DWP still breaking their own rules on Mandatory Work Activity

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I suppose it was only a matter of time until one of the various things that I have been campaigning about hit someone closer to home.

My brother left college last year after finishing a BTEC National Diploma in Computing with a good result. Unfortunately jobs in IT are few and far between in this area and so after a few months he claimed Job Seeker’s Allowance while looking for a work. Wishing to continue his education but unwilling to rack up tens of thousands in student loans, he started an Open University course in Computing earlier this year (Which still attracts a course fee of £2,500 per year for part time study) with the intention of finding a part time job to pay his living costs.

My brother has turned up for his appointments at the Job Centre every fortnight except the one that clashed with our grandfather’s funeral. He went on the rather pointless one-day course that he was ordered to attend but that offered him only literacy and maths help far below the level of his qualifications. He has applied for jobs, although perhaps not as many as he could have, and filled in his Job Seeker’s record.

Then a couple of weeks ago during his regular signing-on he was asked if he was willing to undertake work experience. Not being unwilling if it would help his employment opportunities, and also fearful of what the repercussions would be if he refused, he said yes. Soon afterwards he received a text message from the DWP. It informed him that he was to start Mandatory Work Activity and would be contacted soon by a private company that would arrange his placement.

This was quickly followed up by a letter giving more details, reproduced here:

DWP letter MWA05 ESG

 

The letter reads:

To continue recieving Jobseeker’s Allowance and/or National Insurance credits, you must take part in Mandatory Work Activity.

ESG HOLDINGS LTD, or one of their partners, will support you whilst on Mandatory Work Activity. They will discuss with you the work placement and the support it will provide to improve your chances of getting and keeping a job.

You must complete any activities that ESG HOLDINGS LTD asks you to do.

You will still need to attend the Jobcentre and meet your benefit conditions, including attending Fortnightly Jobsearch Reviews and any other interviews and being available for and actively seeking employment.

ESG HOLDINGS LTD will let you know when you will start Mandatory Work Activity. You must participate until you are told otherwise.

If you fail to participate in Mandatory Work Activity without a good reason, your Jobseeker’s Allowance could stop for up to 26 weeks. You could also lose your National Insurance credits.

We have passed your details onto ESG HOLDINGS LTD who will be in contact with you shortly.

This letter was followed up by a phone call from ESG HOLDINGS and my brother was told to attend a placement at the British Heart Foundation shop for thirty hours per week over five days per week for four weeks.

However, campaign group Boycott Workfare were told in February that the British Heart Foundation would not take people who were forced to attend work with them:

The British Heart Foundation, contacted by a Boycott Workfare campaigner back in November, were insistent that they “would not actively encourage any placements, regardless of the scheme name, where the person involved is not a willing participant…

It is in the rules that after six months job seekers are sent to The Work Programme, but that is a different thing altogether to Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) and in any case he has not quite finished six months on JSA. The Work Programme involves learning skills and various activities, applying for work, and some work experience. Mandatory Work Activity is by definition forced on people and only involves work placements. In reality both involve forced work for no pay or face having no Jobseeker’s Allowance for six month, but the government did try to claim that The Work Programme was not compulsory. (They were lying though.) Even if JSA is counted as a wage for the work done it works out at far less than the legal minimum wage, and with MWA the job seeker has no choice in who they work for or what they do. Placements can be far outside of the skillset of the job seeker, or against their moral position, but are still compulsory.

A DWP guidance document released through a Freedom of Information request in January tells us a few relevant facts about the MWA scheme which I will quote in the next few paragraphs.

It has not been explained to my brother WHY he has been sent for MWA. Here’s what the DWP guidance says MWA is for:

15. A JSA claimant potentially suitable for MWA is one identified through the work targeted interview process, supported by use of the Customer Assessment Tool, as lacking ,or failing to demonstrate, the focus and discipline that is necessary to effectively:

  • seek out and pursue job opportunities
  • secure and retain employment

16. MWA may be beneficial for a claimant that has recently received a labour market related sanction/disallowance, providing an opportunity for them to develop the skills, disciplines and behaviours sought by employers.

