Jobcentre Plus wrong to deny use of paper forms

You can claim benefits using paper forms at Jobcentre Plus – whatever staff tell you, writes Gary Vaux

Currently the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) apparently insists all benefit claims should be made over the phone or internet.

In the past couple of years, both the pensions service and the Jobcentre Plus network have moved towards a system of teleclaiming. This is despite the evidence that many pensioners find making claims over the telephone difficult. Working-age claimants of benefits, such as income support, incapacity benefit and jobseekers allowance, have fared even worse, as at least pensioners had an alternative when claiming pension credit, because paper claim forms for that benefit are still reasonably widely available.

Jobcentre Plus staff at local level, however, were giving out a clear message that paper claim forms for the benefits they administer no longer existed – and even if claimants were determined enough to get hold of a copy, it wouldn’t do them any good because the local Jobcentre would refuse to accept it.

Thankfully, common sense (and a clearer understanding of the law relating to benefit claims) has prevailed. The DWP realised that Jobcentre Plus staff were acting unlawfully in refusing to allow benefit claims to be made on paper claim forms. As a result, guidance has been sent out to all Jobcentre Plus managers, in the May edition of its Managers Update. It is worth printing the Clerical Claims Process – Standard Operating Model guidance in full, in case you come across any problems with your local office.

“Customers should always be encouraged to make new and repeat claims via the contact centres where possible. However, regulations give the customer the choice on how they make their claim and this means we must not refuse clerical claim forms. If a customer is unable to use the telephone for whatever reason, they can arrange for a third party or nominated advocate to do this on their behalf. Where this is not an option, a customer can make their claim using clerical claim forms and if appropriate have a face to face interview. Work on a standard process for dealing with clerical claims is nearing completion. Meanwhile, please ensure that clerical claim forms are not being refused.”

This guidance is also on the Jobcentre Plus intranet site, under M (Managers’ Update) on the A-Z. So you can quote it back at any Jobcentre Plus official who is being less than co-operative over issuing or accepting paper claim forms.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that paper claims will receive the same level of service that teleclaims do – it is given lower priority because the information has to be taken off the claim form and transferred into their Customer Management System (CMS) before it can be dealt with.

And the CMS still appears to be failing miserably. For example, in the week ending 20 May, more than 58 per cent of new claimants’ details failed to be transferred electronically from call centres to Jobcentres, leadingÊto claimants having to start their claim again.

Perhaps paper claims aren’t such a bad idea after all?

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 Care

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