17 April 2008
Jobcentre Plus have treated complaints about David Freud with what appears to be patronising contempt, leading at least one Benefits and Work member to go directly to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
At the end of February we asked members to complain about untrue statements made by David Freud, the DWP special adviser who aims to create millionaires from claimant’s benefits.
The basis of the complaint was that Freud was in breach of the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers.
Following our article we heard from a number of members who had made a complaint to Jobcentre Plus. Each had received the same standard response, addressing them by their first name:
David Freud is acting as an unpaid, independent adviser to DWP at the request of Secretary of State James Purnell. David previously advised the Department in 2007, culminating in the publication of his report (Reducing dependency, increasing opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work, an independent report to the Department for Work and Pensions) The focus of David Freud's work is on the carrying forward of our recently published Commissioning Strategy and its application, particularly, to groups with multiple sources of labour market disadvantage. David Freud is not employed as a civil servant.
Chief Executive's Office
One member described this response as ‘pathetic’ and we’re inclined to agree.
It seems extremely patronising to address claimants solely by their first name and it seems contemptuous to entirely ignore the substance of their complaint.
Unpaid advisers’ conduct
If Jobcentre Plus’ position is that because David Freud is an unpaid special adviser he is not covered by the code of conduct and that thus they have no power to consider the complaint, then that is what they should have said. They should then have explained what the next stage in the complaints process was, if the complainant was not happy with the response. Instead, they have simply ignored the complaint.
In addition, although unpaid special advisers are not formally covered by the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers they are covered in the Ministerial Code. This is ‘A code of Ethics and Procedural Guidance for Ministers’ produced by the Cabinet Office in July 2005, with a foreword by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Paragraph 2.14 of the Ministerial Code states that:
“Where an adviser is acting on similar terms to a Special Adviser but on an unpaid basis then they should conduct themselves as if they were a Special Adviser.”
The fact that David Freud is not employed does not, therefore, absolve him from adherence to the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers.
The Ministerial code also states that:
“The appointment of an Unpaid Adviser is a personal appointment by the Minister concerned and there is no contractual relationship between such an adviser and the Department.”
However, in our view, the fact that there is no contractual relationship does not resolve the department of all responsibility for the conduct of special advisers. If that were the case then, for example, Citizens Advice Bureau would have no responsibility for the behaviour of their volunteers. David Freud, like local councillors, holds an unpaid public office and thus must be accountable for his behaviour in that office.
If Jobcentre Plus believe it is not their duty to take action against volunteers in their department then they should explain why they believe that is the case.
We think there are three options for claimants who want to take the matter further. With any of these three options you may wish to include the text from the above sub-heading ‘Unpaid advisers’ conduct’ with your letter or email.
The first is to contact Greig Hartnoll and point out that you made a formal complaint raising specific issues. But the complaint has not been treated according to the Jobcentre Plus complaints procedure and none of the issues have been considered. In particular, the issue of breaching the code of conduct for special advisers has been ignored even though, according to paragraph 2.14 of the Ministerial Code, as an unpaid special adviser David Freud should adhere to it. Tell Mr Hartnoll that if you don’t receive a proper response within say 14 or 28 days you will pass the matter on to your MP and the Parliamentary Ombudsman or to the Independent Case Examiner.
The complaint has been dealt with by the Chief Executive’s office. This appears to be the highest level of the Jobcentre Plus complaints procedure. So, you could now pass your complaint on to the Independent Complaints Examiner, as that is the next step after level three. Simply forward copies of your complaint and the response and say that you are unhappy with the response as it has entirely ignored your complaint.
This page contains a link to an online form for complaining to the Independent Case Examiner.
David Freud is answerable directly to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. You could therefore argue that Jobcentre Plus and the Independent complaints Examiner have no jurisdiction and you therefore wish the Ombudsman to deal with the matter directly. Again forward copies of your complaint and the response you received.
This page contains a link to an online form for complaining to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
We have no idea what the outcome of any of these options will be: we can’t find any record of a complaint being made against an unpaid special adviser. But we continue to believe that no public servants, whether paid or unpaid, should be allowed to make statement likely to increase the levels of prejudice against sick and disabled claimants without having to answer for their actions.
And, if you haven’t made a complaint yet at all, it’s not too late to do so.
An outline of the Jobcentre Plus complaints procedure is available from this link.