PCS continues to be in discussions with DWP about extending opening hours.
We have consistently argued that we do not believe that there is a significant demand among claimants for extending opening hours. We have also expressed the view that deploying staff at the end of the day or on Saturdays will put at risk customer service at the start of the day and on weekdays in relation to Saturday.
DWP has listened to PCS’ concerns and continues to adopt a cautious approach to extending operating hours. They have consequently decided not to have a major extension of opening hours for Rotation 5. As a result there will be no ‘big bang’ extension of hours across DWP when Rotation 5 starts in March 2019. Instead DWP is planning to run some relatively small scale, ‘test and learns’ to try various options and test customer demand. These are being announced on 1 November to staff.
Test and Learn 1 - DSDRD
This is not a new initiative. Test and Learn 1 refers to the, already implemented, extension of operating hours to 8pm in parts of DSDRD to test whether DWP can smooth customer demand across the extended operating hours. This extension of opening hours started on 15 October 2018 in DLA, Child DLA, Access to Work and IIDB and these areas are now operating to 8pm. Further meetings are being arranged to monitor the impact on the business and on staff as well as the levels of customer demand and any health and safety issues.
Feedback to group office from these areas would be very welcome, particularly if any major concerns come to light.
Test and Learn 2 – Team Planning Tool
This is not an extension of opening hours as such but rather an initiative to review the Team Planning Tool and to establish the most effective means of forecasting and deploying supply (staff) and demand (customer demand). Management stress that by demand they do not just mean telephony demand but all forms of customer-focused work including processing. The aim is to produce a DWP-wide solution to replace the current unwieldy Team Planning Tool. A steering group has been set up with a GEC member on it.
Test and Learn 3a – Trialling Saturday opening in jobcentres
Management claim that there is anecdotal information from UC claimants, especially in work claimants asking if they may be able to attend a job centre on a Saturday, for example for their UC ‘proof of identity’ interview. The trial is to provide a service on a Saturday in 8 job centres. Six months’ notice will be given to staff and the safeguards in the Employee Deal, such as no more than one Saturday in four will apply. The service will only be for customers who request an interview on a Saturday.
All the interviews will be pre-booked appointments only and the job centre will not be open as it is during the week. As well as testing if there really is customer demand for Saturday opening, the trial will also test whether providing a Saturday service is cost effective and test the impact of having less staff during the rest of the week. During the test and learn feedback will be sought from both customers and staff and issues such as IT availability and the potential impact on the speed of 1st payments will also be assessed.
The jobcentres selected are a mix of urban, rural, large and small job centres They are all sites where UC full service has been rolled out for some time and so have a reasonable number of in work claimants. The jobcentres where Saturday working is to be trialled are:
Test and Learn 3b – Late and Saturday opening at one NINO site
Rusholme NINO office has been selected to test extending operating hours to 8pm one evening per week and on Saturdays. There is, according to management, high levels of Saturday overtime regularly worked at Rusholme NINO so management believe there may be staff willing to do this. If overtime is required during the week for staff working a Saturday they will be paid at the same rates as if the overtime was on a Saturday.
Like all NINO sites Rusholme is very busy and management want to test if extending hours could increase productivity. PCS raised health and safety concerns about the choice of Rusholme, particularly regarding late opening. Management insist that any safety issues will be addressed and will fully consult the unions about safety matters.
Test and Learn 4 – Late opening in pensions
Management are to open one pension centre, Swansea, to 8 pm on weekdays to see what customer demand there is beyond normal opening hours and what the impact is on the rest of the week. They would be providing cover for the whole network after 6pm.
PCS questioned why DWP would want to test customer demand for late opening in a pension centre when it was only quite recently that Pensions stopped being open till 8pm due to a lack of customer demand. Management said that they did not want to trial this in Working Age due to the temporary nature of Working Age and did not want to trial it in UC due to the pressures UC was under with migration. Therefore they were left with trialling this in a Pensions centre.
Test and Learn 5 – Maximising use of the estate
DWP want to maximise the use of the estate by ensuring a desk is in use from 7.45 am to 8.00pm. They intend to test this by accommodating more staff and using alternative work patterns. The idea is to ask staff to consider a variety of working patterns to cover both the early and latter part of the day, and then to recruit to make the best and most efficient use of the estate. Initial thinking is to offer hours of 7.45 to 15.45 and 12.00 to 20.00 on a volunteers only basis.
This is to be trialled at a single location in DSDRD at Bootle. This may require some staff to fix both ends of the day, which can only be done voluntarily under the Employee Deal.
PCS has questioned the sense of this trial as it appears to be undermining some of the principles of the Employee Deal and previous experience has shown that, when DWP has recruited staff on a late shift, the staff rarely stay long.
PCS will be monitoring all of these test and learn initiatives very closely, particularly the safety of staff being required to work till 8pm or in small numbers. We remain sceptical about the viability of late and Saturday opening on any significant scale. We will be arranging meetings with the members concerned over the next few weeks to give members the chance to have their say.