DWP misleading the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

M Boyce made this Freedom of Information request to Department for Work and Pensions

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The request was partially successful.

Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

This FOI request concerns the major issue: whether ‘‘sanctions’’ are used as a FIRST or a LAST resort, and to that effect whether information given by the DWP to the Work and Pensions Select Committee directly contradicts the information given to the public.
Disentitlement, claim closure, benefit suspension, doubts, benefit reductions, and sanctions - welcome to the unfair and Alice in Wonderland world of the DWP, where everything is definitely not as it seems. ‘‘Sanctions’’ (and this includes benefit disentitlement in broad terms ) are clearly being used as a FIRST resort, and not as the DWP constantly claim, a LAST resort. The DWP have supplied the Works and Pensions Select Committee with legally incorrect and inaccurate information. Why? Have the DWP lied to the Select Committee, or are the very well paid people in charge of strategy and decision making at the DWP just grossly incompetent? Let’s find out.

Regulation 25 of the Jobseeker’s Allowance Regulations 1996
Entitlement ceasing on a failure to comply.

25. (1) ‘Entitlement to jobseeker’s allowance shall cease in the following circumstances
( a ) if a claimant fails to participate in an interview on the day specified in a relevant notification, and fails to make contact with an employment officer in the manner set out in that notification before the end of the period of five working days’.

That legal position is further clarified and strengthened in the updated 2012 benefit regulations, which state:
‘From 22.10.12 non-participation in the interview leads to DISENTITLEMENT in ALL cases except where the claimant makes contact within 5 days in which case the DM considers a sanction’.
In Chapter 20 - JSA and IS - conditions of entitlement, it states the following:
‘Where claimants have failed to participate, or participated late having been given a warning and failed to make contact with an Employment Office within 5 working days entitlement ends’. The claimants benefit payment would cease on the day following the missed appointment.
In a reply to an FOI request (23/04/15) the DWP informed me that:
‘The JSA appointment letter includes details of the date and time of the appointment, what will happen to their benefit if they do not attend that appointment - the WRITTEN WARNING referred to in your question’.
So the DWP maintain that the written warning only occurs on the appointment letter - NO subsequent warning letters (alerting the claimant of a benefit ‘doubt’) are sent to claimants if they miss their appointment.

The DWP have informed me in answer to recent FOI requests that:
‘If a claimant does not attend an interview and does not make contact with the jobcentre within 5 working days then their claim will be closed and they will no longer be entitled to benefit.’ The claimant will have all their benefit money stopped for up to two weeks. If the claimant then makes a fresh JSA claim they will receive a further 4 week benefit sanction (application of the reserved low level decision).

The Department for Work and Pensions does not have a clue how to consistently categorise its labour market doubts. It applies entitlement and sanction doubts incorrectly. For instance if someone fails to attend an adviser interview (often because they did not know about it ) as outlined above, then this is classified as a sanction doubt and not an entitlement doubt, but claimants are not initially sanctioned, but benefit disentitled first and then subsequently sanctioned when they make a fresh claim for JSA.

JSA suspension for missing an adviser interview is also called benefit DISENTITLEMENT in Benefits SANCTIONS Volume 6.

The DWP have repeatedly informed me that a claimant would NOT be disentitled if they failed to attend an adviser interview. They’re categorically wrong, as the above shows.

And now the DWP has given the Works and Pensions Select Committee completely inaccurate information, as outlined below. This is a very serious matter.

Work and pensions - Fifth Report. Benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review, 18 March 2015.

5. Categories of JSA ‘‘sanction’’

Chris Hayes is the DWP’s Labour Market Strategy Director ( who should know what he is talking about! )
Sheila Gilmore was a Labour MP until the 2015 general election and a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

106. ‘Chris Hayes confirmed that there were two different processes for the ‘two forms of benefit reduction’. If a claimant had, for example, not attended an appointment with a Work Coach the claimant was informed in WRITING that a ‘DOUBT’ had arisen, and was allowed five days to present good reason, before a referral was made to a Decision Maker. The claimant’s benefit payment would NOT be affected until a decision was made’.
This completely contradicts the information the DWP provide to the public, as in previous paragraphs above.

