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Crisis Loans

Work and Pensions written question – answered on 16th January 2007.

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Photo of Danny Alexander Danny Alexander Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what proportion of calls to each crisis loan helpline (a) were answered, (b) were unanswered and (c) received an engaged tone in the last period for which figures are available.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Work)

The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. I have asked her to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Lesley Strathie, dated 16 January 2007:

The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question asking what proportion of calls to each Crisis Loan helpline (a) were answered, (b) were unanswered and (c) received an engaged tone in the last period for which figures are available. This is something which falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.

We do not have crisis loan helplines. Currently customers can be dealt with in 3 different ways when applying for Crisis Loans through Social Fund:

Regions and Countries that have migrated Social Fund into their regional and national sites and have officially gone live as a Benefit Delivery Centre will have issued an 0800 number for their customers to telephone. These 0800 numbers are specific to their Regions and Countries. Currently we have 4 Benefit Delivery Centres that have recently gone live that have centralised Social Fund—Sheffield, Norwich, Newcastle and Nottingham. Not all districts in these regions have migrated their work into these Benefit Delivery Centres yet. It is therefore too early to have gathered information on numbers of calls and possible delays. Managers have responsibility for ensuring 25% of their staff are available at all times to answer telephone calls.

Offices that have rolled-out into Jobcentre Plus will give their customers the option of using the telephone service. In Regions and Countries that have not yet centralised Social Fund, these numbers will be local numbers (not 0800 numbers). In most cases customers will be ringing their nearest office. Information is not collated on the number of calls to these offices for crisis loans.

Not all offices have rolled out into Jobcentre Plus and customers in these areas will visit their local social security office to make an application for a crisis loan at the office.

Once all Benefit Delivery Centres have rolled out and Social Fund has migrated into the nominated Social Fund sites in the Regions and Countries, then 0800 numbers will be used nationally. Completion of roll-out for all Benefit Delivery Centres is March 2008 when advanced telephony systems will also be in place, enabling us to monitor telephony performance site by site.

Does this answer the above question?

Yes2 people think so

No12 people think not

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Annotations

Loan Ranger
Posted on 12 Feb 2007 4:09 pm (Report this annotation)

Jim Murphy and Lesley Strathie sidestep the Crisis Loans phone-line (appalling service) question once again, and Ms. Strathie's reply deserves a Phd. in obfuscation. In her first paragraph she utilises semantics to evade scrutiny and says, 'We do not have crisis loan helplines' and then in the next paragraph she speaks of Benefit Delivery Centre 0800 numbers. Call a dog by its name, if that doesn't define 'helpline' then what does?. Next she says, 'Offices that have rolled-out into Jobcentre Plus will give their customers the option* of using the telephone service.'*OPTION!, many JC+ offices offer no alternative (even to clients with severe impairments, for whom this method is wholly inappropriate) and some of societies most vulnerable endure days of re-dialling trying to get through to this seldom-responsive number. Her comment about 'local numbers (not 0800 numbers) being available is misleading because they are an ever decreasing minority, as are claims made via Social Security offices, and Ms. Strathie's final paragraph confirms this 'phasing out' process. Throughout her entire letter, Ms. Strathie shrewdly gives no figures relating to calls which (a) were answered, (b) were unanswered and (c) received an engaged tone, but instead she re-uses the well worn 'get out' of; 'advanced telephony systems (not yet being) in place, enabling us to monitor telephony performance site by site'. On 25 January 2005 Mr David Anderson, (the then Chief Executive, Jobcentre Plus), gave (in a witness statement to the Public Accounts Committee) exactly the same 'get out' answer. So, ask a rhetorical question; what have the DWP and JC+ been doing about obtaining stats pertaining to this 'inconvenient truth' during these past two years?
Based on Ms. Strathie's statement; 'completion of roll-out for all Benefit Delivery Centres is March 2008 when advanced telephony systems will also be in place, enabling us to monitor telephony performance site by site' - the statistics will be a long time coming, and therefore, Crisis Loans appalling phone-line service will continue. I am campaigning to spur the DWP into remedying their shameful inertia now. Please see my web site http://loanranger.awardspace.com/ for more.

