COMMITTEE VISIT TO YORKSHIRE WEDNESDAY
24 OCTOBER-THURSDAY 25 OCTOBER 2001
1. ONE PILOT,
The Leeds ONE Pilot was one of four Private/Voluntary
Sector (PVS) models in the country.
Deloitte Consulting were the private partners and, during the
visit, were represented principally by Mr TD, the Pilot's Operations
Manager. Ms KD of the Benefits Agency (BA), who is responsible
for the management of the ONE Pilot's contract, also took a key
role in the visit.
After a short tour of the ONE office, the Committee
had a meeting with three of the Pilot's New Client Advisers (NCAs),
who conduct the "work-focussed" interviews with clients.
The NCAs informed Members that they, and their colleagues, had
come from either the BA or Employment Services (ES) or been externally
recruited through Manpower recruitment services. Recently, most
new staff had been recruited through the latter route and there
was apparently a high turnover of staff, with BA and ES staff
returning to their home agencies when promoted.
During the conversations, it emerged that the
NCAs did not, as had been originally planned, manage their own
diaries or have a particular caseload, which would enable them
to build up a continuous relationship with clients. The volume
of work meant, instead, that they were on a rota for first and
second client interviews; they were simply a "front-end"
service. Most of their time was taken up in checking clients'
benefit applications and they felt that the ratio of three NCAs
to one benefits checker was too high.
Around 70 per cent of forms were not completed
correctly by clients. Ideally, the NCAs said they would like more
resources devoted to helping clients with form-filling, as, otherwise,
valuable time was taken up during the work-focussed interview.
The NCAs believed that, in theory, ONE was a
good idea. Clients appreciated having all the services in one
place and had given very positive feedback to advisers. Staff,
on the whole, also seemed to have a better sense of job satisfaction
in the ONE offices: "you feel like you're getting somewhere".
They did not believe the unscreened environment posed any difficulties.
Significantly, however, they were able to send clients seeking
Crisis Loans, who were potentially more likely to create difficulties,
to another BA office. They described the Pilot as "not really
a Benefits office", rather that they simply checked benefit
application forms and gave work advice.
Training emerged as an important issue. NCAs
only received two weeks basic training in all of the benefits
(Income Support (IS), Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), etc) while BA
staff would usually have at least 12 weeks for Income Support
and 16 weeks for Incapacity Benefit (IB) alone. Those staff who
had not come from the BA certainly felt that they had been "thrown
in at the deep end". The targets for the number of clients
entering work after an interview were seen as tough to meet but
not impossible. The targets varied according to the client's distance
from the labour market: 13,000 JSA claimants per year, 1 per cent
of through-flow for non-JSA claimants (about 230 clients).
The Chairman took up an issue raised in the
DIAL UK submission to the Committee, where it was suggested that
work-focussed interviews had been suspended in the Leeds Pilot
during the summer.
The staff spoken to thought that this might be a reference to
the fact that personal capability assessments were being delayed:
there was a backlog of cases to be assessed.
The Committee later met some members of the
Pilot's steering group. The steering group, in full, comprised
representatives from the BA, ES, local authority (not present)
and Deloitte, the private partner. Deloitte had a contract with
the steering group that set out its terms and conditions, and
the delivery targets for the Pilot. The contract price for Deloitte's
management of ONE comprised three parts: 75 per cent was guaranteed
income; 10 per cent was performance-related; and there was a further
15 per cent innovation fund, which the steering group could use
to reward innovative ideas.
Echoing the NCA's, those present felt that staffing
and recruitment had been one of the most difficult problems to
overcome. Initially, the staff had been mainly seconded from the
BA and ES, with the rest coming from Manpower. (BA and ES staff
were paid by their home agencies who then reclaimed the money
from Deloittea very unwieldy system.) Increasingly, though,
the Pilot was being forced to rely upon Manpower, as the BA and
ES were no longer willing to second any more staff to a Pilot
which was coming to the end of its life. As Manpower recruits
had no benefit background, this was inevitably affecting the Pilot's
performance. This had led to the waiting days target, of four
days between initiated start-up interviews and Personal Adviser
meeting, not being met. Other reasons for the longer delays between
start-up interviews and Personal Adviser meetings, were surges
in demand, caused, for example, by the summer influx of students,
and staff holidays.
