Visits by a Performance Measurement review officer

John Slater 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,

The DWP states at https://www.gov.uk/dwp-visit:

“You may get a visit from a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officer to check that your benefits payments are correct.

A Performance Measurement review officer may visit you if you’re claiming:

Employment and Support Allowance
Housing Benefit
Income Support
Jobseeker’s Allowance
Pension Credit

Your name is selected at random to be checked. You won’t always get a letter in advance telling you about the visit.

What to expect

The officer will interview you in your home and will want to see 2 forms of identification.

They’ll also ask to see documents about money, savings and rent, eg:

- payslips
- bank, building society or Post Office accounts
- rent book or tenancy agreement
- benefits and tax credit awards”

Please provide the following information:

Q1. The legislation that gives a Performance Measurement review officer the powers to:
(a) simply turn up at a claimant’s home without a prior appointment.
(b) gain entry to a claimants home without their permission in order to carry out the review.
(c) demand access to the specified documents.

Q2. If the scope, purpose and authority to carry out such visits is not defined in legislation (i.e. it is simply departmental policy) then please confirm this.

Q3. The method employed to randomly select claimants for a meeting with the Performance Measurement review officer.

Q4. Please confirm that claimants may:
(a) refuse any Performance Measurement review officer entry to their home without any risk to their benefits.
(b) decline to meet with the Performance Measurement review officer at their home without any risk to their benefits.
(c) insist that any meeting take place at a building used by the DWP in its normal day to day operations (e.g. JCP) without any risk to their benefits.
(e) require the DWP to provide reasonable notice in writing to attend such a meeting without any risk to their benefits.
(f) bring someone with them to attend such a meeting without any risk to their benefits.
(g) record (audio) any meeting on their own terms with the Performance Measurement review officer in accordance with their rights under Section 36 (Domestic Purposes) of the Data Protection Act 1998 without any risk to their benefits.

Q5. Provide any DWP documentation that specifies the scope and purpose of the meetings with a Performance Measurement review officer.

Yours faithfully,

John Slater

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DWP IGS FOI, Department for Work and Pensions

3 Attachments

Dear John Slater
 
Please see the attached letter regarding your Freedom of Information
request.
 
Thank you.
 
IGS Freedom of Information Team
 
 
 

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Dear DWP IGS FOI,

Thank you for such a comprehensive and clear reply.

Yours sincerely,

John Slater

J Newman left an annotation ()

I can't imagine what needs to be redacted other than aspects of the process that are underhand and therefore embarrassing to reveal.

True statistical randomness if harder to achieve than it might sound and I find it hard to believe given experience elsewhere within DWP that they can resist the temptation to 'target' certain groups or even individuals. Clearly if they find an error they report it and it is corrected, so this is not quite the innocent collation of performance data suggested.

John Slater left an annotation ()

I have the same concerns about the redaction and was considering submitting another RFI to ask for the redacted info. That way the DWP will have to explain why it believes it is exempt.

I'm sure you are right that "random selection" is DWP 'speak' for people it wants target or doesn't have grounds for a full fraud investigation (e.g. anonymous phone tips from someone with a grudge).

This is also another example where the DWP expands on a very general requirement defined in law and uses it to do something that is excessive. Turning up on someone's door step and demanding information (almost with menaces) in the stated context is wrong.

I'm also wondering if there is value in submitting an RFI for the type of data that the DWP gathers and records as a result of these visits or meetings at DWP buildings.

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 'Visits by a Performance Measurement review officer'.

This IRR relates to the document "PMG Apr 14 Part 07 Review Final Redacted.pdf" supplied.

Given that the stated purpose of the visit by a Performance Measurement Review Officer (PMRO”) is to “check that your benefits payments are correct” and that such meetings can take place at DWP offices I am at a loss to understand the nature and probability of any likely danger.

The nature of the unredacted information is such that I find it extremely difficult to believe that there can be a direct causal link between disclosure of the redacted information and danger to an individual.

The Section 38 exemption has been addressed by the Tribunal service on a number of occasions. BUAV v IC and Newcastle University (EA/2010/0064) is now considered to be the leading case on this exemption. It addressed 4 important points.

1. What does endanger mean? The Tribunal stated:
““We do not fully accept either submission. We must take into account that in s38(1) Parliament chose to use the word “endanger” and did not refer either to “injury” or to “prejudice”. On the other hand, considering the statutory purpose of freedom of information, balanced by exemptions, we are not persuaded that it would be right to read the word “endanger” in a sense which would engage the exception merely because of a risk. A risk is not the same as a specific danger. Every time a motorist drives on the road there is a risk that an accident may occur, but driving is only dangerous when a particularly risky situation arises. So, for example, there is always a risk that a researcher might become a target for persons opposing animal research by unlawful and violent means, but the researcher’s physical health would not be endangered unless a specific attack were made. We need to consider the likelihood of such an attack, and the likelihood of other conduct which would endanger mental health or other aspects of safety.”

2. The importance of establishing a causal link between disclosure of the particular information and the envisaged danger. The Tribunal stated:
““There is also a causation criterion to be met. We are not required to consider in the round the likelihood of the researchers or other persons being endangered, but specifically the likelihood of such endangerment as a result of disclosure of the requested information.”

3. Misconstruing the information. Here the Tribunal stated:
““In this connection we wish to make clear our view that information cannot generally be withheld simply because it might be misunderstood or taken out of context. A public authority can publish together with information released under FOIA whatever explanations or additional information it wishes. But we recognise that there comes a point where a particular piece of information may be so liable to be misunderstood and misused that the exemption is engaged.”

4. The difficulty to engage S38 and the in-built weight of the exemption. The Tribunal stated:
““Self-evidently, there would need to be very weighty countervailing considerations to outweigh a risk to health or safety which was of sufficient severity to engage section 38(1).”

In light of the points raised above please explain why the DWP believes that S38 is engaged such that its reasons satisfy the 4 points (see above) discussed in BUAV v IC and Newcastle University (EA/2010/0064). If it is unable to do so then please disclose the redacted information.

Please note that this is the only IRR I will raise.

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

Yours faithfully,

John Slater

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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J Newman left an annotation ()

In the context of recording WCAs and the claimed responses to questions about public interest in the principle I tried to establish the sampling methodology to no avail. I don't think anyone really understood the definition or need for true randomness.

DWP IGS FOI, Department for Work and Pensions

4 Attachments

Dear John Slater,

Please see the attached files regarding your Freedom of Information request.

Thank you.

IGS Freedom of Information Team

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Dear DWP IGS FOI,

Thank you for such a professional and well reasoned reply. I was expecting to have to refer this RFI to the ICO but in light of the response I won't be taking any further action.

Yours sincerely,

John Slater