Mark Bestford
Posted on 12 Feb 2007 4:45 pm (Report this annotation)

Agreed, having been at the end of one of those lines it is a disgrace.

Another disgrace is the fact that there is so much misinformation about the whole process of claiming.

To point, when I was made redundant a couple of years ago after 15 years of regular employment I found myself in the position of having to claim.

I was unable to get to the benefits office straight away so got there 2 weeks after being made redundant. I then find out that I have to phone for an appointment and that all claims are from the phone call being made. Immediately I'm 2 weeks adrift on my benefits.

Eventually I get through to the claim line to be told my "interview" would be in 2 weeks time.

By the time the interview arrives my bank balance is totally gone. Since I won't get any money from benefits till they go through my claim I have to apply for a crisis loan. That alone took 2 days, repeated trips to and from the bank to collect statements to be faxed to them. Luckily I received the loan, but my actual benefits wouldn't be paid till a month AFTER I eventually found another job. I was out of work for 2 months. I received benefits for 1 and a half months.

To top all that off I then get told that my housing and council tax benefits would have to be claimed again as they have to be claimed direct from the council, not through the benefits office who had assured me they had sorted that out at the same time. That in itself was a nightmare with so much information required from me that it was impossible to actually make a claim, leaving me a further 500 pounds adrift of what I was meant to be entitled to.

To add insult to injury they also messed that up in the benefits office as our house is shared ownership and the benefits system only allows for full ownership or full rental properties to be entered into the system.

The system is a joke and seems designed to make it as difficult as possible to claim. The irony of the whole sorry situation was that I was confronted with staff that seemed genuinely concerned with my situation but unable to help due to the constraints put on them by a poorly designed system that penalises everyone.

Chris Wakeling
Posted on 5 Mar 2007 11:15 am (Report this annotation)

I am trying to get through to the crisis loan help line right now.

I would like to point out this is the only way to get a crisis loan in my area. I called this number maybe 100 times on Friday and constantly today, (it is only 11am right now but I must have called 100 times in the last 2 hours)

The worst thing about it is the initial message says 'please hold and your call will be answered shortly' sometimes followed by another message that says 'please hold you are in a queue' it then proceeds to give me an engaged tone. It's infuriating. This service is meant for people in a crisis.

I am writing a complaint to Mrs. Vicki Wing who is apparently head of the Essex branch.

Her address is
Essex benefit delivery centre
PO BOX 6243
Basildon
Essex
SS14 0BT

I am calling from my mobile phone as well, so the calls are not free. I could go and stand in a phone box, but this would be impractical if I have to be there all day. Every time I don't get an answer it costs me money. I have to pay top be told they are too busy, and believe me if I could afford to waste this money I wouldn't be calling for a crisis loan. I am so angry about this. 200+ calls without an answer, is ridiculous, and I have no choice but to keep ringing. This service can be a last lifeline for some people. The money it can provide can be the only way someone may get a meal that night. and due to bad management you may make them go hungry, I hate to admit it, it's embarrassing but if I fail to get this loan today I will be one of them people. And the reason for this lack of money. Me and my girlfriend worked together, we both got made redundant, bills soon swallowed our savings, and the job centre lost our claim for benefits.

The whole system is a mess and it affects the most vulnerable people worst.

Loan Ranger
Posted on 6 Mar 2007 7:21 pm (Report this annotation)

To Chris, (and anyone else for that matter)
I was saddened, although not surprised, to read of your infuriation caused by the shamefully unresponsive 'Crisis Loans by telephone' and I would like you to know that you're not a lone voice.
Complaining to Mrs. Wing seems the right thing to do, I'd be grateful to learn how you get on.

