Imposing Work-Focused Interviews - People in ESA Support Group

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Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

There are growing reports by ESA claimants, who are members of the Support Group, that they are receiving letters (“WFI Letters”) about attending work-focused interviews (“WFI”). These letters vary from explaining that a meeting has been set up for them (giving details of the meeting) to telling them that their ESA may be affected if they do not attend.

Typical text from these letters is shown below:

“We've set up a meeting for you with your work coach. They'll tell you how we can help you while you're getting Employment and Support Allowance.

We know most people's lives are made better if they can work. But understand that it can be hard for some people to find work or know what sort of work they might be able to do. Your work coach can help you think about the types of work you might be able to do at some point in the future.”

and

“We have decided that you have potential for work-related activity and must take part in work-focused interviews with a personal adviser to continue to receive Employment and Support Allowance in full. Your adviser will help you to take reasonable steps to move towards work. This could include support to manage your illness or disability. We will write to you separately about attending an interview, you must attend or it will affect your employment and support allowance.”

The DWP has previously referred to these activities as “local activities” stating that
“Jobcentres are however at liberty to locally undertake activities promoting the services they offer to Support Group claimants on a voluntary basis. There is no fixed operating process around voluntary engagement but departmental guidance (supplied to you previously) makes clear that Support Group claimants are voluntary participants in any interventions and the interventions cannot include any mandatory conditionality.”

Given that people from across the country are receiving these WFI letters these “local activities” appear to be happening nationally. The Department will be aware that the Welfare Reform Act 2012 specifically forbids the Secretary of State from imposing WFI on people assigned to the SG. Therefore, any of its employees that send out letters claiming that people in the SG must attend WFI or it will affect their ESA is acting unlawfully.

RFI1 – Is it still the position of the Department that the ongoing action of JCP Offices issuing these WFI Letters to people in the ESA SG remains a local activity? (i.e. individual JCP offices electing to send out the letters without instruction from above)

RFI2 – Has the department issued any guidance or instructions to local JCP offices (or even to District Offices) about ‘inviting’ people in the SG to attend WFI? If so please disclose it.

RFI3 – Does the Department have a centralised process for dealing with employees that act unlawfully (i.e. outside of prescribed powers) or is the matter delegated to the relevant district office/local JCP office?

RFI4 – In one of the WFI Letters it states “We have decided that you have potential for work-related activity and must take part in work-focused interviews”. On what legal basis is the Department able to decide that someone has the potential for WRA? (i.e. that they may be fit to carry out WRA at some point in the future).

It is my understanding that a person is either found to bit fit for WRA or not. I am not aware of any prescribed powers that permit the Department to determine whether someone may or may not be able to carry out WRA at some point in the future.

Yours faithfully,

John Slater

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