All branches with UC Service Centres are urged to delegate one rep per Service Centre to attend the UC reps meeting on 14 November, 10am-1pm in Leeds.
The meeting will discuss staffing, telephony, consultation and Christmas leave.
Staffing: pressing the demand for 5000 new Service Centre staff
UC managers have confirmed that there will be additional recruitment to the Service Centres over the next few months. This is welcome but is unlikely to involve the sorts of numbers which would really ease pressure across Case Managers, Team Leaders and Decision Makers.
National UC managers have notified us that they have devolved authority over recruitment to Area Directors, to take account of particular local needs. This is a significant change and opens the door for branches to play a major role in winning on staffing in their own areas. The new approach is intended to reflect that each Service Centre has a different profile in terms of its tethered Jobcentres, the kinds of cases it is dealing with, the levels of digital access and skills of the claimant groups etc. This results in different numbers of claimants per caseload, and the average claimant might have higher or lower individual support requirements in different areas.
UC managers are currently at work refreshing the Activity Volume Workbooks (AVWs) meaning that the numbers needed might vary and so recruitment might go marginally up…or down. UC managers described themselves as “comfortable” with the amount to be recruited across UC as a whole under the Ministerial business case and discretionary recruitment. The GEC negotiators emphasised the need for more.
Managers outlined their efforts to reduce claimant demands on telephony, by using Jobcentres to drive up the digital capabilities of claimants, by the routine signposting to self-serve, by improving the accessibility of online information based on studies that show most people who call us could find what they wanted online, better explaining payments or deductions etc. GEC reps stressed that these are the same stories as UC staff have been hearing for years. UC managers acknowledged that they could not concretely plan for how these would affect the overall “demand” figures, which in turn determines the estimated requirements for staff, except by trying things out and evaluating their impact.
Telephony – reports from Walsall and Wolverhampton
GEC reps reported on the mandate received from these Service Centres, where well attended car park meetings voted unanimously to go into dispute with DWP. From the perspective of negotiators, the tone of the discussion was different on this occasion to that before. Whilst UC managers did continue to stress that improvements are coming – such as on-going work to change claimant behaviour and drive more digital engagement rather than telephony – for the first time, in our view, they also took seriously the concerns of staff. Whereas previously they had focused on average call figures per case manager per week, they admitted that some staff in Walsall were taking as many as 120 calls.
GEC reps were clear that that is not sustainable and something must be done to reduce the pressure on staff. UC managers stressed that the people taking 120 calls per week were a minority. They suggested that if the people only taking 10 calls per week took more calls, the figure of 120 calls per case manager per week would be reduced. GEC reps rejected this; if staff are not at their desk or in “available”, it isn’t because they’re not doing something important – whether it is clearing work that stops claimants feeling like they have to call us again, or staff engagement activities, or training, or working with tethered Jobcentres. GEC reps agreed to have detailed discussions about this question with every Local Trade Union Side, but were clear that we felt poor staffing levels are the real problem.
This particular issue, of trying to control the behaviour of staff as the means to resolving an issue really driven by resourcing, is at fault in the areas that have reported numerical obsessions around after call work and average call handling time, and in the ways that some sites are still using Demand Management Officers (DMOs) as Real Time Officers, who are contacting staff to pressure them to get back on the phones. This is not the correct approach, and part of the in-depth conversations with local Trade Union Sides will bottom out the prevalence of this across Service Centres, to get it definitively dealt with.
It is most disappointing that despite acknowledging the problems facing sites such as Walsall and Wolverhampton in terms of the burden of work put upon Case Managers, UC managers seem unable to do anything about it except to urge everyone to wait until UC Full Service rollout is complete, so the service can reach a steady state. When negotiators highlighted the worries about the 10 additional sites to rollout in mid-November that are attached to Walsall, UC managers could not offer anything to assuage the worries we relayed from staff.
National Telephony Hub
UC managers stated that OED is currently doing some analysis on the future of the case manager role, to determine how much work should be done “once and done”. This is of concern to GEC reps – our expectation is that we will be involved in this work, but it could represent a threat to the “Service Centre” model. As far as UC is concerned there will always be a need for a National Telephony Hub, something determined by technical issues such as always receiving calls from numbers that have no assigned case manager. Our concern is preventing the emphasis on national tier telephony from drawing so much resource from Case Management that it reduces the tasks being cleared and thereby drives unnecessary telephone calls from claimants.
Some points about consultation were not fully discussed at the meeting due to pressures of time, but future meetings are planned. The question of whether and when to move resources on or off national telephony has not been resolved fully, though UC managers have committed to provide us with the information driving their decisions. UC managers will be writing formally to reply to the letters we have sent them on Christmas leave and the staffing campaign, and we have agreed to pick this up through further correspondence.
Christmas leave and urgent UC reps meeting
Progress was scant on Christmas leave, which has been described in one site as “simmering resentment” of how staff have been treated throughout the process. All the relevant arguments were made, in terms of ensuring as many people as possible get a good rest over Christmas, using their leave at a time when claimants traditionally don’t contact us unless they really have to, but no additional leave has been offered, though UC managers did note that for some areas they have permitted breaches to the % cap set nationally and will give us some further information about this.
Ultimately if no further leave is being offered and what is offered is not reasonable for our members, we must give due consideration to our response and this is the role of the UC reps' forum on 14 November. All sites sending a rep must look in advance at how Christmas leave has been handled on their site, how part-time/ part-year affects the percentages offered and the mood of the members that they represent.
Tasks for organising and building the campaign
Following the meetings at Wolverhampton and Walsall, some Service Centres got in touch to discuss car park meetings. Any Service Centre wishing to hold a car park meeting to discuss the staffing campaign and/or Christmas leave, based on the perceived mood on site, should consider inviting a GEC speaker, particularly one of the lead negotiators for the 12,000 Service Centre staff, Dave Semple and Sam Hall.
The GEC has agreed to prioritise recruitment of new members and new activists in the UC Service Centres, including by running ad hoc training to get any new activists trained and consolidated as quickly as possible. Dedicated material will be produced following the reps meeting to support recruitment of reps and activists, and to facilitate the gathering of/ refreshing of email addresses held for members.
The UC reps meeting will discuss the negotiations with the employer, the views of members at the sites and the next steps in advance of Christmas, or during the Christmas period.
Jobcentres can be included in the campaign
Although the current phase of the campaign is focused on Service Centres, this is not exclusive. The GEC has agreed that Jobcentres can be involved in the campaign. Ian Pope is the Assistant Secretary who deals with the former Work Services Directorate, which now falls under UC and can deal with any enquiries.