Universal Credit Update – April 2019

01 May 2019

Reps from the DWP Group Executive Committee (GEC) met with DWP managers from Universal Credit on 30 April. This came after a protracted period where GEC reps visited multiple UC service centres to gauge the mood of members about the volume of phone calls and staffing levels. This bulletin updates all branches.

Re-organising of national telephony hubs and the UC staffing campaign

Management side notified PCS on Monday 29 April that they were planning to condense national telephony from the existing 11 sites down to 6, including Stratford, Belfast, Bristol Flowers Hill, Wolverhampton, Glasgow Milton and Middlesbrough. This is to happen by March 2020. These sites will deliver national telephony functions and inbox work.

Several of these sites deliver case management currently, meaning that there are Jobcentres aligned to these service centres, and the case managers who work there currently have a caseload of claimants. This will change, with the existing caseloads being transferred to other sites, and so moving the staff at the six sites either to purely telephony work or working on the inboxes. Management has not discussed job roles with PCS, nor the numbers involved or envisioned by the completion date of March 2020.

PCS was not consulted in the run up to this decision and has not agreed any part of it. The GEC will work with the affected sites and branches to gauge the mood of staff. Ultimately our view remains that the reorganisation of staff is not sufficient to alleviate the pressure in UC and additional staffing is required. UC managers finally seem in a position to give information on staffing and resources for 2019/20 and negotiators will report back to branches after a meeting scheduled for 3 May.

Members meetings have been conducted at UC Preston, UC Blackpool and UC Makerfield over the last month, and the majority view is one of discontent. At Blackpool, where some members were vocal about the success of recent improvements, including the decision to reduce the number of tethered Jobcentres, even there staff voted for the need to continue the staffing campaign. It is likely that these sites will be revisited over the next period as the number of claimants grows and the pressure on sites increases.

UC managed migration trial

Most members will already have seen on the intranet the announcement that UC “managed migration” (sometimes now being referred to as Move to UC) will begin at Harrogate. This is the process whereby claimants to the six legacy benefits that have been merged into Universal Credit will be moved across to UC, with their income protected under “transitional protection” arrangements. Only a handful of staff are currently involved and DWP have given assurances to PCS about the training and support available to these staff.

Managed migration will ultimately affect 19 different possible permutations of claim, including DWP staff as claimants. GEC reps have asked for regular consultation arrangements with the specific management team overseeing the trial, in order to monitor all of these, as well as to keep under review the levels of training and support available to staff, and the time staff get to participate in Test and Learn processes, to avoid a straightforward repeat of the problems that afflicted the early days of UC. This has been agreed.

Managed migration and DWP staff as claimants

The initial cohort for managed migration will not include tax credits claimants, but the GEC is conscious that regardless of managed migration some claimants are still moving from legacy tax credits to UC as a result of changes of circumstances. This means a steadily increasing number of staff who are claiming UC. The concerns of staff have been heard by DWP, who have committed to conduct “scoping work” into the problems identified by PCS.

GEC reps have continued to press DWP to agree a range of measures which PCS Conference has demanded, to protect the anonymity of staff as claimants in respect of the colleagues they work with on a day to day basis. One of the responses used by DWP was the age-old “show us concrete examples”; negotiators gave examples, redacted to remove identifiable information, from those members who had come forward and this was dismissed as insufficient. So it is with a certain satisfaction that GEC reps note DWP, when it began this “scoping work”, was forced to concede that staff who claim UC were unwilling to volunteer for a study! We have underlined how important and urgent this work is, from the perspective of those staff who are refusing to claim because of their privacy concerns and DWP have promised an update at the next meeting in four weeks.

SDP and managed migration regulations

Parliament has been unable to debate the Severe Disability Premium and managed migration regulations due to “pressures of time”. This has had consequences for staff at Chesterfield, Clydebank and Chatham, who had originally been moved to SDP work only to be moved back to other areas of work because of the delay. Members had reported to us their unhappiness that they were being moved between areas of work with little to no notice and insufficient understanding of the rationale.

The immediate response of DWP was to insist upon the need for staff to be flexible, which is stretching a point when one team was moved to SDP, to ESA enquiry line then to CBOL in a relatively small space of time, but managers did agree that full explanations could and should have been offered to staff and undertook to do better at this. They believe that the payment of SDP to claimants who have been unfairly denied this money as a result of their transition to UC will begin once the regulations are laid, which they believe should happen in June.

UC decision making and appeals reorganisation and work study

Working Age WCA and UC decision making have been brought together into the same management chain, under the new Work and Health directorate. Regular meetings are being sought by PCS with the national lead for this area of work. In the interim, we have raised concerns from members about targets in decision making and the launch of a work study.

DWP management apologised for the failure to notify PCS of the work study in UC decision making, and they firmly reiterated their view that there are no individual targets. They were also very clear that discussions about variation in output, which some members have complained about, should only ever be management discussions about variations between teams and between sites, not between individuals. This clear statement from national UC managers can be referenced by local reps who detect practices inconsistent with this view.

Reasonable adjustments and telephony

At the last UC reps meeting, a significant number of sites indicated problems with the number of members coming forward to complain about pressure over their reasonable adjustments where those reasonable adjustments involved non-telephony work. GEC negotiators flagged this up with national management, who admitted they had been conducting a HR-led review to make sure reasonable adjustments and their review arrangements were appropriate. Their view was that this mainly involved conversations with line managers, though PCS reported at least one site where HR managers were being directly involved in these conversations with staff, which is inappropriate.

Review periods must take account of the nature of the health condition suffered and any medical information available regarding how long it is likely to last for. Staff should not be subject to reviews which are more about pressuring them to do a few hours telephony work, rather than about genuinely supporting them to manage any condition from which they suffer while remaining at work. UC managers have agreed to investigate the cases identified by PCS, and we expect to provide a further update to branches once DWP have been given an opportunity to look at the sites from which complaints have emanated.

Staff names being recorded on claimant journals

Clear guidance already exists which suggests that members of staff should not refer to other staff members by their full name in any entry visible to claimants. A message on this is to be reiterated by DWP shortly. Decision makers have raised concerns that their full names are occasionally visible on claimant journals, rather than just their first name. DWP are looking into this, as they believe there may be occasions where staff who listed as supporting a claimant may have their names recorded on any entries.

If you, either when assisting a claimant in accessing their journal from their own account, or when accessing journals from your own access as staff, see the full name of any member of staff recorded on the journal, please take a screenshot (press and hold “ctrl” and then press the “print screen” button, then open a blank email or document and press and hold “ctrl” and then “v”). Then email this screenshot to the PCS reps listed at the bottom of this bulletin. We will share this with DWP so they can eliminate this problem once and for all.

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