Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001
20. No glaring gaps, no stream of reports back
that they do not understand child care or they do not understand
this or that.
(Mr Wheatley) No. The highest compliment I heard from
a CAB adviser was that they thought a New Deal for Lone Parents
adviser rather than anyone in ONE had all the skills of a CAB
(Mr Kramer) It has worked well in circumstances where
ONE advisers know of schemes like supported employment, and linking
up with New Deal and maximising opportunities, and having that
wider knowledge of social services and housing. Where it has worked
very well is where there have been five or six meetings, not the
one meeting, where they have really put in the time.
21. Do they have the time?
(Mr Kramer) In some cases they have made the time
to do so where they see disability clients as important. There
has been a couple of problems in Leeds where people have come
off adult-based courses which are training and they have been
perceived as being able to work. There was one case where somebody
came off a training course and she was asked whether she would
be able to work. She said she was already working, despite the
fact that she had just finished an education-based training course,
and her benefits were stopped. There is sometimes a duality of
someone being seen a capable of work by the Benefits Agency but
not being capable by the Employment Service. There are some problems
22. I should like to ask some questions about
the process of claiming benefits. As a Committee we visited the
Leeds ONE office and they were telling us there was a big problem
with poorly completed claim forms. Do you find that the ONE advisers
are able to help with this? What is the solution? Would any of
your organisations take on this role, perhaps for a fee?
(Ms Birkinshaw) Certainly DIAL in Leeds has had a
lot of problems in this respect. A number of the clients have
had problems with the ONE system because they have not had the
time to give them the advice on how to fill out forms. Clients
have been coming to DIAL for that advice but unfortunately a lot
of the time, because of the short time between when they get the
claim forms and when they are supposed to see the personal adviser
to follow it up, DIAL has not had the time to help that claimant
go through the process of filling out the form. So it has been
a problem and the majority of the evidence from Leeds has been
that the advisers there have not taken the time to help disabled
people to fill out their forms. It is a major problem. In the
Suffolk area it has been much more constructive. In the cases
where ONE advisers have not had the time to do that, they have
passed them on to DIALbut they have had that agreement
that that will happen, therefore they have had the time, whereas
in the Leeds case that agreement is not in place. It is the client
who is approaching DIAL without reference to ONE to fill out the
forms, so it takes that much longer. That is the difference between
one area which is working together and one that is not. It is
a major problem; most of our feedback is that ONE advisers do
not have the time or are not taking the time to go through the
claim forms with clients.
23. I know it is hard for you to answer on behalf
of the Department, but is your impression that the problem is
the number of staff or is your impression that it is the lack
of training of staff or is it a combination of both?
(Ms Birkinshaw) It is a combination of both. In some
areas it seems to be more lack of knowledge, but certainly it
is a combination of both in most.
(Mr Kramer) I agree entirely. It is a mixture of knowledge
and training. Where it has worked well, in Warwickshire, there
have been early referrals. What Mencap are planning to do is look
for more brokerage support. So we are linking up with a mental
health charity and a physical disability charity to try to offer
a service to ONE, because there are people with physical disabilities
and learning disabilities. It is offering that specialised support.
There have been problems in Leeds in terms of some of the knowledge
of some of the disability-related benefits. There has been a lot
of reactive work where Pathway have become involved. Mencap have
become involved because there is a problem with some of the benefits.
The voluntary sector would love to do everything for a fee. The
serious answer is that a lot is expected of the voluntary sector
in terms of goodwill and there is a lot of expertise out there.
It should be used in a more formal way. Yes, would be the answer.
24. Do you think there is a gap in the market
for a bit more work in the voluntary sector on advocacy?
(Mr Kramer) Yes, very much so.
(Mr Wheatley) I am sure we would want to look at any
funding proposal as well. There is a real debate to be had about
how far the official provider of benefit services ought to be
delivering advice on benefit services and how far down the line
an agent working for the Department should advise people on claiming
benefits. It is much more basic than that in a lot of ONE areas
at the moment. We see people in ONE areas who are routinely sent
to Citizens Advice Bureaux to have forms filled in for almost
all benefits, not just those claim forms which are detailed and
time consuming such as Disability Living Allowance and Attendance
Allowance or even Incapacity Benefit. The issues are quite complicated.
