The DWP has published some guidance on the intranet for PCS members who work in DWP and who either make a claim to Universal Credit or who are dealing with DWP staff members who have made a claim, but it is incomplete and we are working with management to improve it.
As a member of staff making a claim, PCS believes you have the right to confidentiality – i.e. that people you have contact with in your place of work do not have to know that you claim Universal Credit unless you choose to tell them. This should mean that any Jobcentre member of staff should not be interviewed by work coaches in their own Jobcentre. It also means that Service Centre staff should have a case manager appointed from outside their Service Centre.
Jobcentre workers as UC claimants
In respect of Jobcentres, DWP have agreed that staff can be interviewed outside of their own Jobcentre:
A member of staff has the flexibility to choose which office they attend for a face to face interview as do all claimants, within reason. The appointment booking system allocates the Jobcentre based on a claimant’s postcode but this can be changed to an alternative Universal Credit Full Service Jobcentre. At any time DWP staff can request an alternative agent to administer their claim and ask to be seen in a discrete area of the office. Requesting any changes remains the responsibility of the claimant.
Service Centre workers as UC claimants
For Service Centre staff guidance suggests that having a case manager from outside your own Service Centre should only be done exceptionally. PCS strongly disagrees. The integrated telephony model means only 22% of calls are being picked up by a named case manager, with the remainder sent out to their team or to the whole Service Centre. This makes contact with someone known to the claimant far too likely. Members of PCS at multiple Service Centres have contacted the union to explain they are reluctant even to claim benefits to which they may be entitled if it means potentially having to reveal that they claim UC to people who work in the same building.
PCS advice to any member of staff claiming UC, and to any EO team leader or HEO who is asked for help, is that if staff want their claim dealt with at another Service Centre because of concerns about their privacy, this should be facilitated. If you are a member of staff who has made a claim, has requested it be transferred to a different Service Centre and this has been refused, please email email@example.com and GEC officers will look into the matter.
Similarly, if you are a member of staff who winds up dealing with the claim of a fellow member of staff, and you feel uncomfortable about this because you know them, then PCS advice is that you have the right not to deal with that claim. We have been made aware of cases at some sites where managers are refusing to reallocate cases where case managers know the claimant. This is in breach of current guidance.
National PCS reps have expressed the frustration to members that yet again we’re being asked to find examples of people who have concerns about their privacy, before managers take seriously this issue and look to implement the approaches that exist in Personal Independence Payment and other benefits, such as twinning. Claims to benefit by staff in PIP are dealt with at a different service centre from where they work just as a matter of course.
DWP have said there is no “brick wall” to this approach, but they need additional evidence to justify it. If you are a UC claimant, and wish to have your views on privacy passed on anonymously to DWP, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The PCS position continues to be that we want a specialist unit to deal with staff claims, the way HMRC currently runs staff claims to legacy Tax Credits. These HMRC staff are given particular training and support to deal with sensitive claims from their colleagues, and this approach is what PCS wants in DWP, for support both to those taking and making these claims, for any misunderstandings and problems that may arise in such a sensitive context and for the protection of individual privacy.
Improvements to UC-specific security guidance planned
DWP have now acknowledged the concerns PCS has been raising for a year, in respect of the danger that people can access their own claim, or that of friends and family, by accident, through auto-allocation or by case number. UC managers, in consultation, with PCS, will be looking to publish case studies that will clearly outline how accidental access might occur and will stress that accidental access is not a disciplinary offence.