Department for Work and Pensions: Responding to change in jobcentres - Public Accounts Committee Contents

1  Understanding the performance of jobcentres

1.  The Department is responsible for the management of jobcentres, which provide critical support to the unemployed, including those on Jobseeker's Allowance. In 2011-12, nearly 37,000 jobcentre staff across 740 jobcentres supported a caseload of some five million people at a cost of £1.4 billion. In 2011-12, jobcentres helped around 3.6 million jobseekers set up new claims for Jobseeker's Allowance and helped 3.5 million people to leave Jobseeker's Allowance.[2]

2.  At the start of the economic downturn the number of Jobseeker's Allowance claimants increased from 0.9 million in September 2008 to 1.5 million in March 2009.[3] Jobcentres responded to the increased demand for their services by prioritising activities to check eligibility for benefits and referring more people to other sources of support. The number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance has remained broadly constant at around 1.5 million since March 2009.[4]

3.  The Department monitors the performance of jobcentres by measuring the rate at which people stop claiming benefits rather than the number of people who find employment.[5] Between 250,000 and 300,000 people end their claims for Jobseeker's Allowance each month, but in around 40% of cases individuals will reclaim benefit within 6 months, with 60% reclaiming within 2 years. The Department told us that in 40% of cases it does not collect data on those that find work as opposed to simply the number who stop claiming benefits. It also told us that employment was not the only objective of the Jobseeker's Allowance regime and its purpose was also to cut the benefits bill by reducing the number of people who are dependent on benefits.[6] In addition, the Department told us that it chose to monitor the number of people leaving benefits rather than track job destinations because it is less expensive to administer.[7]

4.  The Department said it did not feel disadvantaged by not having information of the destinations of all leavers and that its administrative data is supplemented by periodic surveys on the destination of claimants.[8] However, Universal Credit will only be fully implemented by 2017 at the earliest. The Department told us that under Universal Credit it will have much quicker access and more readily available information about the destinations of some of its claimants. To calculate Universal Credit payments the Department will have real-time income information from HM Revenue and Customs on the number of people that move into work.[9]

5.  We were concerned that the Department's emphasis on simply counting the number of people leaving benefits does not necessarily help cut the benefit bill as many who stop claiming benefit reclaim within a short space of time. Around 60% of claimants that started claiming Jobseeker's Allowance in 2011-12 had also claimed in the past two years[10] and 40% of leavers re-registered for benefits within six months.[11] The Department does not consider the level of people reclaiming benefits to be material to the performance of jobcentres because it considered that the figure reflected the dynamism of the labour market rather than jobcentre performance.[12] Without this information, however, the Department is unable to identify where it may need to take a different approach to its services, for example training or other support, to stop people from having to reclaim.[13]

6.  The Department's own research identified a link between the time jobcentres' advisers spend with a claimant and how many people stop claiming, but the caseloads of advisers within jobcentres vary greatly across the country. The number of claimants an adviser deals with can vary by 30% even in areas with similar unemployment and job markets. For example, Merseyside had 155 cases per adviser in contrast to 196 in Durham and Tees Valley.[14] The Department considers these variances to be attributable to different labour markets and told us that districts were resourced according to the number of claims that they deal with, with local managers deciding the staffing mix in their jobcentres. In some offices, the assistant adviser undertakes the administrative work for interviews with claimants, so the personal adviser can do more interviews a day. In other offices—in Wessex, for example—the district manager concentrates their budget on personal advisers, so they have to do more administrative tasks and fewer advisory interviews a day.[15]

7.  The Department is increasing the flexibility given to jobcentre district managers to adapt the services they provide to claimants to meet local need. It operated a 'dragon's den forum' until it was closed down because it was found to be slowing implementation of flexibilities and discouraged sharing of ideas, and is now running pilots across the country to assess the impact of increased flexibility in jobcentres. The NAO report, however, found that staff shared good practice through informal networks within their existing jobcentre districts rather than more distant offices.[16] The Department told us that the introduction of local flexibilities is a big change for the organisation and it is working to ensure that information is shared both locally and nationally.[17]

2   C&AG's Report, para 1, 3 Back

3   C&AG's Report, para 4 Back

4   Qq 67, 70; C&AG's Report, figure 19 Back

5   Q 30 Back

6   Qq 30, 36 Back

7   Q 38 Back

8   Qq 36, 39  Back

9   Qq 41-42 Back

10   Q 58 Back

11   C&AG's Report, Sustainable employment: supporting people to stay in work and advance, Session 2007-08, HC 32 Back

12   Qq 54,56, 61 Back

13   Q 61 Back

14   Q 102 Back

15   Qq 100, 102-107 Back

16   Q 92 Back

17   Qq 92, 143 Back

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Prepared 19 June 2013