The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has condemned the Government’s decision to privatise part of the administration of Universal Credit.
Private firm Capita will be gifted with the responsibility for booking initial work search interviews for new Universal Credit claimants.
Capita is currently facing a second inquiry into a £1.5bn Whitehall jobs contract, which small companies claim could leave them facing financial ruin.
A press release on the union’s website reads:
“Their intention is that the process for booking the appointment for a claimant’s initial work search interview will be handed to the private company Capita. No DWP staff will be transferred to Capita under this proposal.
“There is no justifiable business reason for doing this. DWP claim that Capita will be able to make these appointments at weekends for claimants who make a claim online at a weekend, but in practice the appointments could just as well be done by DWP staff the following Monday, as has happened up to now.
“Capita already have been handed the same task for claims to Jobseekers Allowance and this announcement extends that arrangement to Universal Credit claims.
“PCS has protested strongly to DWP about this decision. Seeing their work privatised is a kick in the teeth for our hard working members.
“Members will also be understandably concerned that this privatisation is a foretaste of further private sector involvement in the delivery of Universal Credit.
“PCS has also made the point to the department that Capita is consistently failing to meet its key targets in relation to JSA First Contact calls that are currently out sourced to them. This failure contrasts with the DWP staff in CCS who are consistently meeting the very same targets.
“Again the failure of the private sector to out-perform the public sector has been ignored as the tired, false dogma of ‘private sector good, public sector bad’ is wheeled out once again.
“PCS will continue to argue against all privatisation of DWP work and will continue to campaign for all privatised work to be brought back in-house where it belongs.”
> Hear, hear – claimants should be harrassed by public sector, not private company , workers.
Jobcentres are, I would guess, high on the list for selling off to private companies if the Tories win the next election. Possibly if Labour win too.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 22 Feb 2015
Sick and disabled claimants are experiencing severe distress and some are even close to suicide due to botched disability benefit reform, an insider has revealed.
Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for Britain’s sick and disabled, but the assessment process which should take no longer than 26 weeks is sometimes taking twice as long.
The two companies are set to make £540 million from the new benefit in the next five years. Atos will receive the larger share of around £400 million, despite heavy criticism and a poor record in delivering ‘fit for work’ tests for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), while Capita will make roughly £140 million.
PIP can be claimed by sick and disabled people regardless of their employment status.
Under the new disability benefit PIP, claimants are required to attend face-to-face assessments to determine their eligibility and the level of benefit they will receive. The whistleblower claims that mismanagement, IT problems and staff shortages are to blame for a backlog of 145,000 cases.
While waiting to be assessed for PIP, many sick and disabled people are often left penniless and unable to pay their rent, because their DLA has been stopped, the whistleblower said.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, the whistleblower said:
“I’ve had people on the phone crying their eyes out and saying they are going to commit suicide.
“On one occasion I had to call an ambulance because they said they had stopped taking their medication. Some people have been going for months and months without money.”
“We’ve started getting calls from people saying their DLA will run out in a month’s time and they’ve not even got an appointment for an assessment.
“Others have been left with nothing because their DLA has been stopped. People have lost their home because they can’t pay their rent.”
She continued: “It’s a shambles. Day in, day out there are people ringing up to say, ‘Why is my appointment cancelled?’ I’ve seen appointments cancelled time and time again.”
According to the whistleblower, Capita call centre staff have been given instructions on what excuses to use when claimants ask why their PIP assessment has been delayed or cancelled. “I am having to lie on a daily basis about why things are taking so long”, she said.
Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper told the Daily Mirror: “By the autumn, we anticipate that no one will be waiting for an assessment for longer than 26 weeks.”
Capita said they would be hiring more staff to help reduce the backlog.
Source – Welfare News Service, 03 Aug 2014
This article was written by Randeep Ramesh, Social affairs editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 10th March 2014
More than 20 councils have used or plan to use controversial lie detector tests to catch fraudulent benefits claimants, despite the government dropping the technology because it was found to be not sufficiently reliable.