19. If a lack of recent work experience is proving to be a barrier to finding work for an otherwise well-focused claimant, Advisory Teams must seek to address this through appropriate measures eg Work Together; MWA is not an appropriate measure in such cases

None of these conditions would seem to apply. My brother has attended all but one of his interviews and has looked for work. He hasn’t received any sanctions for failure to look for work. He doesn’t entirely lack work experience; he has helped out a lot over the last two years in a large kitchen for a charity that provides a conference centre and guest house, and has received training there. In any case, MWA is not to be used to provide work experience. Then we must address the issue that he was not given any indication that he would be placed on MWA or any way to avoid it:

22. A referral to MWA must never come as a surprise to a claimant. If a claimant’s circumstances suggest that they may be suitable for MWA, the adviser must:

  • explain to the claimant that they are being considered for referral and the reasons why i.e. to develop skills, disciplines and behaviours that are widely valued by employers and that can help them in seeking employment.
  • provide an overview of the provision to the claimant
  • explain to the claimant that the case for referring them will be discussed with the Advisory Team Manager in line with district implementation protocols to support MWA
  • explain to the claimant that if they are subsequently referred to MWA, their participation will be mandatory
  • record, as an LMS conversation, that the discussion with the claimant has taken place and the reasons cited for considering an MWA referral

NB The language and tone used when discussing MWA with claimants is crucial. MWA must never be used as a threat or portrayed as a punitive measure.

The news about the MWA was given by text message. However, the guidance states:

26. The referral must be made within an adviser interview (a flexible intervention interview should be used).

27. The adviser undertaking the referral must take the following actions:

  1.  Explain to the claimant:
    • why they are being referred
    • that the case for referring them has been discussed, and agreed, by the Advisory Team Manager
    • what the provision entails
    • how we expect them to benefit from the provision
    • that any travel and/or care costs they incur will be met by the provider

None of this actually took place. In the absence of any plausible reason for my brother’s referral to MWA and given that the correct procedure does not seem to have been followed in the slightest, I have to conclude that job seekers are being given mandatory work at random in contravention of their own rules, or that staff have some other motive such as targets to send for unpaid work. Perhaps the advisers don’t even know the difference between The Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity.

 

 

  • ECAP

    I suggest your brother make an official complaint to the DWP.  Anyone doing voluntary work or undertaking part-time study is exempt from MWA.  

  • Christine

    The DWP guidelines also require details of any barriers to work, such as a disability or learning difficulty, to be advised by the Jobcentre to the work providers. They were completely unaware of his severe dyslexia until he told them today when he was given six A4 pages of Health and Safety regs to read. The Jobcentre has seen his dyslexia assessment but apparently not made a note of it).
    Also, it would appear that he is expected to work on the bank holidays next week, although this has not yet been confirmed.
    Today he was told not to work so fast!

  • http://godlessfaith.blogspot.com/ Sam Barnett-Cormack

    He should absolutely make a formal complaint – and I think you should be able to help with that, having looked into the rules etc. Telling someone they’re doing Work Experience, and then putting them on MWA (a completely separate program) is not on either, never mind the other rule breaking. Once fobbed off, escalate in, and if there’s no satisfactory conclusion, ask his MP to refer it to the Parliamentary Ombudsman Service. They rock, and have quite a history of spanking the DWP.

  • supracrip

    Yup, looks like a classic screwup by DWP. 

     Interesting to read:
    “Explain to the claimant:
    that any travel and/or care costs they incur will be met by the provider.”I can’t imagine providers would be willing to meet the care costs that many of us disabled people have to pay out, can you?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=554986702 Dean Wales

     Perhaps the advisers don’t even know the difference between The Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity.

    And there you have it, in a nutshell-They dont know what the hell they are doing.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-James/100002177166941 Kevin James

    Heart Foundation is taking on regular work placements where I am, an ongoing 2 week to 8 week placements to do most of the jobs in the store as there is only a manager who is employed and paid full time. They do not even have a proper training policy and the person comes out with as much as he went in with. no even till, admin or sales or customer care and communication techniques and confidence. But Heart Foundation have an active and full work placement programme going on.

  • Carol Laidlaw

    I would like to add that he could take a judicial review claim against the DWP for acting against their own rules and outside their remit. I did this myself early on in my JSA claim last year when I got a jobseekers direction I thought wasn’t within the rules. Sending the initial letter of notice that you intend to seek judicial review costs nothing except the stamp and concentrates their mind wonderfully. They either give a full justification of what they did (so you at least know exactly what’s going on and where you stand), or they back down and stop doing what they didn’t have the right to do in the first place. They cannot ignore a judicial review letter because if they do, they risk you making the actual application to the High Court, which will cost them £5,000-£10,000 for the hearing.

