The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed this week that a pilot scheme to create a new “Unipod” structure in Jobcentre Plus offices is being rolled out across central England as part of the transition towards the new universal credit benefit system.
Under the Unipod system all Jobcentre Plus work coaches will be given extra training so they can offer specialist advice to disabled people and lone parents, with the role of DEAs removed completely.
Civil servants claim that a trial in Leicester jobcentres produced “very successful results and a positive reaction from customers and staff”.
Under the Unipod system, there are no individual specialist officers – including DEAs – in jobcentres, with all work coaches instead “working closely together to deliver a seamless service to customers regardless of what benefit they are on”.
In an email seen by Disability News Service, a senior civil servant says that all work coaches will be able to support disabled people on both the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance and the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance, as well as lone parents.
She adds: “Training and assistance is available to all non specialist work coaches to give them the specialist knowledge.
“This will enable us to provide a quicker service for these customers as they will not have to wait for an appointment to see a specialist, all work coaches will be able to assist.”
But concerns about the Unipod system – and the loss of specialist DEAs – have been highlighted by Disability Rights UK (DR UK).
Liz Sayce, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “We think it is vital that government consults with disabled people about changes to the role of DEAs and others in jobcentres under the Unipod plans.
“We need to be confident that there will be people who understand what it takes for a wide range of people with different impairments, circumstances and job aspirations to work successfully.
“The current system is patchy – very good in parts – and we need to be confident that good practice will be built on, not dismantled.”
A DWP spokesman said the department was “not getting rid” of DEAs, but instead that jobcentres in central England were “testing a new system where work coaches will have the flexibility to help all types of claimants, ensuring a truly individualised service to help as many people as possible into work”.
He said that work coaches – including those previously known as DEAs – would “continue to get all the training they need”, but he accepted that all of them would now receive identical training.
23 December 2014