A major problem at the start-up of the Pilot
had been an active trade union campaign against ONE, which had
been influential in the rejection of initial plans for some BA
staff to second fully to ONE whilst others worked alongside them
as benefit experts. (This concept had been taken up, to an extent,
in the Jobcentre Plus offices, where clients were dealt with by
one adviser specialising in benefits and one in employment issues.)
This shortage, they believed, had helped to worsen the artificial
divide between front-line delivery and the processing of claims.
Benefit issues had continually dominated the
interviews, with clients, naturally, more immediately concerned
about receiving an income than in discussing work. The accuracy
of delivery was not over 70 per cent across all benefits but had
been adversely affected by the number of new employees with no
background in the BA or ES and the limited training available.
They not only lacked the specific benefits knowledge but an awareness
of welfare issues such as those surrounding disability, lone parenting
Mr TD (Deloitte) had initially believed that
the private sector's role in ONE was to innovate about welfare
provision. Deloitte had tried to innovate but had felt unable
to change the way core services were delivered. Ms KD felt that
the Pilot could have worked equally well without the private sector,
which had not really brought any new money. She understood Deloitte's
frustration, though, at being unable to alter the very strict
processes that governed welfare provision (data protection etc).
In general, those attending expressed their
frustration that the Pilot had not been allowed to run its full
course before the launch of Jobcentre Plus. They believed that
there were still many valuable lessons to be learned form ONE,
which had not necessarily been taken up in the new Jobcentre Plus
offices. Mr TD stressed, in particular, the need to tackle fully
the complex IT problems (ONE was still reliant upon three different
IT systems) and a massive change in the IT infrastructure was
required. In addition, those at the meeting highlighted the need
for greater flexibility in the processes used, increased attention
to the job design of advisers, more staff and better building
design as crucial elements in any future scheme.
2. LEEDS CITY
The Committee later held a short meeting with
officials from Leeds City Council, including Mr SC, Head of Leeds
Benefit Services, and Mr PB, Senior Assistant Chief Financial
Officer. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss how the
Council appraised the performance of the ONE Pilot, especially
in relation to its delivery of Housing Benefit (HB).
Overall, the Council had been disappointed with
the ONE Pilot. It was felt that the complexities of HB and the
different focus of ONE (getting clients into work) had delayed
the administration of HB claims by at least one or two weeks.
Accuracy in the completion of forms had initially been very poor,
at about 20 per cent, but had now risen to a more acceptable 80
per cent, after extensive training provided by the Council.
On a wider issue, the Council felt that the
verification process for all benefits could be usefully standardised.
A different set of rules applied to the verification of HB than
to BA-administered benefits, which had contributed to the number
of inaccuracies in HB applications originating in ONE. There needed
to be a greater harmonisation of benefits and alignment of the
verification requirements. This would, for example, allow the
merging of home visits, which at present required two people in
order to obtain different information. In general, the Verification
Framework for HB had doubled waiting times and led to a reduction
in the quality of service for HB. Any integrated service would
require considerable IT investment; previous attempts had foundered
through problems associated with the varied systems operated by
LAs. The constant flow of Departmental circulars modifying the
HB rules had only exacerbated the problem.
In conclusion, the Council expressed their relief
that plans for the new Jobcentre Plus did not include HB. They
had managed to deliver HB, "in spite of ONE, not because
3. VISIT TO
On the following day, the Committee visited
the new Jobcentre Plus in Huddersfield. It was one of around 50
"Pathfinder" offices, which had opened on 22 October
(two days before the visit). Like the ONE pilots, they combined
BA and ES operations in a "one-stop" shop, with all
clients being given a work-focussed interview.
Tour of office
Committee Members were given the opportunity
to tour the Jobcentre Plus "front of house". The interior
was bright, modern and colourful. Close to the entrance was a
bank of "Jobpoint" machinesa touch screen method
of searching for jobswhich were being well-used. (The touch
screens had replaced the previous jobs noticeboards.)
Beyond the Jobpoint machines was a large well-lit reception desk,
a waiting area and individual desks for interviewing customers.
The whole area was open-plan, although the interviewing desks
were somewhat screened behind colourful wall-hangings with positive
messages about work. Staff had a uniform which consisted of a
purple neck scarf or tie.
Customers coming into the building encountered
a "floorwalker" who would identify their needs and send
them to the right place. She had a clipboard with the day's appointments,
a mobile telephone and a concealed "panic button" to
enable her to summon a security guard. Two security guards, in
uniform, were also discreetly patrolling the office.