You might be asking someone working for the Department to advise
someone that they are not entitled to a disability premium on
Income Support at the moment when they are on Incapacity Benefit,
but in a year they might be so they ought to make another claim.
Those are the sorts of issues that the best CAB advisers would
know about and would tell people about and would keep in touch
with their clients. You are almost asking the personal adviser
or the financial assessor to be an advocate for the client in
some cases and there is a real debate there about how far people
can be given accurate advice. We would naturally want them to
be given as much accurate advice about their entitlement as possible.
25. Why should the Benefits Agency not be the
advocate? Why should it be the separate CAB? Why can they not
do the role that you are doing at the moment? Should that not
be the way forward?
(Mr Wheatley) Perhaps I meant it is a debate that
the Department itself needs to have with itself. I sense that
there is a reluctance to see the benefits system as something
which should be advertised and the detail of it made known to
people. In the last few years what has happened is a trend towards
requiring people to know what they need to claim and to provide
all the information in support of that claim, and not a trend
towards providing people with more information. It would be an
opportunity now to redress the balance a bit and move back in
the other direction.
(Mr Lane) There is an issue of independence. To an
extent the benefits system is still an adversarial one. There
is an issue about the appropriateness of the source of the advice.
As to the involvement of organisations like CAB in the form filling,
the usefulness of that would depend on the model which is being
adopted. For example in the Call Centre area there was a virtual
form so it was not possible. The form is filled out on screen
and the individual claimants do not have access to it until they
come to sign it when it is already completed. There is no role
there because it is all being done by the Department. It is also
important to establish a clear relationship. If there is going
to be involvement of the voluntary sector on that formal basis,
we need to establish those relationships very clearly. We had
an example of a bureau assisting a client with filling out a form
prior to a personal adviser interview and that form being ripped
up by the adviser and the client being told that the CAB advice
was a load of rubbish. There are appropriateness issues there
about that sort of behaviour.
26. We have talked about numbers of staff, we
have talked about training of staff, the other issue is the philosophy
of staff and there may still be walls between the Department and
advisers which we need to try to break down.
(Mr Lane) Yes.
(Mr Kramer) There is the role for the voluntary sector
in providing advice on benefits, but if we are thinking about
Mencap and people with a learning disability, there is a substantial
role in terms of giving advice on interviewing someone with a
learning disability and discussing work prospects. For someone
with a learning disability, a lot of personal skills need to be
developed in terms of self-esteem and confidence, making new relationships,
being in a workplace. ONE advisers need a lot of support on that
because it is difficult; statistically only ten per cent of people
with a learning disability work, so for many it is a big step
to move into the labour market.
(Ms Birkinshaw) That also extends to mental health
issues as well.
27. Can we look at the issue of the e-revolution?
One of the issues is whether any of the witnesses today have knowledge
of the electronic claim forms being used in some of the Call Centre
pilots. What effect will these claim forms have on the form filling
(Mr Lane) We are in a Call Centre pilot area. There
are issues on the access to advice for claimants because they
are not able to get advice at the time the form is completed.
Often the form is then forwarded to them for approval, and, with
the best will in the world, not everybody reads what they are
signing. There are issues about non-disclosure or disclosure of
incorrect information and being under- or over-paid as a result
of information on that form. To take responsibility for something
by signing after somebody else has completed it is not the same
as going through the completion process yourself or if necessary
with the aid of advice. There were problems with the electronic
forms in that they were not universal. You had to engage in a
process, attend or have a telephone call with a personal adviser
and complete the form. If you wanted to claim Incapacity Benefit,
you would have to fill out a standard Incapacity Benefit form
as well because the electronic one was not sufficient. It has
actually added another stage in the process of claiming. Unless
you completed that Incapacity Benefit form, your claim was not
properly established and it was not established at the point of
your initial contact with ONE unless you subsequently did it within
an appropriate time limit. It was clumsy and had a lot of potential
and because of those caveats it really did not achieve what it
28. There is clearly some work to be done on
(Mr Lane) Yes.
