the policy by analysing data on the employment and benefit receipt outcomes of participants in the scheme compared to a suitable comparison group.

This policy is targeted at those customers who have demonstrated that they require support to gain work related disciplines and re-engage with their search for work, as well as failing to voluntarily engage in the support that is offered by Jobcentre Plus. We believe that the short placement will provide the encouragement needed by some customers to engage fully with the Jobcentre Plus managers and advisers. Advisers will then judge which interventions will help individuals and have more discretion to support to customers according to their individual needs.

Q8. There is a complaints procedure in place within the scheme para 53 ff but how will the JCP Adviser be made aware of the claimant's concerns?

A8. Information on complaints will not be automatically passed to Jobcentre Plus Personal Advisers, however participants will continue to attend Fortnightly Jobsearch Reviews, where they are able to raise any concerns with their Personal Adviser directly.

Additionally, Jobcentre Plus will provide advice and support to customers who need any help to understand the complaints procedure, or require support to lodge a complaint with the provider.

31 March 2011

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