Extension of services in Jobcentres – Members' questions answered by DWP

03 Jul 2020

As PCS continue to oppose and argue with DWP that it is premature to re-open the doors of job centres to the wider public due to continuing risk of COVID-19, we have been inundated with questions and comments from concerned members.

The group executive committee (GEC) would like to thank every member that took the trouble to send a question to us to take forward with the department. A summary of the questions and answers is as follows:

Opening Hours

(Q) What hours will sites be opening?

(A) JCSMs have the ability to implement local flex when discussing site opening times, this will also allow them to manage any lunch breaks for Staff or G4S.

(Q) Will there be reduced opening hours for public appointments?

(A) This will be a local decision based on the local position.

Customers coming into the Jobcentre

(Q) Who decides how many customers can come into the site?

(A) This is developed with local discussion when completing the JCFRA and being able to maintain social distancing.  It is made up of the safe number of WADs, waiting area capacity and screened FoH desks.  It will be different at each site and will be flexible depending on local staff levels also. HSBPs are available to support local leaders if required.

(Q) Who controls that and how?

(A) Agreed as part of the JCFRA, again each site will be different due to layout. G4S will control entry and exit to the JCP and will ensure the max numbers are not exceeded.

(Q) Who is allowed to enter the building? Booked customers only? Children? Accompanying people?

(A) Booked and walk-ins, but only to capacity, anyone supporting, including children, will be counted towards the capacity level of the site.

(Q) If customers have booked appointments will they be allowed to wait in the office (affecting the numbers of people allowed in) or will they wait outside?

(A) This will be agreed within the JCFRA, it will be dependent on the capacity of the office and layout.

(Q) Will customers be allowed to use the customer toilets?

(A) It would be in extreme situations, and they would need to be cleaned before the next person could use them. Our on-site cleaners will deal with that.

(Q) How many people are we allowing in at one time?        

(A) Local JCFRA will advise.

(Q) What staff will meet and greet customer at door, what protections will be in place as G4S can’t ask JC questions?

(A) Each Jobcentre will have a number of customer-facing desks fitted with screens including one screened desk for enquires (front of house activity). Colleagues are welcome to wear face coverings when interacting with customers but do not have to. We are following 2 metre social distancing in line with current government guidelines.

(Q) Could a counter not be created in an area of the office and screens from counter to roof not be put in place, would be safer?

(A) The measures being implemented will ensure the safety of colleagues and customers, in line with government guidance.

Track and Trace

(Q) What log is kept of all site customers in order to carry out Track and Trace, if required? How will Track and Trace be operated for staff, contractors and customers?

(A) This is part of the guidance that has been issued, in line with BEIS guidance we will ensure that a record of who is attending the JCP for 21 days, including all people that come to support a customer with their visit.

Hand Sanitisers

(Q) Will there be hand sanitiser points for the public?

(A) Yes, two wall mounted sanitiser points will be provided at each customer entrance with signs to remind customers to sanitise their hands.  Both are ‘touch free’ and will dispense when someone puts their hands underneath.

Social Distancing

(Q) How will site ensure customers adhere to Social Distancing of 2 metres?

(A) Discussed with the JCFRA, strong local FoH management, supported by signage.

(Q) Can customers be evicted for not adhering to Social Distancing?

(A) Yes, they can. It will need to be managed locally.

(Q) Will a log be kept as UCB in this instance?

(A) As throughout this period any UCB should continue to be reported. Depending on the nature of the incident it may reach the threshold for a Fast Track, your HSBP will be able to support if needed.

(Q) How will the 2m distance be maintained?

(A) Local Managers will do regular checks supported by G4S.

Personal Protective Equipment

(Q) Is the site insisting on the wearing of masks?

(A) On entry to the Jobcentre customers will be offered face covering but this will not be mandatory.

(Q) Will PPE be supplied? Who for? What exactly?

(A) Yes, staff in FoH roles will have face coverings and visors should they wish to use them. Masks for customers will be made available in the initial weeks.

(Q) Face masks provided for DWP staff or shields if staff feel safer? (& how practical in terms of talking /comfortable that will be all day?)

(A) Staff in FoH roles will have face coverings and visors should they wish to use them.

(Q) Will claimants be required to wear face masks as this seems to be a rule for other businesses and service providers?

(A) On arrival at the Jobcentre, claimants will be offered a face covering, if they do not have one of their own. However, face coverings will not be a requirement of entry.

First Aid

(Q) How many first aiders will be on site at all times?

(A) This is discussed within the JCFRA.

Experience of staff working in a Jobcentre

(Q) What will the experience levels be on site at all times if staff are being asked to work from home?

(A) Local managers will need to ensure staff are equipped to do the role.  All staff within the FoH area and seeing customers will need to have completed Keeping Safe training.

Cleaning of the Jobcentre

(Q) Where a member of the public sits or uses a desk, who will clean in between each customer?

(A) The Jobcentre cleaning specification with be updated to make sure cleaning is provided to regular touchpoints such as door handles, desk tops, protective screens and self-service points for customers. 

(Q) Will additional cleaning between every customer be factored in to times of appointments? If so how long is being allowed? (GOV suggests 15mins)

(A) Yes.

(Q) Who will be on hand to clean work stations (including customer chairs made of fabric) after each customer has sat at a desk? Apparently they are going to be able to use to customers’ computers, how is this going to be handled, how to keep 2metres apart helping a customer, how are these going to manned, Security and Staff.