29. Do the other witnesses want to add anything?
(Ms Birkinshaw) We have not had any feedback about
(Mr Wheatley) In general there is a difficulty with
the telephone model, the Call Centre model, in that there is no
real accountability about who said what to whom. It seems it is
very difficult for the Call Centre model to keep clear records
of what the applicant at the other end said and what was said
back to them. I have seen letters exchanged between advice agencies
and Call Centre managers where there is a dispute about who said
what and it is only resolved by saying it is unlikely that would
have been said or that would not have been said, but there is
no record. When you are dealing with a system which relies on
the date of claim and might rely on the actual evidence if it
came to an appeal, there are difficulties there with the Call
30. We were told that we had to expect lots
of innovation, particularly from Deloitte and all these clever
people in the private sector. Has one of them brought forward
clever ways of doing things better? Does anybody have any experience
of anything being brought to the table by the clever people from
(Ms Birkinshaw) In none of the feedback we have from
any of the private/voluntary sector areas has there been any mention
of substantial new ways of going about things.
(Mr Kramer) No.
31. The Department tell us that there is no
conclusive evidence that ONE has had any impact on the time taken
for staff to process benefit claims. Yet some of you in your submissions
complain of delays for people in obtaining a work-focused interview
and hence delays in payment. Could you elaborate on that?
(Mr Wheatley) It is difficult to know what evidence
the Department is using. A lot of our disappointment with ONE
is because of the problems we see in relation to delays recording
the date of claims, and to delays in processing claims; problems
we see fairly frequently in ordinary parts of the benefit system,
in the Benefits Agency and Employment Service elsewhere. It is
not something which is a surprise, but it is a disappointment
in the context of ONE which was supposed to be something better
and different. We do not have any systematic evidence.
(Mr Lane) We have had reports from advisers relating
to Housing Benefit particularly and the impact of ONE on the delays
there. Delay is endemic in Housing Benefit and the delays might
not be any worse, it is just that they are not taking responsibility
for them any more. There was a certain amount of that, of toing
and froing between Housing Benefit saying it was the fault
of ONE and not passing on the claims, and ONE saying it was a
Housing Benefit delay. There was a bit of fudging of the process
there. There were problems in the initial processing of claims
which is a particular concern when somebody has had a recent serious
change of circumstances and is without money, because you are
then left having to have access to the Social Fund etcetera just
because of delay in the processing of your claim. That is not
a good use of resources.
(Mr Kramer) I would agree with what John has said.
There have been problems in terms of people getting the right
benefit at the right time, but there were problems about people
getting the right benefit at the right time when the Benefits
Agency was responsible. Maybe some of the lessons have not been
learned and maybe there is a feeling that there are more Employment
Service staff involved in the delivery of ONE than former Benefits
Agency staff, so problems may arise. I am coining a spin word
here: the idea of benefits without bureaucracy is actually how
ONE should be marketed and it has not quite worked out in practice.
It is also early days as well, so it is difficult to know on what
basis you are comparing before and after.
(Ms Birkinshaw) I would certainly agree with what
both witnesses have said about the delays: it is no better, no
worse than it was before. One area of concern we have found is
delays in the home visits, in taking initial claims and confusion
within the system at least that is the feedback DIALs
have been getting as to whether it is the duty of ONE
or the DWP or whoever to organise home visits. That certainly
has led to longer waiting periods for those people who cannot
get into ONE premises to make claims. It seems that those people
are also having longer delays after the eventual home visits.
32. A double whammy really.
(Ms Birkinshaw) Yes. It has not been improved by the
33. The research we have seen suggests, indeed
it was our experience when visiting the ONE office in Leeds, that
sorting out the benefits took up almost all of the interview time
with the personal adviser during the work-focus interview. What
do you think are the reasons for that?