I'm writing to draw your attention to a campaign web site (http://86.7.209.9/Joomla/) which, hopefully, will be helpful, informative and a resource for others in their endeavours to protest for better service from Crisis Loans by telephone. Given that the Social Fund's original objective of 'providing a flexible and quick way of providing one-off or emergency payments to help the most vulnerable in society' is not being achieved, in my opinion it is unlawful for Government to allow this shocking state of affairs to persist. In fact, they are forcing people into the hands of Loan Sharks, Pawnbrokers and exploitative 'Second Hand Shops', which is at exact opposites to why Crisis Loans came into being. Just what the 'dispossessed' are supposedly to do is beyond the pale.

The problem as I see it now, is that Ministers and the C.E.O. for the DWP (Jim Murphy M.P., James Plaskitt M.P. and Ms. Lesley Strathie) prefer to remain in a 'cosy' state of denial in regards to Crisis Loans by telephone because if the facts were to hit the fan, none of them would come out of it unscathed.

Todays problem has its origins in 2002 with the roll-out of Jobcentre Plus, staff cuts under the 'Gershon' process and, the introduction of new I.T. and telephony systems, being implemented simultaneously. It doesn't require a genius to see that the DWP was trying to do too much, too fast, and to make matters worse, staff training provision has remained at the previous (average) levels of 6 days a person per year. The delivery of benefits has been beset by problems and failings ever since. This is all public knowledge and has been well reported by Committees and the Press alike.

I would conjecture that, consequently, failures in the timely delivery of other benefits has caused a very significant increase in clients needing to apply for alignment loans whilst awaiting payment of their overdue entitlement, thereby overburdening the system. If the said increase in applications were to become public knowledge, it could be construed as indicative of wider dysfunctionallity within the operation of JC+ benefits delivery centres as a whole. So, the absence of statistics is advantageous to the aforementioned three wise monkeys of Westminster. So here we come to the nub of the story; no statistics, (leads to) no evidence of a problem, (and therefore) no call for improvements in service delivery. I intend to change all that starting with the co-ordinated gathering of statistics and anecdotal evidence to present to M.P.s and the media.

The reason they use for not giving any stats pertaining to unanswered calls is pathetic, 'advanced telephony systems (not yet being) in place, enabling us to monitor telephony performance...', and should not be accepted as a reason for them not trying. They just don't have the will to do anything, but surely anything would be better than nothing.
See my new web site http://86.7.209.9/Joomla/ for more.

Loan Ranger
Posted on 17 Sep 2007 1:29 pm (Report this annotation)

Jobcentre Plus staff are notorious for giving wrong advice and decisions to claimants. Some of their people are ill-informed, under-trained, unhelpful etc. Don't get fooled, get the facts from my 'Help, advice, rules/regs' links page http://86.7.209.9/Joomla/component/option,com_weblinks/catid...

Woodster UK
Posted on 12 Oct 2007 2:49 am (Report this annotation)

I had a meeting today at the citizen's Advice.
The manager told the advisors that they should tell clients that if they are waiting to hear about a claim for JSA they will not qualify. I was at an IRS conference to find out the facts about eligibility (sorry about the spelling)
Now 3 Months later the manager is telling me this. What's worse for me is that I'm worried that some how the manager of my orgainisation is being dictated to by the Jobcentre plus.. We are INDEPENDENT I will be telling clients to fill out a form. Make them take it. When they say NO. Send it Back. The same person says No (This really is the same person) and thats it. The client is free to send the form finaly to the IRS who are independent and mostly turn the claim around in the clients favour.. The process I practice is to advise that they will say no as a genral rule and that its the usual responce.. Persistance pays.

I will be looking at the minutes of the meeting to dicide how to aproach my manager about the comments and would like to hear of anything new that i must have missed some how. I'm sure my manager said it was part of law now.. I will check over the minutes..
remember.....Persistance pays.

