PCS consistently opposed the restarting of face to face NINo appointments during consultation with CFCD and have reaffirmed our position following consultation with branch reps at Primary or a Secondary NINo sites.
The DWP GEC voted unanimously in favour of this position when it met on 21 October, and agreed to ask branches to consult with members on NINo appointments about their support for PCS’ position and willingness to be involved in a campaign to stop the interviews. We encourage NINo members to speak to PCS local/H+S reps about their thoughts and experiences. GEC Officers will discuss next steps on 9 November.
We believe that face to face appointments should be kept to an absolute minimum during the pandemic to decrease risk to our members. We have not been convinced by CFCD arguments for the requirement to restart these appointments. We have an assurance that sites in Tier 2 and 3 in England and those with additional restrictions in Scotland and Wales (including the firebreak) will not open, nor will applicants be able to attend NINo sites if the area they live in fits this criteria. This goes further than the announcement from the Permanent Secretary last week.
However, the uncertainty and ever changing risk levels across England, Scotland and Wales create an extremely unstable situation to restart any national initiative. This position was confirmed by the withdrawal of Leeds as a pilot site before the trial was due to commence, and further when City Tower was only able to complete two days as a trial site because of the change of risk level in London. However, CFCD wishes to continue with the roll out despite only two days of interviews taking place at the trial sites. Southampton was named as a new trial site but was only opened two days earlier than any sites in Tier 1 in England or outside the central belt in Scotland.
We understand that the restarting of NINo interviews will increase the number of staff working from site. PCS is concerned about any increase at this time, despite efforts to make workplaces safer we maintain that working from home is the best way of minimising transmission of Covid-19.
Whilst we oppose the implementation of these interviews, we continue to talk to CFCD about the detailed process. The constantly changing position of Covid-19 restrictions means that Serco will be required to have up to date information, and there is a risk of a change in the status of customers between the booking and the appointment day. Therefore we have requested that a pre call from NINo staff takes place prior to interviews; these calls will provide a check regarding potential Covid-19 symptoms. At this stage CFCD have agreed for these to be in place.
PCS have been working on the national risk assessment for a number of weeks and have now made good progress towards a finalised document. However, while we feel that the measures included will mitigate some Covid-19 risks, the process itself creates unnecessary risks.
PCS (through Ops TUS) has written to CFCD to oppose the restarting of face to face NINo appointments. In our letter we stated:
"After consulting with our reps based in branches with either Primary and Secondary NINo sites and discussing the NINo face to face appointments with national representatives, we have confirmed our opposition to face to face NINo interviews during the Covid 19 pandemic. This is because of the health and safety risks created for our members (working on NINo and others based in jobcentres), service users and those they come into contact with. We believe that the national and local risk assessment will help mitigate these risks but they remain too high.
"We further believe that the timing for restarting this work is even more dangerous because of the current rising level of Covid-19 cases. TUS feels that the current different tiered systems in England and Scotland and the restrictions in Wales create an unstable environment for this work which has additional risks. The likelihood of movement in and out of different risk levels means all offices will be subject to an unpredictable and potentially volatile backdrop.
"In making this decision we have considered that the reduction of NINo sites caused by both the creation of Primary and Secondary sites and closure of sites in high risk area and believe this creates the potential for additional travel at a time when the government is discouraging it. We acknowledge your decision not to open sites in England in tier 2 (high) and by doing so going further than the national DWP position.
"Ops TUS would like to further explore with CFCD alternatives to serve the public currently unable to complete a NINo application, by looking at options of postal or/and digital methods. Other areas of DWP have used easements to enable staff and claimants to operate more safely. We would like to understand what further work DWP could do (possibly in conjunction with other government departments etc.) to publicise that a National Insurance Number is not a requirement to work in the UK.
"We hope to be able to meet you during the week commencing 2 November to discuss further. We want to continue work constructively with you and will encourage our local and regional reps to do so."