(Mr Lane) The complexity of the benefit system. There
is no real integration of the rules of entitlement of all of the
benefits. You are dealing with very diverse systems for Housing
Benefit as compared, say, to Income Support. If a client attends
an interview just with a request for advice on benefit entitlement
or goes to a bureau, it would not be unusual for them to be there
for an hour/hour and a half to get their entitlement sorted out.
The work-focus interview does not last any longer than that. It
is probably a little unrealistic to expect to achieve all of that.
(Ms Birkinshaw) Most of our evidence has been about
benefits and the feeling is that because of the complexity of
benefits but also perhaps, it has been suggested, because there
is a lack of knowledge or limited knowledge amongst advisers about
benefits, that is why it is taking longer to get through the benefits
part of that and encroaches on any time to look at the employment
34. To what extent do you feel the personal
adviser had acted as a continuing point of contact for benefit
claimants, this idea that there would be a one-to-one relationship
which would go on between the adviser and the claimant? Has that
been your experience of ONE offices?
(Ms Birkinshaw) No. A lot of the people who have come
to DIALs, because they have had initial problems, such as a case
where a person who was entitled to Income Support was not told
this at a ONE interview, so lost quite a lot of money, went to
DIAL, found out they were entitled to more and the fact that they
had those initial problems has tainted that relationship with
the adviser and they are loath to go back for more because they
feel they have been let down in the initial stages with bad advice
or incomplete advice. It is not building that confidence amongst
disabled people to revisit.
35. I am just wondering whether the personal
adviser is the right model for the ONE pilots. From what both
yourself and Richard have said, it seems it is most successful
when the adviser has known which is the correct adviser with all
the detailed knowledge to pass the client on to. Maybe we are
still looking at the wrong model. I am seeking your advice. Perhaps
what is actually needed is someone who is very well informed as
to the whole range of different advisers and they should just
be the initial point of contact and then pass on to the appropriate
adviser who would then take them through the rest of the process.
(Mr Kramer) I partly agree with you. The ideal personal
adviserif we go back to Warwickshireis that. In
Warwickshire the personal adviser remains as the case manager
and that is important.
36. We need to change the terminology. We need
a case manager rather than personal adviser. Is there not a confusion
of the terms here?
(Mr Kramer) It is one person who can co-ordinate that
support and is responsible and accountable for making things go
right. If the personal adviser just referred a case to a specialist
adviser then accountability might go. In Warwickshire it works
very well and in Leeds there are different people, dealing with
different things and there is not that co-ordination.
(Mr Wheatley) There is still merit in the idea of
having one point of contact, almost a case worker, to deal with
you when you approach the agency. The difficulty is organising
that in practice with the volume of business. Something which
is a compromise between the two, so you have one point of contact
and you know you will not have to explain everything three times
to three different people is very helpful and builds up a relationship
of trust. That could also work if you have "Go and see my
colleague to sort out your Disability Living Allowance" or
whatever it might be.
37. In Jobcentre Plus offices there are going
to be benefit financial assessors who will deal with people before
they have their work-focused interview. Do you feel this is going
to lead to an improvement in the quality of advice received by
(Mr Wheatley) Perhaps we should reserve judgement
on it until we have some evidence. Potentially, yes, if the financial
assessor has the skills and knowledge to detail what benefits
people might be entitled to accurately, to provide them with help
with form filling, etcetera, all the things we have been talking
about, then it could work.
(Mr Lane) If they could deal with urgent applications
for benefit, to ease any urgent cash flow problems at a very early
stage in the claim process, that would be helpful.
38. Do you think that might be the answer to
some of the problems we have been talking about in some of the
(Mr Lane) It would solve the problems caused by the
delay in getting an initial interview with the personal adviser
which then delays your claim for benefit, because you actually
bypass that requirement. As long as you are in the process, there
is no reason why they cannot process your need for payment sooner.
39. Are there specific skills and training that
you would want to see the benefit financial assessors having to
do this job?
(Mr Wheatley) Oh, yes. We should like them to undergo
a period of CAB training. We should certainly like to discuss
with the Department how CAB training methods and materials might
be used to train these financial assessors. That might be laying
us open to all sorts of problems there.