Work and Pensions Committee
Oral evidence: Benefit Sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review, HC 814
Wednesday 4 February 2015

Q.292 Sheila Gilmore:
‘Prior to this meeting, your officials supplied us with a description of the process of JSA decision making. It stated that a sanction would not impact on a claimant’s benefit until good reason has been considered and the claimant has been notified of the decision.
However, you also sent us two fact sheets and two claimant letter templates from which it seems clear that whenever doubt arises - whatever somebody is meant to understand by that - as to whether the claimant is actively seeking employment or available for work, the benefit payment is suspended IMMEDIATELY before good reason has been considered and a decision made. What is the difference between this situation? You are sending out letters to people telling them there has already been a suspension of their benefit before good reason has been looked into’.
Chris Hayes:
‘Let me explain the difference between the two. There are two types of benefit reduction. First of all, if there is a doubt about someone fulfilling the basic conditions of receiving JSA - it only applies to JSA - i.e. actively seeking work or being available for work, we must suspend the benefit. That would ONLY happen where a claimant came in on the fortnightly check and the work coach has talked to them…
If there was no good reason given, the work coach would suspend the benefit immediately. That would go forward for an independent decision to make sure that decision was valid and they have taken all the circumstances into account…
The other situation is where someone has not followed a jobseeker’s direction or has not attended an appointment, where the claimant is allowed five days to provide good cause before a decision is made. There are five days, but there is a series of checks to be done to ensure that, if the person is vulnerable, they have received any letter or sometimes we make a phone call to make sure they have understood what is happening’.

Q.293 Sheila Gilmore: ‘Are you suggesting that suspension would ONLY happen after a face-to-face meeting? Why do we get reports of people finding that no money has gone into their bank account?’
Chris Hayes: ‘If someone does not turn up for their regular job search REVIEW at all and we do not hear from them at all, DESPITE ATTEMPTS TO CONTACT THEM, after five days we have to suspend the benefit, because we have no legal basis on which to pay’.

Q.294. Sheila Gilmore: ‘You are suggesting that ALL of the suspensions are because people did not turn up for the jobseeker’s REVIEW’.
Chris Hayes: ‘YES, THE REVIEW’.

I will now ask you some FOI questions to clarify the above contradictory RECORDED information. I will remind you that under FOI legislation you have a legal duty to clarify any inconsistent or contradictory recorded information. So, let’s not have the usual evasion please.

Chris Hayes has told the Work and Pensions Select Committee the following, as recorded above:
(1) Claimants are informed in writing that a ‘doubt’ has arisen if they miss a JSA Work Coach interview appointment.
Has Chris Hayes correctly informed the Select Committee or has he mislead them?
(2) The claimants benefit payment would NOT be affected until a decision was made.
Has Chris Hayes correctly informed the Select Committee or has he mislead them?
(3) Chris Hayes has told the Select Committee that there is a series of checks to be done to ensure that if a claimant is ‘vulnerable’ they have actually received any appointment letter.
What are these series of checks?
(4) Do the series of checks only apply to ‘vulnerable’ people?
(5) Chris Hayes has told the Select Committee that immediate benefit suspension (entitlement and payment - not referred to a DM) would ONLY apply if a claimant failed to turn up to their fortnightly signing REVIEW, and not if they failed to turn up to a Work Coach interview.
Has Chris Hayes correctly informed the Select Committee or has he mislead them?

It is now abundantly clear that benefit ‘sanctions’ are sometimes being applied as a FIRST resort and not, as government ministers keep insisting, as a LAST resort. Chris Hayes and the DWP do not want the Select Committee to know the truth of what is really going on and the severe hardship that hundreds of thousands of ‘sanctioned’ claimants are now facing. The DWP have repeatedly mislead the Select Committee. Does the DWP know just how serious misleading a parliamentary select committee is? No? Don’t worry, you soon will. I will be writing to the Select Committee and my MP when I have received your response to my FOI request.