A person coming into the office to make a claim
for benefit would be given a telephone number to ring a Call Centre.
Calls were made by the client from the office, where phones were
provided, or in their own home. The Call Centre completed an electronic
integrated claim form (ie integrated for JSA and IS, not for other
benefits such as IB), which was sent to a Jobcentre Plus "financial
adviser" in advance. An appointment is arranged by the Call
Centre at the Jobcentre Plus office. The person would be rung
in advance of the appointment by the financial adviser to be reminded
of any documents they should bring with them to the interview.
In the case of IB, there is currently no electronic
form, nor an integrated claim form (ie including IS). The Call
Centre will go through the form on the telephone but the financial
adviser does not see it in advance.
The interview involved two interviewers: first
the financial adviser would go through the claim form, explain
the benefit and answer any questions (time allowed: 25 minutes).
A personal adviser then took over to do a "work-focussed"
interview (40 minutes). During the latter interview the claim
form was checked and, at the end, the claimant had a further five
minutes with the financial adviser to confirm the benefit claim
and be given an estimate of when they would receive their first
The Jobcentre Plus office (formerly the Job
Centre) dealt with new claims only. Changes of circumstances affecting
benefit and continuing benefit queries were still dealt with at
a different site, the old BA Office. This had not been refurbished.
The Call Centre did not deal with telephone queries concerning
ongoing benefit queries; these also had to go to the former BA
office. IB worksetting up personal capability assessmentswas
also dealt with there. Similarly, anyone with a Social Fund claim
was referred to the old BA office (still a screened environment),
even those wanting an "alignment payment" (around 40
per cent of all crisis loan payments and not usually controversial,
which staff thought unnecessary and inconvenient for customers).
The principal improvement staff said they would like to see, was
having all business on one site so that documents did not have
to go back and forth.
The improved environment at the former Job Centre
had led to a reduction in "incidents". In 1999-2000
recorded incidents had reduced by 57 per cent. Since then, there
had been a further reduction of 74 per cent.
Meeting with union representatives
The Committee later met the Branch Chair of
PCS for the BA and two of his colleagues. The PCS in the area
had recently voted to strike over the issue of working in an unscreened
environment and the representatives had come from a picket line
at another office. They expressed a number of concerns about staff
safety in the new office:
Risk assessment procedures.
These were inconsistent between offices. For example, at ES sites
in Huddersfield and Dewsbury, the risk assessments did not lead
to recommendations for protective screens, CCTV or security guars.
At Crossfield House in Halifax (part of Calderdale ONE pilot)
there were four security guards, CCTV and four screened interviewing
rooms. This compared to Houghton Street office (also in Halifax)
where there were only two security guards, no permanent CCTV and
no screens. The union wanted the risk assessment process to be
carried out independently, ie not by management;
Furniture. The union had objected
to light flimsy chairs which were easily thrown. Their objections
had been overruled.
Right to interview in a screened
environment. Benefit delivery, they argued, should be screened,
with claimants only being interviewed face to face without a screen
in certain safe situations, for example a bereaved widow or a
pensioner. There should be security guards (not floor walkers,
who were being put at risk) and adequate CCTV;
Denial of benefit to people who
had broken a Community Service Order. These were known criminals,
who would have to be seen by members of staffpotentially
in an unscreened environment;
Under-reporting of "incidents".
For example, in Huddersfield there were two to three incidents
per week, which went unreported.
43 There are 12 ONE Pilots across the country: four
are the so-called "basic model"; four involve the use
of call centres; and four are private/voluntary sector (PVS) led. Back
DIAL UK memorandum to the ONE Pilot inquiry (OP 11), paragraphs
The verification process is used to establish that a person's
claim to benefit is based upon accurate and verifiable information;
the person has to "prove" their claim. Most Local Authorities
work to a "verification framework" established by the
DSS for HB. This is more rigid than the procedures used for other
benefits, where BA staff are allowed more flexibility to tailor
the verification required to the level of risk. Back
One customer told us that he found Jobpoint frustrating, because
it was quicker and easier to scan cards on a noticeboard to identify
suitable jobs and newly-posted vacancies. Back
"Alignment payments" cover living expenses up to the
first payment of benefit or wages. They are also paid where a
person changes benefit and there is a gap between the old payday
and the new. Back