A reality check

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is committed to
pushing forward joint teams involving pension service visiting
staff and social services finance officers (and ultimately housing
benefit staff too). The spin is that information about older
people’s finances can be shared, saving unnecessary home visits;
benefit take-up can be increased; and multi-skilled workers can do
assessments for home care charges alongside benefit claims.

The reality is different.

The DWP claims that 30 local authorities have joint teams already,
but the definition seems stretched to include councils which have
merely agreed in principle to consider the option or which are
working with the DWP without any merged service being

I am also getting feedback that the service for the customer is
definitely not what is in the PR brochure. These are just some of
the individual reports coming back from a few of the authorities
that have joint teams.

  • In one council, the joint team staff from the local authority
    side are unhappy with the emphasis on detecting and preventing
    fraud. Their training was unsatisfactory as it was geared towards
    the kind of procedural stuff that DWP benefit assessors need.
  • Another joint team refused to help a client who was seen as a
    borderline case for disability living allowance and they advised
    the claimant that they would not get it. The social worker
    concerned feels that this showed that DWP staff pre-judge clients
    and cherry-pick only those claims with the highest chance of
    success. In this case, the social worker went ahead with the claim,
    which was successful.
  • In another authority, clients are advised, after a joint team
    visit, that they can go to independent agencies such as Age Concern
    for help in appealing. This is good, as it recognises the need for
    independent advocacy. However, social workers have reported that
    clients are not in practice pursuing this advice because the
    clients are putting great and unreasonable faith in being given
    correct advice by the DWP staff in the joint team.

Joint teams, under the Link-Age banner created by the DWP, are
presented as the only way forward for benefit take-up. But joint
working is having perhaps more success than the bureaucratic joint
team structure to which the DWP is committed.

In a rural authority in the Midlands, a partnership has been set up
to fight poverty among older people. It involves the fire service,
social services, housing, police, a home safety agency, trading
standards, ambulance service, a home repairs service, the primary
care trust and several voluntary sector agencies. The partnership

  • Free smoke detectors fitted by the fire service as part of a
    home fire safety check.
  • Grants for home energy conservation or heating.
  • Access to specialist falls nurses.
  • Home safety and security advice and equipment
  • Benefits advice.

That local authority is clearly delivering a joined-up service
to older and disabled people beyond the pension service’s Link-Age
aspirations. It is interesting to note that the local pension
service has declined to become a partner in this scheme, although
it has often been invited to join.

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council.
He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a
question to be answered please write to him c/o Community

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