Yours faithfully,

M BOYCE

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DWP Strategy Freedom of Information, Department for Work and Pensions

Dear M Boyce,

Thank you for your Freedom of Information request.

You can expect a reply by 12 June, unless I need to come back to you to clarify your request or the balance of the public interest test needs to be considered.

If you have any queries about this letter please contact me quoting the reference number above.

Yours sincerely,

DWP Central FoI Team

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Operations FOI Requests, Department for Work and Pensions

4 Attachments

 
Dear M Boyce,
 
Please find attached the reply to your recent Freedom of Information
request reference number 2002 with attachments:
 
 
 
Thank you
 
DWP Freedom of Information Team
 
 
 
 

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Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Work and Pensions's handling of my FOI request 'DWP misleading the Work and Pensions Select Committee.'.

Here we go again, the DWP being obstructive and evasive.
In your response you state the following:
'..I should explain a little about the FOIA. The act concerns the provision of RECORDED INFORMATION held by public authorities such as DWP'.
Yes, I agree, but I didn't need you to tell me that - I already knew that.
Then you state:
'the Act does not require that we create new information.' This is correct. But then you also say 'or require us to generate answers to questions.' On the last point you are wrong.
You also state:
'Therefore, if a request is made in the form of a question, we provide the recorded information already held that answers the question.' No, no, no. You clearly need educating on these matters, so I will helpfully put your muddled ideas on the FOIA right.
I suspect that you may not have heard of Section 16 of the FOIA 2000, so I'll enlighten you.
16. Duty to provide advice and assistance:
'It shall be the duty of a public authority to provide advice and assistance, so far as it would be REASONABLE to expect the authority to do so, to persons who propose to make, or have made, requests for information to it.'
You clearly think it is unreasonable to provide a simple yes or no answer to a question about RECORDED information. Well, you would, wouldn't you?
The ICO are likely not to agree with you. In fact in the ICO guidance on FOI requests they state:
'..this doesn't prevent you providing answers or explanations as well.' And 'You should normally be able to explain to the requester the nature of the information, or provide further information to put the information into context.'
I also telephoned the ICO today and asked them specifically if an authority can simply refuse to answer questions. They said an authority should not do so.
Now,stop playing games and just answer the questions I asked, or you will be compelled to do so by the ICO - your choice.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/d...

Yours faithfully,

M Boyce

DWP freedom-of-information-requests, Department for Work and Pensions

This is an automated confirmation that your request for information has
been accepted by the DWP FoI mailbox.
 
By the next working day your request will be forwarded to the relevant
information owner within the Department who will respond to you direct. 
 
If your email is a Freedom of Information request you can normally
expect a response within 20 working days.
 
Should you have any further queries in connection with this request do
please contact us.
 
For further information on the Freedom of Information Act within DWP
please click on the link below.
 
[1]http://www.dwp.gov.uk/freedom-of-informa...
 

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Dear DWP freedom-of-information-requests,

Please deal with this supplement as part of your Internal Review of my FOI request above.
Looking through your response again, you not only fail to answer my specific questions, but the recorded information that you have supplied to try to 'answer' my questions is mostly completely inapplicable and irrelevant.
My FOI request was clearly about JSA disentitlement following a claimants failure to attend a Work Coach interview, and subsequently not getting in touch with the jobcentre within 5 working days. You then send me recorded information on not just JSA, but also ESA and the Work Programme. Why? That is utterly irrelevant. You then try to force a square peg ( ESA and Work Programme) into a round hole (JSA disentitlement). Why?
To summarise:
You refuse to answer my specific questions with simple yes or no answers.
You send me mostly irrelevant recorded information.
You try to mislead me by then attempting to 'answer' my questions with answers to questions that I have not asked about ESA and the Work Programme.
You really have got some proper explaining to do.

Yours sincerely,

M Boyce

Operations FOI Requests, Department for Work and Pensions

3 Attachments

 
Dear M Boyce,
 
Please find attached the reply to your recent Freedom of Information
internal review (IR) request reference number IR322 with associated
documents:
 
 
Thank you,
 
DWP Freedom of Information Team
 
 
 
 

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