A new report by the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) reveals that the DWP protects its staff by failing to properly investigate complaints against them, or even investigate them at all. As a result claimants can be treated unfairly, rudely and even aggressively with little fear of any repercussion for the staff involved.
Most complaints upheld
The ICE report explains that most complaints against the DWP are either wholly or partially upheld.
In the year 2015-16 2,592 cases were received by ICE, of which they accepted 1,075 as being suitable for them to look into. Of these, a number were withdrawn or resolved, leaving just 576 which were fully investigated by ICE.
- 28% of those cases were fully upheld
- 44% were partially upheld
- 28% were not upheld
One thing to note is that this seems a very small number of cases that were even referred to ICE.
There are likely to be several reasons for this.
Standard delaying tactics by the DWP, including not responding to letters and emails and not answering or returning calls mean that many complaints are abandoned at an early stage.
In addition, many sick or disabled claimants simply do not have the reserves of energy to pursue a complaint for the many months it is likely to take to get to ICE.
And, undoubtedly, for many claimants there is the fear that making a complaint will lead to them being targeted for further unfair treatment by the department.
The fact that such a high proportion of complaints that do make it as far as ICE are upheld may be some encouragement to claimants who are wondering whether it is worth the effort.
The reality that the ‘consolatory payment’ required by ICE is generally limited to somewhere between £50 and £150 may be rather less encouraging. Though for many, such as this claimant, the important thing is not getting financial redress, but just being listened to:
“We have received the report from Joanna Wallace and it was a very special and emotional moment reading that our complaint was being upheld... it feels like a dream that we have finally been listened to. We are so grateful to everyone who has put in the time and effort to investigate everything properly.”
Complaints against staff
The most concerning aspect of the ICE report, however, is the disclosure that there is a ‘theme’ of Jobcentre Plus not properly investigating complaints against its own staff.
“A theme that has continued with Jobcentre Plus is the way in which they deal with complaints about their own staff. DWP have clear guidance on how to manage complaints about staff. Unfortunately, we are still seeing cases in which the Department have only followed this process in part, and have either failed to document their investigation into the complaint, failed to consider all of the evidence available or failed to inform the claimant of the outcome. During this reporting period we have also seen a number of cases where DWP failed to take any action to investigate complaints.”
In one example, in which a member of staff at a Jobcentre allegedly made a threatening remark loudly to a claimant in the presence of other people, the DWP failed to gather any witness statements or investigate in any way.
This is in spite of the fact that guidance for managers tells them that “written statements should be gathered from the complainant, staff members and any known witnesses to the event.”
ICE upheld the complaint but added:
“I did not recommend that Jobcentre Plus revisit Mr A’s complaint, primarily because the events had occurred over a year ago. I recommended that Jobcentre Plus apologise to Mr A and make a consolatory payment of £50.”
Whether the claimant actually felt consoled by this payment is not recorded. What is clear though, is that the member of staff went entirely undisciplined simply because the DWP ignored their own procedures and dragged out their responses.
In another case relating to funeral expenses, a Complaints Resolution Manager for Jobcentre Plus failed to give the claimant information they asked for and hung up the telephone on the claimant.
When the claimant complained about the Complaints Resolution Manager, instead of investigating the DWP simply passed the complaint back to the same Complaints Resolution Manager.
ICE upheld the claimant’s complaint and the claimant got a £100 consolatory payment and an apology.
Yet another claimant alleged that he had experienced “threatening and inappropriate behaviour” from Jobcentre Plus staff and that they had failed to make adjustments for his mobility issues and delayed his appointment.
When he complained about this, Jobcentre Plus apologised for the delay but ignored his other complaints entirely.
ICE upheld the claimant’s complaint and he received an apology and a £150 payment.
What is particularly concerning about all of these incidents is that there is no mention of any sort of disciplinary action against any of the staff.
At Jobcentre Plus, it seems, frontline staff are free to threaten claimants whilst managers can safely ignore complaints about such behaviour. The worst that will happen is that the taxpayer will have to foot the bill for a derisory ‘consolatory’ payment.