Nearly 700 civil servants at the Department for Work and Pensions have accepted voluntary redundancy amid a wave of office closures, the department has revealed.
Of the 8,400 staff who are affected by the closure of more than 40 of the department’s offices, around 685 have taken up redundancy packages so far, social mobility minister Mims Davies said.
The figures indicate that the majority of staff offered VR so far have taken it. Some 800 offers were made over the summer, after the office-closure programme was announced in March.
A further 430 officials are still at risk of redundancy, Davies said in a letter to parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee. The figures appear to align with a second round of voluntary redundancy offers announced in November.
Officials must be given the option to take redundancy payouts if there is no alternative office for them to move to within the maximum commuting distance set out in their contract. Just 28 of the 41 offices closing have another suitable building in the vicinity, Davies said.
Around 80% of those affected by the move are set to move to an alternative DWP site near their original office – which Davies said includes some who have agreed to travel “outside their contracted mobility”. All of them have been offered hybrid working arrangements.
“This is a strong indication that hybrid working supports DWP’s retention of skills and capability and offers flexible and more inclusive workplaces that can adapt to the needs of employees and our customers,” the minister said.
As of 15 November – the latest count – 5,200 staff had moved to an alternative DWP site, taking their jobs with them. A further 256 had taken up new posts elsewhere in DWP or in another government department.
Skills warning over Phoenix House closure
MPs on the work and pensions committee have questioned plans to close Phoenix House, a jobcentre in Cumbria that is home to a team of staff specialising in benefits for people who have suffered on-the-job injuries such as those caused by exposure to asbestos.
Writing to work and pensions secretary Guy Opperman in November – in response to which Davies sent her reply – committee chair Stephen Timms said the MPs were "concerned" to hear 39 jobs were at risk at the office "given their considerable expertise in handling claims for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit".
The minister said all 39 of the staff working at the site had been offered redundancy in November – with 38 of those jobs still “at risk”.
However, she did not directly address the MPs’ question about how DWP intends to retain the “specialist skills and experience” of staff at Phoenix House.
Instead, she said the Barrow-in-Furness site’s IIDB team is one of three across the UK. The remaining teams in Barnsley and Bradford will take on its work – ensuring DWP “will be able to deliver, without any interruption, the same high-quality level of service for all IIDB customers”.
An earlier move to close Phoenix House, announced in 2016, was called off a year later after a campaign by activists and the PCS union, who argued that it would weaken support for people who had suffered injuries at work.
DWP office closures will have 'significant impact' on staff'
Campaigners have argued that the office closures, which were announced in March, will negatively impact services offered to people seeking benefits or other services.
The PCS union has said the redundancies come at a time when DWP is struggling to recruit in areas that "are chronically under-resourced" such as personal independence payments, child maintenance, and retirement pensions.
In her letter, Davies said the changes will have “a significant impact on its people” but reiterated DWP’s assertion that “this is not about reducing headcount”.
The estates rationalisation programme will cut down on “surpass capacity”, she said – noting that while the department needs space for around 90,000 staff, its portfolio of buildings has space for 158,000.
She said moving out of less energy-efficient buildings would make DWP’s estate more sustainable and better to work in, and that consolidating some back-office functions into larger buildings would save money and be more effective.
The programme is set to save £3.5bn in gross savings over 30 years, saving between £80m and £90m per year from 2028-29 onwards, she said.
She added: “Redundancy will be a very last resort after all efforts to retain, retrain and redeploy colleagues, either within DWP, or other government departments in the area, have been exhausted.”