The Department for Work and Pensions is considering outsourcing as many as 2,500 new jobs to deliver Universal Credit targeted case review work.
The department is aiming to recruit almost 6,000 new officials for this work by March 2025 but has told staff it would not be feasible to fill all of these roles in-house, CSW understands.
The PCS union, whose membership included more than 42,000 DWP officials as of May, said the department is intending to outsource 2,500 of these roles after struggling to meet its recruitment targets.
The DWP announced a new Targeted Case Reviews team, which will review millions of Universal Credit claims over the next five years, in its “Fighting fraud in the welfare system” policy paper in May 2022. At the time, the plan was for “new 2,000-strong team dedicated to reviewing existing Universal Credit claims and enhanced data analytics to develop new ways to prevent and detect fraud”.
The team aims to: prevent customers from falling further into debt; identify changes which result in an underpayment; fast-track suspected cases of fraud for investigation; and provide intelligence on new and emerging ways to identify and prevent fraud and error entering the welfare system so the department can further strengthen its defences.
The department has since expanded its plans and is now seeking 5,930 agents to do the case review work, as part of plans to save £1.3bn through counter fraud and error work this year. Last year, the DWP saved £1.1bn from these activities.
If the department goes ahead with its proposal to outsource 42% of these roles, it would procure a supplier to provide a separate team of external agents to supplement the in-house team’s work. The provider would train its staff, have its own office and use its own IT.
PCS said it “categorically opposes outsourcing and is demanding that the DWP seeks a different approach to delivering this work”.
The union said it is “clear” DWP is experiencing a “serious staffing crisis”.
“Even before the government announced huge swathes of extra work for the DWP in both the 2022 Autumn Statement and 2023 Spring Budget announcements, members and reps across the department were reporting that there were not enough staff to do the work,” PCS said.
The union said the department has “embarked upon an ambitious programme” to recruit 5,000 new staff per quarter since the Spring Budget.
“Unsurprisingly due to chronic low pay in DWP, it would appear that the department has been unable to meet its recruitment targets,” PCS added.
“Outsourcing core DWP work is not the solution. Better pay and terms and conditions would make the DWP a more attractive place to work.”
PCS has said the decision was announced without consultation with the union and it has asked for an urgent meeting to discuss the plan.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Our counter fraud and error efforts saved the public purse £1.1bn last year, but we are going further to crack down on criminals stealing from those most in need.
“That is why we are reviewing millions of Universal Credit claims over the next five years and we are considering a range of options to help us complete this vital work.”