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Welfare reform on the Web (February 2007): Social security - UK

Delivering effective services through contact centres

Committee of Public Accounts

London: TSO, 2006 (House of Commons papers, session 2005/06; HC 1034)

The Department for Work and Pensions and its agencies are increasingly using contact centres to deal with their customers who wish to make or renew an application for benefit, seek advice, claim a pension, or look for a job. The Committee examined the performance of the 62 contact centres operated by Jobcentre Plus, the Pension Service and the Disability and Carers Service, looking at the cost-effectiveness and quality of service provided and at their accessibility for customers. The report concludes that while the use of contact centres has led to savings in staff and accommodation costs, by closing down local offices the Department is transferring some of the time and money costs to the customer. It also recommends reducing the number of telephone numbers used by the customers which currently stands at 55.

Lessons learnt

J. Birch and L. Reynolds

Roof, Jan./Feb. 2007, p.29-31

This article reports the outcomes of pilot schemes testing the new flat rate local housing allowance that is paid directly to tenants and allows them to shop around for cheaper accommodation. According to the independent evaluations:

  1. Claimants have been paid higher average amounts and fewer of them have had shortfalls against their rent
  2. There has been no mass exodus of landlords from the private rental market, although they are now offering shorter tenancies and making more demands for deposits
  3. Claims were processed more quickly because individual claims no longer had to be referred to the rent officer.
  4. The changes have persuaded more tenants to open bank accounts, but many are still withdrawing money to pay their rent in cash instead of using automated payments.

The national scheme that is being rolled out as part of the Welfare Reform Bill is leaner and meaner than the pilots. Campaigners argue that it will mean larger shortfalls against rent and less resources for advice and support. The scheme will be phased in over two years and will apply to new claimants only. It will not be extended to social housing.

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