    I have to say that this method is easy for me because I have been an advice worker for many years, and my last job was with a solicitor’s firm, so I have had some practivce at sending judicial review notice letters to local authorities and central govenment departments.. But it does not require a solicitor, just some one who is confident at writing a logical letter and can follow the instructions on the court service website about how a judicial review letter has to be set out. Also who can set out clearly what regulation or statute the DWP has acted in breach of. You have already done that on this blog.

    You would only need a solicitor if it was not clear whether nor not the DWP had acted against their own rules and they fancied their chances of winning if they went to a court hearing. A person on benefits can get legal aid for such court hearings. However, this issue looks quite clear to me.

    If you would like me to send a pamphlet explaining how claimants can use judicial review to defend themselves against the DWP, please give me an address or an email address I can send it to, and you can then share it with anybody you like.

  • Adam G

    This happened to me today, however after researching it today and finding this, i went and file a formal complaint. They tried to sugar coat it and get round it and i going to be called tomorrow, however even the person i spoke to still tried to say they are in the right. Even told me i would need to leave a uni course which i applied for that starts soon so attend saying it more impotent then a course design to get me work experience and get me a job.

  • Peter Atkinson

    Last year I was referred to MWA. Having read this article, I wish now I had challenged this referral Yes, it has been a few years since I last worked, but I do have plenty of previous work experience, and I do spend quite a few hours per week on searching for a job. The advisor who referred me even knew that I was prepared to pay for the Internet out of my JSA in order to try to improve my chances of finding work: does that sound like someone who is not focused? In more recent times, I have not received any sanctions, so, I really cannot see why I was referred to MWA. This referral was just ‘dumped’ on me willy nilly with no prior warning, and I was given no explanation of why I was referred!
    As the article above said, I do think that each Jobcentre probably does have ‘targets’ for referral to MWA, but does that mean they have to break the DWP rules/guidelines to try to meet targets, if so, I don’t think this is acceptable? In my opinion, this article shows just what a ‘waste of space’ the Jobcentre really are, I think:-
    a) A good many of the staff in Jobcentre’s don’t know the rules or the correct legislation, or , if they do, they only apply the above rules/legislation when it suits them to do so!
    b) Many Jobcentre staff are just ‘complacent’, and don’t care, if they are unsure they would rather get something wrong than ask a member of staff that does know the rules/legislation.
    c) The jobcentre are inconsistent in their application of rules/legislation.
    A couple of years ago I was on this new deal course, and many of the other claimants on this course regularly used to ‘run down’ the Jobcentre, why do you think this was the case?
    Really, over the years, the Jobcentre have never been much good; doing their ‘level best’ to get things wrong. Of course, in any organisation mistakes will be made, but, in my opinion, the Jobcentre makes too many mistakes, and I think they really should ‘up their game’!

  • bob

    I had an argument in the DWP today regarding MWA, I asked to see guidance proving it is mandatory and was provided with a bit of paper from the DWP that says MWA only becomes mandatory once you have received confirmation of where you have to go

    In my case I have until friday to find a way out of it before I am given my placement

  • http://www.facebook.com/vincent.crowley.75 Vincent Crowley

    I have recently been subject to the jobcentre’s courses and have had words with the staff over this. I was sent by an adviser on a course to get my SIA licence(a requirement for working in any security job) but I found out after passing and getting certs for it that the training provider will only pay for the licence (around £250, a stretch if you’re on the dole.) if the trainee finds and has written confirmation of a security job within 12 weeks of finishing the course. Its hard enough for people with an SIA licence and 2-3 years experience to get a job so what chance have I got of a job in security? I I did get another job right after finishing training but that was not security related so what do the plums in the Jobcentre want? Me to turn that job down because im searching for work to get the SIA licence and get sanctioned for failing to accept work, or should I have refused to attend before I started and got sanctioned anyway for turning down a training opportunity to help me find work?

