Evidence of benefit sanction targets has been uncovered by the Public and Commercial Services Union
One in four Jobcentre staff who are members of one of the country's biggest unions claim they have been given a target for the number of clients they should sanction despite the government insisting that no such targets exist.
A Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) survey of 550 Jobcentre workers also found that 82% feel under pressure from managers to suggest more people who could be sanctioned.
It is it is no longer acceptable for the DWP’s Work Services Directorate to deny that there is a problem or claim that issues are just isolated incidents
PCS surveyed members working in Jobcentres across the country and also discovered three fifths of staff have felt pressure to put people forward for sanctions even when they didn’t think the claimant deserved it.
The UK Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)has always denied that it has targets for the number of people who should lose benefits through sanctions.
Charles Law, PCS industrial officer described the findings of its survey as shocking.
He said: “It is it is no longer acceptable for the DWP’s Work Services Directorate to deny that there is a problem or claim that issues are just isolated incidents.
“PCS is demanding that DWP must take action to stop the target and expectation culture.”
One in three PCS members also said they had been threatened with or placed on a performance improvement plan, with 10% having gone through formal poor performance procedures, they say, for not making enough referrals.
“Its clear performance procedures are being used to push staff into making more and more referrals, rather than used to challenge staff who refuse to sanction as DWP claim,” Law added.
“Poor performance action can lead to a dismissal, it is therefore a thinly veiled threat to your employment if you don’t make enough referrals.”
Sanctions including stopping a person’s Jobseekers Allowance are made if they are found not to be meeting the terms of their Claimant Commitment.
This pre-agreed personal plan outlines what they will do to give themselves the best chance of finding work, such as accepting job or training offers and attending Jobcentre Plus when asked.
Sanctions have proved controversial, with cuts to people’s benefits being linked to further hardship, including the need to visit foodbanks.
A DWP spokesman told TFN that despite PCS’s anecdotal evidence there are no targets for benefit sanctions.
“It's only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work if they are able, but sanctions are used as a last resort and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal,” the spokesman added.
The PCS survey also highlighted safety concerns among jobcentre staff over the process of informing claimants that they were being sanctioned.
Just over 70% of staff said they had informed claimants about adverse decisions regarding sanctions on the Jobcentre floor, where the procedure should be to do this either by telephone or letter and if necessary in person behind a safety screen.
A similar number reported an increase in the amount of verbally abusive incidents since the new rules for determining sanctions were brought in in October 2012. A total of 38% of staff noted an increase in physical abuse.