Loking at the DWP Job Entry: Targeted Support (JETS) contract specification it highlights the twisted logic the DWP uses when it refers to ‘voluntary’ employment support.
In the Spec it says JETS is “primarily voluntary”, but then says “DWP Work Coaches may mandate some claimants to attend and participate in the initial appointment” and then for a JETS ‘volunteer’ it says “Work Coaches may set mandatory Work Focussed Interviews (WFIs) to discuss measures which potential voluntary Participants could take to enhance their employment prospects” and goes onto to state mandatory “WFIs may also be conducted with voluntary Participants if they cease to engage with JETS”
JETS ‘volunteers’ who fail to undertage Work ‘Coach’ mandated appointments or Work Focussed Interviews will be referred “to the DWP Labour Market and Decision Making Team, who will decide if a benefit sanction is appropriate”
DWP confirms today that during the recruitment of 13,500 new Jobcentre Work ‘Coaches’ at no stage are candidates advised of the role they have imposing benefit conditionality and severe financial penalties (100% benefit sanctions).
“DWP Work Coach adverts we do not explicitly refer to benefit conditionality as part of the recruitment process. At the interview stage, it would not be appropriate as we are looking to test candidates against a set of essential criteria and key skills for the role of the Work Coach. At the offer stage, again, we do not cover any aspect of benefit conditionality” Source: DWP – ‘Your vacancies for Work Coaches not appear to mention any role in sanctioning claimants benefits?‘ FOI 2020/52894 – 2 November 2020
How can any ‘coach’ start with the DWP with zero insight of their unavoidable role making people destitute by arranging for 100% of their JSA or Universal Credit ‘Standard Allowance‘ to be removed by Benefit Sanctions?
“UC work coaches setting conditions and applying sanctions“ Source: Office for Budget Responsibility: ‘The role of UC work coaches‘ January 2018
I. Basic Rights Article 1 [Human dignity] (1) Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority. Source: The Federal Government – ‘Basic Law‘ – accessed November 2nd, 2020
Under Universal Credit, Benefit Sanctions are consecutive and can therefore be indefinite and are still being applied during the current Covid19 pandemic, including 35,000 people having their benefits cut during the UK wide 3 month ‘lockdown‘.
It seems very strange that a new Work ‘Coach’ can start working in a Jobcentre and never be informed beforehand of the central role they have forcing the people they ‘coach’ to survive below an existential minimum in accordance with human dignity, via 100% Benefit Sanctions?
Update: Jobcentre guidance says a Claimant Commitment (CC) should relfect the ‘impact of coronavirus’ and crucially “Work coaches should not take any action* if the claimant has not met all their work related requirements, but can show a reasonable level of activity“. With claimants being helped this means requirement to evidence spending 35 hours a week of Work Search and Work Preparation has been relaxed and a ‘Coach’ is looking for claimants to do “a reasonable level of activity”, based upon the local labour market and local covid19 restrictions. *IE: Refer a claimant to a Decision Maker to consider applying Benefit Sanctions for failing to meet all requirements set out in a CC.
Have recently been helping a number of Universal Credit claimants to challenge their Claimant Commitment (CC), as DWP is reviewing millions of CCs. [see footnote] Of note is one supported challenge that includes a Second Opinion of their CC, this was undertaken today and the new Commitments show that conditionality and therefore Benefit Sanctions are again being relaxed, this is related to the claimant living in an area with the highest Covid19 restrictions (Tier 3) and having the highest level of conditionality that can be applied.*
More information will be posted soon, once personal data can be anonymised (with claimant consent) and to give more time to put this all in the context of DWP statements, published policy and Freedom of Information disclosures.
The Claimant Commitment (CC) is central to Universal Credit (UC) and save for exceptional circumstances one must be accepted by a claimant to get UC. A CC contains the conditions to maintain the claim or face the possibility of severe financial penalties (Benefit Sanctions) for failing to complete any of the mandatory CC requirements.
Many claimants report they have CCs that are unreasonable or difficult to understand, in these circumstances a claimant can ask a Work ‘Coach’ to amend the CC but they may be unwilling to do so.
What is often not mentioned is that claimants can request a Second Opinion (SO) of a CC, which will probably be undertaken by another ‘Coach’.
The Second Opinion process relates to when a new CC is created and during the 7 calendar day ‘cooling off‘ period [see ‘Resources‘ below] before a CC has to be accepted a SO can be requested. Below are details onasking for a SO for the first or ‘initial‘ CC. It is suggested that it is best to seek advice (check advicelocal.uk) if you are being asked to accept a newer “On-going” CC after the first/initial one has been accepted, as a claim can be closed if the SO considers the “On-going” CC is reasonable and does not need to be amended.