Responding to freedom of information (FOI) requests, 24 local authorities confirmed they had employed or were considering the use of “voice risk analysis” (VRA) software, which its makers say can pick out fraudulent claimants by listening in on calls and identifying signs of stress.
> Of course, people in genuine need never show signs of stress !
Although in 2010 the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced it had given up VRA software, the FOI responses show councils have been spending, in some cases, millions of pounds on the technology.
Local authorities have continued to use the system to check whether people are honestly claiming the single person council tax discount, which allows single adults to pay 75% of the amount levied on a family.
Tory-controlled Derbyshire Dales said it had taken part in a county-wide review of council tax in 2011 that had used the technology – a contract worth £280,000 to Capita.
> Crapita – who’d have guessed they’d be involved in something like this ?
The same company was hired by Labour-run Southwark in south London and was paid £2.5m over three years. The council says VRA technology “was used as one tool to assist in determining the customers’ eligibility for the discount”.
The council said it did not record how effective the scheme had been but did say that its real worth was in making the public aware that it would crack down on benefit cheats. A council minute last year records: “Although [VRA was] used in a minority of cases, a significant amount of publicity was received that assisted in communicating to residents the council’s intention to remove discounts if property occupancy could not be evidenced.”
VRA is supposed to detect signs of stress in a caller’s voice by analysing short snippets of speech, and is still used in the insurance industry to catch fraudsters. Critics say the system is not powerful enough to distinguish cheats from honest callers.
A number of councils – Redcar, Middlesbrough, West Dorset and Wycombe – said they were convinced of VRA’s merits and were considering use of the system in the future.
False Economy, the trade union-funded campaign group that put in the freedom of information requests to more than 200 local authorities, told the Guardian: “It says a lot about council outsourcing – and the benefits-bashing agenda – that this pseudo-scientific gimmick is now making its way in through the back door. Capita is a firm with a long rap sheet of expensive failure. Neither they nor their technological snake oil should be trusted.”
There have been complaints from claimants who were assessed using the technique. In South Oxfordshire two people formally protested after having their voices tested in 2013. The council says that Capita’s system helped reduce the number of people claiming the single person discount by 3%, and would consider using it again.
Voice risk analysis has been mired in controversy since scientists raised doubts over the technology soon after it reached the market. In 2007, two Swedish researchers, Anders Eriksson and Francisco Lacerda, published their own analysis of VRA in the International Journal of Speech, Language and Law. They found no scientific evidence to support claims for the device made by the manufacturer.
Lacerda, head of linguistics at Stockholm University, told the Guardian that VRA “does nothing. That is the short answer. There’s no scientific basis for this method. From the output it generates this analysis is closer to astrology than science. There was very good work done by the DWP in the UK showing it did not work, so I am surprised.”
However, the Local Government Association, which represents English and Welsh councils, said the tool was used to help identify possible fraud. Peter Fleming, chair of the LGA’s improvement board, said: “Councils detect almost £200m-worth of benefit fraud committed every year. Every pound fraudulently claimed by people trying to cheat the system is a pound less that councils have to help those who need it most.
“No one is going to be prosecuted for benefit fraud on the result of voice analysis tests alone. But, in a small number of areas, councils use this technology as part of a wider range of methods to identify cases which may need closer scrutiny.”
The DWP told the Guardian: “Local authorities are free to design their own approaches to preventing benefit fraud.”
In a statement Capita said that, when it “undertakes a council tax single person discount review, councils can choose to use voice risk analysis technology as part of the process. The technology is never used in isolation. It is only used in cases which are deemed ‘high risk’, when earlier stages of the review have indicated that more than one person may be living at the property.”
Capita added: “The selective use of VRA technology is a useful additional tool in the validation process of identifying potentially fraudulent claims for single person discount.
“The decision of whether to revoke benefits is made by councils, based on the range of information gathered during the review process. The removal of claimants receiving discounts that they are not entitled to reduces council spend, enabling money to be directed to those who really need the council’s support.”
> Tell you what – a compromise. You can use it on claimants after it has undergone an extensive test – 5 years, say – on all MPs, local councillors, Jobcentre staff, etc
Source – Welfare News Service, 10 Mar 2014