(A) The Jobcentre cleaning specification will be updated to make sure cleaning is provided to regular touchpoints such as door handles, desk tops, protective screens and self-service points for customers.  On site cleaning staff will assist. Social distancing will determine how many customer computers are available to use. Prior to a customer using a computer, colleagues will check that they have the digital capability to use the device without support, or understand that support can only be provided while maintaining social distancing of 2 metres.

(Q) How often will surfaces be cleaned and who does that?

(A) The Jobcentre cleaning specification will be updated to make sure cleaning is provided to regular touchpoints such as door handles, desk tops, protective screens and self-service points for customers.

(Q) If doors open to public then more surfaces will need cleaned all the time, rooms currently unlocked will need to be secure and more touching for staff.

(A) The Jobcentre cleaning specification will be updated to make sure cleaning is provided to regular touchpoints such as door handles, desk tops, protective screens and self-service points for customers.

WADS

(Q) Will WADS be open for use?

(A) This will be determined following the JCFRA process.

(Q) Who will clean WADs between use? Specialist cleaners of IT equipment?

(A) The Jobcentre cleaning specification with be updated to make sure cleaning is provided to regular touchpoints such as door handles, desk tops, protective screens and self-service points for customers.  Our daily cleaning staff will handle this.

Screens

(Q) Will there be screens and adequate floor markings and signage?

(A) Yes, local management must be satisfied they have everything in place to open safely.

(Q) Will interviews be only in the screened area?

(A) All interviews will take place behind a screen or in a screened area.

(Q) How many screens will we have- what are they like?

(A) As of this week 1500+ and this will increase weekly.

(Q) How high are theses screens, if a customer stands up could they talk, split cough, sneeze on the staff member?

(A) Screens are 1m in height with a top edge at 1m + 30mm above the desk surface.

(Q) Are the screens going to be securely fixed?

(A) Yes, all screens will be securely fixed to desks.

(Q) Could a customer use screen as a weapon?

(A) No, screens will be securely fixed to desks.

Interviewing customers

(Q) Is interviewing customers / dealing face to face with customers voluntary for staff? If it’s not voluntary or you don’t get enough volunteers, how will you select who does the interviews?

(A) Jobcentres will be compliant with all Social Distancing and Health and Safety requirements, which includes the provision of screens, masks and antibacterial materials to protect staff and customers. We are key workers in support of helping customers who cannot benefit from our services by any other means to get UC and find work. These are crucial roles and we wish to encourage everyone to participate. However, if anyone has demonstrable concerns about the risk to their health they should discuss those with their line manager.

Desks

(Q) Do the desk plans need to be updated or are desks out of use remaining out of use? If yes, when can we see a copy?

(A) Currently to support staff safety, we are only opening up the ground floor areas, desk plans will need to be considered when completing the JCFRA.

Reinstatement of Labour Market Conditionality

(Q) How does the switching-on of Conditionality on 01/07 affect projected footfall?

(A) Claimant commitment interviews will be completed by phone and digital interventions will continue where the customer is able.

BAME Members

(Q) Will BAME members get an individual risk assessment?

(A) Current BAME guidance  has now been produced, following consultation, and back with DTUS before being published.

(Q) What about BAME staff, will risk assessments be done for them for their safety?

(A) Completing the JCFRA will determine how best to manage customer interaction and preparedness in the Jobcentre.

Security Guards

(Q) What number of security staff will be required?

(A) From 6th July, sites are returning to full guarding after being temporarily reduced. We are also reviewing the need for G4S presence in all non-guarded JCPs as an additional measure to help support staff.

(Q) Will security be provided with any protection gear?

(A) Yes, face coverings are being provided.

(Q) Security Guard is a must. Who controls the incoming customers on his lunch break/Breaks?

(A) Managers are empowered to take these decisions locally.

(Q) We all know that we will have regulars turn up every day without appointments, can one security guard deal with this?

(A) From 6th July, sites are returning to full guarding after being temporarily reduced. Site security requirements will be reviewed as necessary.

Telephones

(Q) Will vulnerable customers be allowed to use the phone? If so who cleans this?

(A) The Jobcentre cleaning specification will be updated to make sure cleaning is provided to regular touchpoints such as door handles, desk tops, protective screens and self-service points for customers.

Staff living with vulnerable family members

(Q) What about staff who live with vulnerable family members?

(A) Local leaders will hold conversations with all staff to understand any individual concerns they may have.

What will happen if staff refuse to see customers?

(Q) Staff who will refuse? How will DWP address this?

(A) Staff who remain concerned about safety and after a full discussion with their local leader will not be forced to meet customers and will be found alternative work.

Homeworkers

(Q) Can I also ask would the staff who went home at the beginning with underlying health conditions, those with no official shielding letters from a doctor, will they be asked to return to the office, or is it a case that they now have laptops, they can continue to work from home?

(A) Those who are working from home will remain there until we have established long term operating arrangements. 

Documents

(Q) Having to take documents in from customers and handling them.

(A) Easements removing the need for documents to be seen by the jobcentre remain in place. Documents will be visible through the screens.

Working from home

(Q) We also have been asked by management if given the opportunity, would we work from home? Every member staff here has said yes bar one. I would like to know what the eligibility for this is and how its decided. Also if any more staff move to working from home, how does that impact on running the office open to the public with such a low staffing level.

(A) Areas are looking closely at what the right balance is between on-site working and working from home to enable further recruitment of work coaches to take place. Working from Home principles, agreed with DTUs, has been issued to support local leaders to decide who can work from home.

Guidance for members

Hopefully the members who submitted questions will take something from the responses from management. Clearly this is a worrying time for our Jobcentre members who are rightly concerned about increasing the footfall at their sites. PCS are fundamentally opposed to this and have made our position clear to DWP.

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