Friday, 12 February 2010

Jobcentre Plus failings in north Wales revealed by Plaid

More than £275,000 has been handed to claimants by Jobcentre Plus in payments for failings in its service across Wales over the last two-and-a-half years, and the north of Wales features prominently in figures obtained by Plaid Cymru.

The pay-outs cover loss of benefit due to benefit errors, maladministration, delay, gross inconvenience and embarrassment and severe distress.

In the 2007-08 financial year the total paid out in Wales was £104,537. That rose to £118,271 in 2008-09 and was £52,718 in the first six months of 2009-10. These latest figures reveal that the north and mid Wales region accounts for almost 50% of the total.

Both in 2007-08 and 2008-09 benefit entitlement was the top area of complaint, representing 32 per cent of all complaints in 2007-08 and 35 per cent in 2008-09.

According to Jobcentre Plus, while the number of staff in Wales have increased from 4,562 to 5,398, unemployment claimants have rocketed from 45,419 in January 2007 to 78,234 in October 2009.

Phil Edwards, Plaid’s Westminster candidate for Aberconwy, said:

“While there has been an increase in Jobcentre Plus staff, many of the new staff are employed on a fixed term basis. This has to be measured against job centre closures, such as Llanrwst, and the possibility of further cuts in the future. Staff are under pressure as their permanent numbers are reduced and sites closed across the north.

“There are apparently moves within the DWP to transfer staff out of job centres into call centres in an attempt to make people deal with issues by telephone or the internet. Quite clearly, there are many people who prefer face to face contact in these circumstances, irrespective of whether they have internet access, and I regard this development as unacceptable.”

Plaid’s Clwyd West candidate Llyr Huws Gruffydd pointed out that whilst there were advertisements for clerical staff at the moment, this was not the good news it seemed:

“They are, in fact, de-skilling work and specialists in certain areas of work will be expected to deal with all types of queries. We’ve seen in commercial call centres that staff are expected to get people off the line as quickly as possible, and that is not the right atmosphere for dealing with employment and unemployment matters.

“I am concerned that any cuts in staff will not only lead to a loss of jobs but also an increase in claims against Jobcentre Plus. Management need to think carefully about the impact of any decision to reduce services which will affect the public.”

Phil Edwards added:

“We should not forget for a moment that all this is happening during a recession, and when our One Wales Government is making strenuous efforts to protect workers through schemes like ProAct and ReAct.

“It seems from these figures that job cuts in the DWP are clearly having an impact on the quality of service which hard-pressed staff are struggling to provide.”

PHOTO: Phil Edwards (L) and Llyr Huws Gruffydd at Westminster

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