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11 August 2006

The DWP has issued new guidance to staff which should make it easier for representatives, relatives and carers to get information about benefits claims they are assisting with. In particular, instructions to staff on 'implicit consent' means that written authority may not be needed in order to be given information about a client or relative.

The guide 'Working with customer representatives' has been produced following feedback to the DWP about the reluctance of some staff to deal with customer representatives over the phone and the failure to keep representatives informed of customer claims and decisions.

According to the guide a customer representative can include:

  • advice or welfare rights organisations
  • professionals such as social workers or doctors
  • family members or friends
  • MPs

One of the important issues dealt with in the guide is that of 'implicit consent'. Staff are told that they should use their experience and judgement to satisfy themselves that a caller has the consent to act on behalf of the customer and only rarely request signed authority. The kind of evidence staff should seek in order to decide if a caller has implied consent includes establishing if the caller:

  • Is in possession of basic information about the customer, for example, NINO, date of birth of customer/partner, address, etc, and
  • is clearly in possession of the facts of the claim or is able to quote from recent correspondence with the customer, and
  • makes enquiries consistent with the role of a bona fide representative, such as asking:
  • what stage the claim has reached
  • why a particular decision has been made
  • how benefit is made up
  • whether a particular premium is being paid
  • whether a particular circumstance has been taken into account.

The guide also includes a sample authority form which can be used by agencies. You can download a copy of 'Working with customer representatives'. But be warned: you may have to quote from it extensively and repeatedly in order to get DWP staff to actually abide by it.