  • negletcted

    Hi,could I ask “latent existance” where the fugures were obtained that say 1100 people had already died in the “1930s Germany and modern day” report. I am myself on ESA and attended 3 “medicals” since november 2011.NOT once did I receive a medical report until October 2012 ???? Upon receiving the reports I read that The ATOS and DWPs own health professional had stated” (nov 2011) “no work 6 months”,on same date (nov 2011)DWP place me on “limited capability” for work and DONT provide me with a copy ?????? .In June 2012 the same but for 3months no work?? in total the expiry of THEIR health professionals recommendations of “no work” ends on 10 november 2012 . Today they alter my benefits when not giving an iota to legislation relating to “duty of care” towards me in the interim between november 2011 and nov 2012 as they simply act negligently ….I may require the author of the report that says “1100 die” to appear as a witness ? Can you help ???

  • Julie

    Im starting at the works program this week, Im dong a part time college course at the moment does any one know the rules regarding being assigned mandatory work and me dong this course, many thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.tinker3 Robert Tinker

    Date 12/12/12

    Dear Whom this may concern

    I am writing this letter to complain. I had an appointment with an adviser today 10/12/12 which is were i was given a MWA(Mandatory Work Activity) letter. My complaint is that i shouldn’t of been given this and i am against why I have been . I am currently doing a course in English to better myself as my grades at school were poor ,i am also to start a numeracy course in January this is to better myself and move me closer to the labour market. I have also done and completed a first aid course through the sure start centre aswell as an Employability and Personal Development Course through the Job Centre Plus at the Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education which i gained 3 certificates in which are ….

    ⦁ Level 1 working part as a group (2 credits) City Guilds.

    ⦁ Level 1 Award in Empolyment and Personal Development City Guilds

    ⦁ Btec Self Assessment

    My adviser all so went on to say that i have lack of work experience this is why i have to do the M.W.A.I have looked this up and this is not the case as stated in (Section 18-20) of M.W.A Background.

    I would like to remind you of your policy DWP Mandatory Work Activity

    Your policy

    Given the policy intent of MWA, the following claimants must not be considered for referral to MWA:

    ⦁ Currently working (paid or voluntary)

    ⦁ Undertaking employment related study / training

    ⦁ Taking part in or recently completed another employment measure (contracted or non-contracted) aimed at helping them move closer to the labour market. (A claimant ‘dropping-out’ of an employment measure prematurely may, or may not, indicate a lack of focus and discipline on their part)

    it is for Advisory Teams to consider the merits of MWA referral on a case by case basis). 19. MWA must not be used as an alternative means of addressing conditionality doubts. If there are doubts about a claimant meeting JSA conditionality (i.e. availability and actively seeking) those doubts must be addressed appropriately. *20. If a lack of recent work experience is proving to be a barrier to finding work for an otherwise well-focused claimant, Advisory Teams must seek to address this through appropriate measures e.g. Work Together; MWA is not an appropriate measure in such cases

    As your policy wasn’t met this is why i want action to be taken.

    I hope to hear from you before Friday 14th december 2012.

    If i dont hear from you by this date i will have to take this matter futher and lodge a complaint with an Independent Case Examiner.

    Yours Sincerely
    put a complaint in at local jobcentre and they said we dont accepte complaints we dont do that her so i left it on the next

    then i got a phone call later the same day and they said i still have to doit i way what about your policy thay said we have looked in to it and you have to doit…..they never went on to say why i have to doit or why i have been put on it to do it………………waiting for third party to ring me on friday *icks
    and help would be greatfull

  • mower1776

    I had to do the MWA and after three weeks even though I filled out the work diary thing I was declined payment and sanctioned so whilst being forced into work (after 13 weeks of job seekers after two years of ESA/disability benefits) I DID NOT GET PAYED A PENNY! Beyond Disgraceful… Way beyond. I had actually exceeded my quota but had written in the diary CV handed in personally expecting that to be better considering it was for Christmas temp. work but apparently I can only apply online and write that on a piece of paper they do not check up on P.S I did apply for more jobs than required by the Jobcentre on the interweb and could and can prove it!.

  • Natural_Mystery

    The same thing happened to me back in Dec 2011. My advisor LIED about it being Mandatory, even though I’d phoned the office and been told by her colleagues that it was VOLUNTARY!! I ignored the letter and didn’t turn up. On my next signing date I was asked if I was contacted and I said NO! There was “F” all she could do, or so I thought. She then made up lies that I was working and got me dragged into a compliance interview. At first it scared me, cos I thought someone was out to get me, but after an hour of BS questioning and fake cautions being read to me (they have NO AUTHORITY over you! REMEMBER THIS) She got to the alligation. As soon as she said what it was, all the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place and I knew exactly who had made these lies up,

    But why? Just to make trouble for me because I know my rights and the law and I’m prepaired to stand up for myself? NO!!