A pragmatic approach is to accept any CC and then tell a ‘Coach’ why it needs amending, the claimantcommitments.org.uk site can help assess whether a CC is actually reasonable and if it reflects the unique circumstances of a claimant. Claimants can also lodge a formal complaint if a ‘Coach’ declines to amend a CC after it has been accepted.
Below is a copy of the DWP’s internal guidance on requesting a Second Opinion (SO), if you seek a SO of your first/initial CC this has the least risk to UC claim and it’s payments. If you have had more than one CC, referred to as an “On-going” CC by the DWP and want it amended you can ask your Work ‘Coach’ to amend it and explain the reasons why, a ‘Coach’ should change a CC if there has been a change in a claimant’s circumstances or there are other reasons it is difficult to undertake the requirements set out in the CC or is otherwise unreasonable.
If a ‘Coach’ is unwilling to amend an On-going CC you can ask for a Second Opinion, but it is recommended to seek independent advice (check advicelocal.uk) before making a formal SO request for a On-going CC as a UC claim can be closed if the SO considers the CC is reasonable and does not need to be changed.
Notes: Due to the covid19 lockdown, since June 30th 2020, the DWP is arranging for millions of UC claimants to have a new CC [see footnote].
On claimant’s UC accounts this is being presented as a “first” CC and therefore the guidance below suggests these CCs are “Intial” CCs and therefore the guidance below that refers to an “Intial” CC should apply. If you are unsure about asking for a SO, seek independent advice (check advicelocal.uk) and or use the UC account Journal functions to request a ‘Coach’ to explain what a SO is and what could be the possible outcomes and consequences of one being arranged.
You could also ask for a copy of the DWP latest guidance on SOs, as the version below might have been updated.
April 2019: Universal Credit guidance published (157 documents) mrfrankzola.wordpress.com/april-2019-universal-credit-guidance-published-157-documents/
DWP Second Opinion guidance
Initial commitment: If the second opinion agrees that the original requirements are considered to be reasonable,the original commitments remain unchanged. If the claimant now choses to accept this commitment date of claim will be from the date the commitments isaccepted.If they refuse to accept it the claim is closed. If the requirements are considered unreasonable the claimant must be offered a new commitment to accept. They cannot ask for a further second opinion and there is nofurther cooling off period. It the clamant refuses to accept their commitment the claim will be closed. If they accept their commitment, the original date of claim is used.
If the second opinion agrees that the original requirements are considered to be reasonable,the claim is closed from the start of the assessment period in which the change was generated. The claimant will need to submit a new claim.
If the requirements are considered unreasonable the claimant must be offered a new commitment to accept. It the clamant refuses to accept their commitment (either the revised one or the original) the claim will be closed. If they accept their commitment, the claim continues.
If you want to challenge a Work ‘Coach, an adverse decision or benefit sanction, or make a complaint, you can ask for a copy of your Universal Credit (UC) Claimant History, as:
“Claimants cannot see Claimant history on their account. This information is only visible to staff”
and your history record gives the DWP a secret:
“audit trail of the action taken – for example, information about work or appointments, evidence for decisions and appeals”
and getting a copy could expose factual inaccuracies or misrepresentations that could help with any challenge or complaint against the DWP.
Claimant profileand notes
Claimant history also uses ‘profile notes’ to record complex needs:
“The claimant profile must always be the first place you look when dealing with a case and interacting with a claimant. This information is used in conjunction with other information in the journal to ensure you have the most up to date claim details and claimant circumstances. It is essential to identify claimants with complex needs quickly and accurately so that we can tailor the way we deliver the service to meet their needs” ‘Spotlight on: Using the claimant profile to record complex needs: October 2020‘
The Data Protection Act (2018) and GDPR also gives you a number of rights, such as objecting to incorrect history being used and or having it rectified (corrected). As well as the basic right to ask the DWP for a copy of your personal data they hold, which includes your Claimant History and copies of your deleted records discussed below. It is also worth remembering that you can also ask for a copy of any telephone call the DWP has recorded, it is understood all calls to Universal Credit are recorded.
“Deleted text entries [entered by a ‘coach’] can be recovered within the life of the claim and for up to 14 months following claim closure. Only DWP staff with specific privileges can view and recover deleted entries. Deleted entries are retained in line with the whole data set. Universal Credit (UC) retains data for 14 months post claim closure. “
Recording phone calls
Due to the covid19 pandemic most contact with UC, the DWP and Work Coach is via digital channels (online account, email, sms and over the phone). You may find it helpful to record all you phone calls, especially those with a Work Coach, as what they say may contradict the ‘Claimant Commitments‘ you have accepted in return for UC. A Coach, over the phone, might be more honest about the real difficulties doing work search and work preparation activities, in the current context of the covid19 pandemic and the DWP planning for an expected 4 million people to become unemployed.
