Members at Walsall and Wolverhampton took well-supported industrial action on 11 and 12 March following meetings with management where a satisfactory offer failed to be made to resolve the dispute.
DWP makes an offer
DWP met with reps from the group executive committee (GEC) on 5 and 7 March. DWP offered limited concessions, including moving work from a small number of jobcentres out of Wolverhampton (but not Walsall) until an additional 72 staff are trained up and able to take calls. Other steps included discussions around how to route calls and manage the number of phone calls and moving CBOL work out of the sites.
The 72 additional staff mentioned above are already budgeted for, they are not extra, and moving work to other sites would simply ramp up pressure elsewhere. It would not deal with the underlying problem of too many phone calls and not enough staff to deal with them. Bearing in mind that the number of claimants to UC is also likely to go up by a million by the end of the year, the solutions proposed are not nearly sufficient.
As DWP refused to make an offer that would meaningfully improve working conditions locally or to make changes nationally, the action went ahead. The GEC will continue to press DWP to resolve the dispute, in light of other UC sites now actively seeking to be balloted or holding members' meetings to discuss action.
Small improvement in consultation
Despite acknowledging that consultation with PCS does need to be improved, DWP refused to discuss wider issues at these meetings. They argued that the dispute is currently a local dispute and therefore only local solutions are appropriate. Questions of consultation, how management statistics are used, of limits to the number of calls across all case managers or limits to the size of the national telephony team all went unaddressed.
DWP admitted that this would be revisited if other sites were successfully balloted. In the interim, DWP have agreed that national meetings with UCTUS will be increased from every six weeks to every four weeks, to ensure communications are kept open between PCS and DWP. This was welcomed by the GEC reps undertaking the negotiations.
GEC calls all-sites UC reps meeting
A motion passed on 4 March by the GEC has agreed that further work must be undertaken with all sites to ensure their issues are being addressed. A meeting of all UC reps has been called for 28 March, from 11am to 2pm, at Leeds HQ. If you want items added to the agenda, please contact the GEC assistant secretaries. This meeting replaces the UC Advisory Committee meeting, as it is important to have 24 reps, one from each of the existing UC service centres, not just the ten on the Advisory Committee.
Severe Disability Premium – victory in line with PCS conference policy
PCS has been campaigning around the question of claimants losing their SDP payments, dating back to last year when we submitted evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee. This evidence came from Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) in Jobcentres, who had been dealing with claimants losing hundreds of pounds, some of them facing homelessness.
As part of a tranche of measures introduced in January, claimants in receipt of SDP will now not be moved across to UC. Further, we are awaiting confirmation of passage through Parliament but new regulations will hopefully also allow for people previously in receipt of SDP to be back paid. This could affect up to 30,000 claimants. This amounts to “transitional protection” for the vulnerable people who have been in receipt of SDP even though they have moved via “natural migration”. The change made by the Secretary of State is of course to be welcomed – but these protections must, as a very first step, apply to everyone regardless of how they transfer to UC, either through natural or managed migration.
Support from Universal Credit staff to Working Age Directorate
UC staff at certain sites, including Nottingham Service Centre, had been helping out with legacy benefits. This will come to an end at the end of March 2019. It is expected that staff will be reallocated to Universal Credit, but this will be followed up with DWP, especially in light of the letters received by all staff in Working Age Directorate that outlined they might be subject to a temporary transfer to Other Government Departments (OGDs) to assist in Brexit work.
Escalated problems from Bishop Auckland and York
Both of these sites, new to Universal Credit, have raised concerns that the collective agreement and Flexible Working Hours Agreements were not being followed locally. This included attempts to suspend Assumed Consent and a 30-minute limit to the amount of flexi that could be accrued. DWP have provided a written response to PCS outlining the withdrawal of the mistaken local policies and explaining the misunderstanding which gave rise to attempts at infringing on Assumed Consent.
Decision making trials in Jobcentres
Existing UC decision makers in Jobcentres currently carry out some Fail to Attend decisions. DWP have notified us of a trial which will involve these decision makers making all sanctions decisions. UC TUS have already objected following long-standing practice that decisions should not be made in Jobcentres that will negatively impact claimants. DWP believe that the decisions are being made by back-of-house staff who do not deal with claimants and therefore do not believe there is a health and safety risk. UC TUS has acquired a list of all the locations of these staff; they are in a few dozen Jobcentres. This will not be released via branch bulletin as it should not become public knowledge. If your branch wants this information, please contact the Assistant Secretaries.
Independent Appeal Managers
Following the recent change to guidance, UC in Yorkshire has reportedly been unwilling to appoint appeal managers from outside the “business unit”, which we regard as being outside the directorate. UC negotiators put it to DWP that an independent appeal manager, where the appeal has come from inside UC, means looking for someone outside UC. DWP managers did not agree, and outlined how the change from the current Directorate structure to the new Work and Health Service structure will change what counts as independent, if the definition of independent means outside the Directorate. Further advice from HR will be sought.