Jobcentre Plus staff have not been given sufficient training to help claimants suffering domestic abuse to navigate the Universal Credit regime, the PCS trade union has warned.
In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into Universal Credit, the union also warned that the system’s rules in effect forced people to stay in households where abuse occurred.
Writing to Frank Field, chair of the Commons’ work and pensions committee, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “PCS members reported that there was very little training offered by DWP [on domestic abuse issues] and that training lacks detail.”
He added: “Many members reported that they had no training whatsoever”, while others noted “the training and mentoring window for work coaches is very short”.
Serwotka said the ‘easement’ process – which sees benefit conditionality lifting for a period in order to help claimants affected by domestic violence – was “too bureaucratic and the time limitation of just three months in any 12 month period cannot offer the level of support that survivors of domestic violence need”.
He explained: “The claimant must move out of the household and is required to provide written evidence to their work coach that they are receiving help for domestic abuse before the easement can be granted.
He also highlighted that, for claimants still in the household experiencing financial controlling abuse, a split payment of UC – the benefit is intended to be paid primarily into one bank account – was not necessarily or safe to implement. “The claimant would need to be able to ‘explain’ the reason for a split payment to the abusive partner, and would need to set up their own bank account – difficult in itself – in order to receive the money.”
PCS members also told the union they lacked the training to spot warnings signs of domestic abuse.
Field said the PCS’s evidence showed “another disturbing front is opening up in the implementation” of Universal Credit.
He went on: “Up until now, the focus has been on how brutally some constituents are treated once they are pushed onto Universal Credit. Now we have the views from the other side of the counter, of those civil servants who try loyally to carry out the government’s wishes.
“The lack of training and expertise at the front line in Jobcentre Plus is a thread running through all of our benefits inquiries – and now it is becoming apparent to the public how this is leaving them unprepared to deal with the most vulnerable claimants.”
The committee also this week heard evidence from the Trussel Trust charity on the use of food banks.
It said this pointed up “a gap between the theory and rhetoric of UC delivery, and the reality”, with a 52% upsurge in demand at the food banks in areas where Universal Credit has so far been implemented.
The Department for Work and Pensions has previously said that Jobcentre Plus staff do everything they can to make sure people fleeing domestic abuse get the help they need as quickly as possible.
“That includes fast tracking advances so that people are not left without money and transferring a person’s claim to a different jobcentre," it stated.