You are not required to inform anyone of an intention to record a phone call, when it is used for personal and domestic purposes. If you do want to use a phone recording, it can be useful to intially provide a transcript of the call before considering disclosing the actual recording. If you have difficulties remembering what is discussed over the phone, you can also formally request for the DWP to record the call and provide you with a copy. When all parties to a phone call have a duplicate copy this helps overcome disputes that can be raised about a recording’s authenticity. DWP staff can also be given the choice not to undertake phone calls that are recorded.
There is evidence that the DWP is still operating a ‘light touch element‘  to Universal Credit, which manifests itself by Work Search requirements still not being commitments claimants must accept, which suggests related sanctions are in effect “very rare”. This can only be officiall confired when the next benefit sanctions stats will be out in November, but they will only cover the month of July when sanctions apparently got reinstated at the end of June.
Factors that effect the DWP’s ability to add more benefit sanctions related commitments to benefit claims, are the lack of face to face appointments at Jobcentres, localised covid19 restrictions, with Jobcentre managers having obligations to restrict footfall access to Jobcentres on the basis of Health andSafety during a pandemic. As well as many Jobcentre Work Coaches still working from home and the DWP having to recruit 13,500 new Coaches due to the highest level of unemployment since the 1980’s. The DWP is still operating a Universal Credit policy that contact with claimants is digital by default, with existing and new claims being managed through claimant’s online accounts, over the phone with email and sms/text reminders. 
“26. Between 30th June 2020 and the date that a claimant accepts a new or revised claimant commitment, they will be expected to do what they reasonably can to search for and be available for work. Claimants will not be subject to sanctions for failing to comply with these obligations until they accept their new or revised claimant commitment”
This supports the ‘reality on the ground‘  that millions of claimants have a claimant commitment that predates 30th June 2020 and as such, to reiterate, they will not be “subject to sanctions for failing to comply with these obligations until they accept their new or revised claimant commitment”, even though the DWP is expecting claimants “to do what they reasonably can to search for and be available for work”.
What about conditionality and Benefit Sanctions for clinically vulnerable or extremely clinically vulnerable?
Shocking : All claimants (including those who are clinically vulnerable or extremely clinically vulnerable) who are subject to conditionality ………. It's the definition of extremely clinically vulnerable. https://t.co/X7EZ5l9N84 Who could consider sanctioning these people?
“All claimants (including those who are clinically vulnerable or extremely clinically vulnerable) who are subject to conditionality will only be required to undertake agreed, reasonable, work related activities that are consistent with government advice on social distancing.
 “The reapplication of conditionality will be applied to all claimants in line with existing legislation; but work coaches will also take into account any Government guidelines on Covid-19, i.e. self-isolation, as well as any wider impacts that affect the claimant’s individual circumstances and what the claimant can now do i.e. closure or restricted access to facilities and businesses.
As we reintroduce conditionality, in line with remaining Covid-19 guidelines i.e. social distancing, we will utilise other delivery channels in order to engage effectively with all claimant groups. This will include the use of telephony and digital communications as well as a face to face offer.”
The DWP is requiring Jobcentre Work ‘Coaches’ to work on Saturdays and Weekdays from 8am till 8pm from November. Claimants will soon get even more ‘Coach’ harassment, not just with millions and millions of Digital Nudges (“digital interventions”) via email, text and phone but mandatory requirements to attend a Jobcentre in the dark and cold nights of winter or face severe financial penalties (benefit sanctions) for not doing so.
The DWP has released a copy of it’s internal guidance for Jobcentre ‘Work Coaches’, that suggests the DWP seems to be using a more ‘light touch’ conditionality regime for Universal Credit claimants. The guidance covers telephone appointments to create Claimant Commitments, that if not adhered can result in severe financial penalties (benefit sanctions) and how Work Search reviews should be undertaken during the coronavirus crisis.
The guidance on Work Search goes into great detail of how ‘coaches’ can use claimant’s UC accounts to incessantly nudge millions of people, with “digital interventions”, to search and apply for work that does not exist, is inappropriate, requires working unlawfully for more than 48 hours, expects them to work for zero-wages (workfare) or could put them at risk of coronavirus.
“Work coaches must update the claimant’s journal with a tailored digital nudge… The work coach may consider at this point if future digital interventions are suitable for the claimant”
Examples of how the DWP is tying itself in knots, is how it is dealing with telephone based appointments that should be “10 minutes only” and “If the claimant does not answer the phone, the work coach must book a work search review by phone (giving the claimant at least 32 hours’ notice)”