Christmas leave and staffing levels insufficient in Universal Credit

06 Nov 2018

On 23 October, car park meetings of angry union members took place at Walsall and Wolverhampton. On 1 November the GEC agreed a major campaign in UC based around staffing and pressure on UC staff. PCS met with DWO on 5 November, where the experience of members was clearly laid out.

GEC agrees key demands for staffing campaign

Well-attended car park meetings at Wolverhampton SC and Walsall SC voted to go into dispute with DWP due to problems with staffing, telephony and consultation. PCS wrote to DWP to outline the ways in which these problems could be resolved.

  • 5000 additional staff recruited to Service Centres
  • Manageable workloads that general no more than 30 calls per week.
  • No further moves to National Telephony without consultation.
  • A “quality first” approach to average call handling time and after call work.
  • No further rollout or moves towards managed migration of all legacy benefit claims until consultation with the unions has taken place.
  • Improvements to consultation across Universal Credit.

Management response

UC managers have acknowledged that telephony is not where they want it to be, in terms of the staff who are taking 120 calls per week. No agreement was reached on what to do about this however. In the view of managers, the problem is one of balance – which means that they feel some staff are not taking “enough” calls, and others are taking too many. GEC reps disagreed vehemently with this, and outlined the need for further recruitment, which would ease pressure across the board.

UC managers also outlined their view that an “education need” exists for Team Leaders, to ensure they are properly allocating calls, and to ensure that staff are in their seat to take calls when appropriate. GEC reps rejected any suggestion that the problem would be fixed by applying further pressure to our team leaders, to staff who have other roles than taking telephone calls and to those who are part-time and term-time, and whose average number of calls taken will naturally be lower. Despite this, UC are unwilling to pledge the kind of recruitment which the GEC believes would improve the working conditions of members and service levels for claimants. Further recruitment is on the cards in the Service Centres and DWP have promised that PCS will receive a detailed breakdown of this.

Plans have been agreed to improve consultation in Universal Credit. Despite this, no agreement on the substantive issues of telephony or staffing was reached.

Christmas Leave

GEC reps raised two concerns about Christmas leave. First, that the way this had been handled in the Service Centres was not appropriate, with managers pressuring staff to give up leave before the question had even been discussed with the Trade Unions. Some managers even told staff that PCS had agreed the leave allowances. Second, that the actual amount of leave being offered was very low and that members were very unhappy with it.

All leave figures being quoted by DWP include the part-time and part-year staff who would not be in work anyway. “Leave” (in reality the total percentage of staff not at work) has been set at 30% on 17-20 Dec and 2-4 Jan, at 40% on 21, 27 and 28 Dec, and at 50% on 24 and 31 Dec. In some parts of UC, this means days where only 10% of staff will get access to annual leave. UC managers acknowledge this but believe they have accommodated as much as possible.

GEC reps firmly reflected the reports from multiple Service Centres that amount of leave must be increased, and highlighted the failure of UC managers to take account of our advice, given on 16 October, about the differences between approaches to the first week of January in England and Wales on the one hand, and Scotland on the other. Many Scottish workers prefer to take leave in the last week of Christmas, and many Scottish claimants don’t even know DWP is open, resulting in lower demand that should allow for increases to leave allowances.

UC managers have pledged to provide a range of additional statistics, and a further meeting is due this week with managers handling the planning for Christmas across DWP Operations. PCS urged DWP to apologise to members for how Christmas leave has been handled and to offer extra leave, especially for those who have now only received one day across the key weeks of Christmas – w/c 24th Dec and w/c 31st Dec, but this was not agreed.

Get active with your union to improve your working conditions

Across UC, members have said they are fed up with the workloads they face every day. If we are to successfully campaign to change these, we need every member to be involved. The GEC has called a UC reps meeting to consider next steps – but you can get involved.

  • Make sure the union has up to date contact details, including emails, for you.
  • Consider volunteering to be a union rep, or an advocate on your team
  • Attend any union meetings called at your site to discuss what’s going on in UC.
  • Take responsibility to make sure your team gets any leaflets or bulletins, and that they attend union meetings so their voice can be heard by DWP.

Get in touch with your local PCS rep today to have a chat about any of these activities.

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