An update for members on the Universal Credit Liaison Group meeting held on 28 November 2017.
The PCS national executive committee set up the Universal Credit Liaison Group (UCLG) some time ago to discuss issues arising from the transfer of staff from HMRC to DWP to work on Universal Credit and to discuss the union’s wider campaigning activity on this far reaching welfare reform. The group met intermittently up until August of 2017. However, it has now been agreed that it will meet at least quarterly and that an update will be provided to members in both DWP and HMRC following each meeting.
The UCLG is made up of members appointed by the NEC and members appointed by the DWP and HMRC groups. NIPSA, our sister union in Northern Ireland, is also invited to the meetings of the UCLG. NIPSA represents both the members who work for the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency, who will deliver UC in Northern Ireland, and the members who work for DWP in Northern Ireland, many of whom will be involved in delivering UC for the mainland UK.
The current membership of the committee is:
Ian Bartholomew – PCS FTO and secretary
Fran Heathcote – Chair
Sam Hall – NEC
Hector Wesley – NEC
Baljit Johal – DWP
Dave Owens - DWP
Mark Page – DWP
Katrine Williams – DWP
Steve Ryan – HMRC
Colette Smith – HMRC
Tony McMullen – NIPSA
The most recent UCLG meeting was held in the PCS Office, Leeds on Tuesday 28 November 2017. The next meeting is scheduled for Friday 12 January 2018.
We welcome the fact that pressure from PCS, MPs and various organisations has resulted in the slowing down of the UC Full Service rollout. However, we still believe that rollout should have been paused until the, not insignificant, problems with UC are fully ironed out.
The recent budget announced that there will now be a slowing down of the UC Full Service rollout from February 2018. Instead of 50 Jobcentres per month going live, there will now only be 10 per month for February to April, an increase to 41 in May and then 60 per month, still with a pause in August. The resulting impact is that full rollout will not now be complete until the end of December 2018. It was also announced that new claims to UC Live Service will cease from 31 December 2017. This will mean many more claims, during one of the busiest months of the year for new claims being made for legacy benefits. Where Full Service has not yet rolled out those people who would have been eligible to make a new claim to UC will now have to claim JSA. It will also mean significantly more people claiming ESA and IS, as 120 less Jobcentres will now roll-out with Full Service between February and the end of April.
In addition to slowing down the rollout, there has also been the introduction of free telephone lines for all benefits (This has been a long-term goal of PCS) and the removal of the seven day waiting period for UC. Whilst welcome for UC claimants, this will create a discrepancy, and significant detriment for those people who still have to claim JSA and ESA. It was agreed that, through the PCS Parliamentary Group, we will raise this with a view to applying pressure on the Government to remove the waiting days for all benefits. The changes will also see an increased demand for staff to work on legacy benefits, with a reduction, at least in the short-term, of staff needed to move onto UC. We have asked for an urgent meeting with DWP management to discuss these wider impacts, and we meet with UC management on 16 January 2018, where we will be discussing issues, including staffing, in some detail.
The on-going move of members from HMRC to DWP is continuing with the phased transfer of staff from two HMRC sites in Preston. The members will become part of what is currently the DWP Preston Central Office Branch, which over time will incorporate all members in Preston. Officers from the DWP North West Region have worked with the branch and the exporting HMRC branch, holding inductions and members meetings with those transferring. We will continue to get DWP and HMRC branches to work together around future transfers and are producing guidance for branches and a standard letter to issue to all members who move from HMRC to DWP as part of the UC rollout.
One significant issue for members transferring to DWP should now be resolved. Members are transferring on COSOP terms, which means that existing HMRC contractual terms apply unless people opt to take on full DWP terms and conditions. In relation to working hours, UC management were interpreting the HMRC contracts as allowing them to ask transferees to work any hours they require. This meant that there was pressure put on staff to cover more than one 6.30 tent-pole, as management believed former HMRC staff were not covered by the protections in the Employee Deal agreement. However, PCS took the issue up with DWP HR, arguing that the HMRC contracts were not so flexible as to allow DWP to ask people to work whatever they wanted, and that the DWP Flexi Working Hours Policy, which also sets out a maximum of one late finish per week, covers all staff. This has been accepted by DWP, so no one transferring from HMRC can be required to work more late finishes than any other DWP member of staff.
Further Improvements Negotiated
It has been agreed that we can hold PCS induction meetings with all future transferees from HMRC to DWP.
The UCLG resolved that we would approach DWP with a demand that all PCS reps who transfer from HMRC should receive the PCS DWP specific training, regardless of what previous training they have had. This training, a three day new reps course and two day personal cases course, is on official duty time and is paid for by DWP. Since the meeting we have reached agreement with DWP Employee Relations that these courses will be available for all reps who transfer from HMRC, and we will be contacting the branches with reps in that position to facilitate this.
In-Work Conditionality and Staff as Claimants
The pilot on In-Work Conditionality is currently running, and we await the detailed evaluation, which is due mid-2018. This is unique to UC and has no precedent to learn from in any welfare system anywhere in the world. We believe that this area is fraught with problems and will continue to campaign for it to be scrapped.
We have also raised concerns about how claims to UC from people who are employed by DWP will be handled. The current number of staff claiming UC is likely to be very small, but, as there is no requirement on DWP staff to inform their employer that they are claiming UC, DWP have no idea of the act number. However, once conversion of existing Tax Credit claims to UC begins (date and timeframe as yet unknown) a significant number of our members will be in the position of both working for DWP and being in receipt of the main benefit that it administers. This will also bring into focus the issue of how In-Work Conditionality will apply to DWP’s own staff. We have asked for DWP to consider setting up a specific unit for handling the UC claims of its staff members, which is what currently exists with HMRC for staff who are in receipt of Tax Credits, but so far DWP have been reluctant to this. We are also trying to negotiate protections for our members, both those claiming UC and those who have to deal with claims from their colleagues.
PCS is not directly responsible for the staff who work on UC in Northern Ireland. NIPSA is the union to which the vast majority of Civil Servants in Northern Ireland belong, including those who are working for DWP. Due to the current recruitment policies in operation within the Northern Ireland Civil Service, there are a number of agency workers employed in the delivery of UC for the mainland UK. It was agreed that we would specifically demand that DWP should cease the use of agency staff and only employ staff directly. We will continue to work closely with our sister union on issues of joint interest like Universal Credit.
Welfare Reform and Campaigning
We have continued our campaigning work over recent months. This has included providing evidence to select committees, working with opposition parties, giving detailed information to the PCS Parliamentary Group, getting our issues raised and questions asked in parliament. We have also made regular contact with the press and media. UC is currently under significant scrutiny and is attracting a lot of public interest. We will attempt use this as a means of gaining improvements both for our members and those who claim UC.
Keeping Up the Work for Members
In addition to the UCLG, the DWP Group have a Universal Credit Advisory Committee that meets quarterly. Members should feed in their concerns about UC via their branch to that committee.
The rollout of UC will continue to present many challenges, and we will continue to use all means available to us to highlight our issues and make gains. We will continue to keep members informed of developments and progress.