21 July 2010

A DWP mole has provided Benefits and Work with a confidential letter which reveals that DLA claims may be affected when 1.5 million incapacity benefit claimants are transferred to employment and support allowance, beginning next year.  The letter also discloses that the DWP consider migration to be a ‘risk’ because the pre-migration pilot will test almost nothing . Until full migration starts the DWP will have no idea whether its computer software will work or whether Jobcentre Plus or Atos will be able to cope with the huge volume of extra medicals, phone calls and letters involved.

The confidential letter, dated 29 June 2010, informs Jobcentre Plus managers that the DWP will reassess approximately 1,518,000 claimants out of a total of 2.5 million currently on incapacity benefits.  This number allows for ‘off-flows’ of claimants due to death or recovery and for those reaching state pension age.

The letter reveals that the DWP expect “about 20% of existing IB customers to subsequently submit JSA claims” after being refused ESA.  This means that Jobcentre Plus is expecting to cope with an additional 300,000 JSA claims beginning in March 2011, at the same time as it is cutting around 84,000 staff

An “Early Migration Trial” will run from October 2010 to January 2011 to test the processes for migration and to “gauge customer reaction”.  Claimants will be selected from Burnley and Aberdeen Benefits Delivery Centres and the trial will also involve the use of Contact Centres in Coventry, Bangor and Bridgend.

However, all 1,700 trial migrations will be carried out clerically, meaning that DWP computer software will not be used or tested until full migration starts in February 2011.  The letter acknowledges that migration “carries a certain amount of risk” because of this lack of testing.  In fact, the document admits that the trial will not:

  • “Test any of the IT functionality
  • Test any of the key process design involving IT/User interaction
  • Test timings not related to customer phone calls e.g. assessment and payment of the case, as this will be managed clerically
  • Stress test business volumetrics required from Go Live
  • Test Atos capacity required from Go Live”

So, the supposed trial, will deal with a tiny 1,700 claimants over a period of four months with no use of Jobcentre Plus computer software – everything will be done on paper.  Immediately afterwards, full migration will begin with 10,000 claimants a week – approximately 75 times as many - being assessed using entirely untested DWP software.

The DWP won’t know how long it will take to process cases and pay people or have any idea whether Jobcentre plus or Atos can cope with the workload once migration begins.  Whilst Atos will be using the same software they already use for work capability assessments, they are having to recruit new staff to carry out medicals and open new medical examination centres in an attempt to cope with the increased workload.

The possibility of chaos, not just for claimants being transferred but for everyone else using Jobcentre Plus and Atos services is immense.  If everything doesn’t run smoothly call centres will be jammed with thousands of angry and distressed claimants, paperwork will pile up as staff spend their time fire-fighting and the tribunals service will struggle beneath the weight of additional appeals.

The DWP, however, appear to be hoping to reduce the number of appeals by getting decision makers to explain decisions over the telephone:

“Reassessment decisions will be given to customers in an outbound phone call from Decision Makers in the BDC [Benefit Delivery Centre]. Despite this we should anticipate that we will need to continue to handle a significant number of appeals against the reassessment process.”

The letter also explains that the claimants undergoing migration will be subject to “a number of touch-points through their journey to provide support and encourage compliance”.  There is no indication of what a “touch-point” might be.

Finally, the document warns that “The outcome of the reassessment process may ultimately affect customers claims for Disability living allowance (DLA but not Attendance Allowance”

The letter does not enlarge on this statement in any way, but it is a worrying indication that the DWP is intending to use the work capability assessments carried out on migrating claimants to also reconsider some DLA awards..

Whether this will be at the discretion of individual decision makers or whether the DWP software will automatically trigger a review of a DLA award in specified circumstances is not clear.

What is clear, however, is that because of an absence of any proper preparation or testing, the DWP has no idea whether migration will run smoothly or be a total disaster.



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