    After reading through the JCP staff guidelines and directions on dealling with clients, I discovered that if they can;t make someone go on MWA all they have to do to make you eligable for The Work Programe, is raise a doubt about your claim. Simples! as some little animal would say. ;) I’ve been on the Work Programme for just over 1 year now and haven’t recieved any Training or help. Is this because I wouldn’t sign any piece of paper the presented me with? Me thinks YES!

  • Angela

    Yes I have been placed on a MWA, I have four children, of which all attend full-time education. This is my third week and the children breakup from school next week for half term. I have brought it to both the JSA and JHP ( who allocate the placements) attention that I have no child care for next week! As a result of this they have informed me to just take the week off and recommence the following week.! I have not been in receipt of benefits for longer than six months. My job advisor has made the whole thing a living nightmare.
    In the rules it states: MWA must never be used as a threat or portrayed as a punitive.

    Well its made me really distraught with the fact I may still lose my benefits as the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
    They also informed me that this would be one of the challengers in finding a job with children! Like i don’t know this. It just feels like I am being totally patronised by advisor’s that don’t understand the rules them selves.
    Many thanks for your links as it seems there is nowhere to seek independant welfare advise

  • james

    i personaly think its a complete joke! ive been on esa for 2 an half years now and have been passed on by an adviser to esg holdings and have had nothink but threats about sanction me money even tho am sick. apparently shes goner stop all of it if she dont get paperwork back from me and a sicknote ive heard nothink for the 2 and half years and all of sudden numourous threats i personaly think the country has gone to pot sick means sick you can not go to appointments with no legs.and still get threatend by them somethink needs to be done about it….. them courses dont help what so ever and its always the conservatives should be wiped off the map in my opinoin

  • disqus_4rK2i7j0a3

    I’m currently having a similar experience with JCP and Mandatory Work Activity. The referral was made without use of the Customer Assessment Tool, informing me that I was being considered for MWA, or explaining the provision. No concerns were raised to me over my job searching activity, and I’d taken the necessary number of steps to find work and applied for the required number of jobs each week. I have never been sanctioned and I have work experience (not that MWA is supposed to be used as work experience for well-focused claimants, as per the DWP guidelines) so fail to see how I was in any way eligible for MWA. The adviser who made the referral was also arguably not in a position to decide my ability to find work considering that prior to that particular appointment, I had never met them before in my life.



    My response to this was to lodge a formal written complaint to the JCP branch I use. This earned me a meeting with the building manager, and I was looking forward to a diplomatic private meeting to discuss my grievances with what I perceive to be their errors in referring me to MWA.



    What actually followed was a fifteen minute “meeting” in the public part of a JCP building with a rather arrogant and condescending man who told me that he supported the referral and defended the adviser’s actions. He also told me that my grievance was based on technicalities (that technicality being the failure of the adviser to use the tool intended to determine eligibility for the programme), that my line of work was “unskilled” and therefore it was easy to find jobs and my still being unemployed was my fault, and sarcastically asked “Are you going to complain when we send you on Work Programme?”. I thought his behaviour was entirely unprofessional; having worked in customer service positions before I know that if I had spoken to a customer in that way I would’ve been severely reprimanded, and if I’d shown the same flagrant disregard for the rules and guidelines involved in my job as my adviser then I probably would’ve been sacked.

    Despite all of my prior work experience coming in office environments, I’m currently completing four weeks of MWA folding clothes at a Cancer Research UK shop that’s so overstaffed that I’m yet to complete a full day there. Having asked for the documents on my referral to be sent to me three weeks ago, I’m still yet to receive them despite requesting them over the phone and then later in my letter of complaint. I’m currently in the process of referring my complaint to the Director General of Operations at the DWP and considering my other options. I advise anyone else who’s been treated in this way to do the same and not allow JCP to bully them in this way; if any of us had acted in the way these advisers had in our previous jobs, we would’ve been dismissed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alex.reddycfc Alex Reddy

    hi, i take my hat off to you sir for your information given, if you could send the relative info on how to fight this to alex.reddy@btinternet.com or via facebook, thanks and hats off again

  • anon

    I have been wrongly accused of not going to a work programme appointment I knew nothing about until today when getting a letter asking me why I didn’t go.

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