Loan Ranger
Posted on 12 Oct 2007 4:10 am (Report this annotation)

Hi Woodster,

I just now saw your posting. It seems that Jobcentre are still mis-informing clients and advisers, this is a disgrace.
Please go to this page below;
http://www.redcar-cleveland.gov.uk/Living1.nsf/Web+Full+List...

Jobcentre Plus staff are notorious for giving wrong advice and decisions to claimants. Some of their people are ill-informed, under-trained, un-helpful etc. Don't get fooled, get the facts here.
http://loanranger.no-ip.org/crisis%20loan/index.php?option=c...

Loan Ranger. Home page: http://loanranger.no-ip.org/crisis%20loan/

Loan Ranger
Posted on 12 Oct 2007 4:21 pm (Report this annotation)

Hi (again) Woodster,

the Manager is wrong to say that you should tell Clients that, (Quote) "if they are waiting to hear about a claim for JSA they will not qualify." Ask the Manager to show you which bit of the Law he is using to support this non-sense.

Here's an extract from Jobcentre's own Social Fund Guidelines (advisers/socialfundguide/sfguide/part3):
"208.A CL may be made, subject to the normal considerations, during the first 26 weeks of an IS, JSA(IB) or a PC claim including payments on account of such benefits, during which time an applicant would be excluded from a payment of a budgeting loan.
209.After 26 weeks on IS, IS, JSA(IB), PC or payment on account of such benefits an applicant may apply for help with an expense which may be met by either a CL or a Budgeting Loan (BL)."
Full document source - http://loanranger.no-ip.org/crisis%20loan/components/com_con...
Clients can also ask for an 'interim payment' of their JSA, however there is no automatic entitlement to these and they are often refused by Jobcentres' who erroneously say, "this is what Crisis Loans are for".

Also, Jobcentre must allow 'clerical' and 'face to face' claims (also from - advisers/socialfundguide/sfguide/part3):
"23.Remember that this service is intended for customers who make their initial contact to the office by telephone: customers who are already in the office must never be told to go home and telephone.
24.Customers who have difficulty making themselves understood on the telephone must be offered an immediate office interview instead.
25.When a customer contacts the office about a CL by telephone, confirm at the outset that he/she:
understands what will happen i.e.:
if the decision is negative they will receive it by telephone, with full written confirmation by post;
if the decision is positive and they require an immediate payment they will be required to attend the office with satisfactory evidence of their identity to confirm their statement and agree repayment terms and conditions;
• is happy to make the application by 'phone."

Furthermore, Sir Richard Tilt Social Fund Commissioner, said in the 'House of Commons - Work and Pensions - Sixth Report - Prepared 23 May 2007 - http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/c... the following:
"WRITTEN APPLICATIONS

31. Giving oral evidence on the DWP's Autumn Performance Report, the Permanent Secretary assured us that "as now, under the new Operating Model customers will still be able to make claims by calling into a local office, or by post."This, however, does not seem to be the experience in some areas of the UK, according to the written evidence we received:

* "No application forms are made available by the DWP local offices in Wolverhampton."
* "Problems are exacerbated by the fact that some local Jobcentre Plus offices are refusing to deal with paper forms, despite the fact that the Social Fund regulations retain people's rights to make clerical claims."
* "We are also aware that staff sometimes refuse to take over-the-counter applications; this is despite regulations which require written applications to be accepted"

32. Sir Richard Tilt confirmed that "we have cases come in where people are simply told they cannot make a written application" and told us of one extreme example where "someone handed in a written application and got it torn up in front of them. Apart from it being illegal, that is not the way to treat people." "

Report Your Social Fund Experience;
Please use this form to tell the IRS about your experience of using the Social Fund. http://www.irs-review.org.uk/sfexp/sfex.htm
You can also phone the IRS with your comments on 0800 096 1926 and ask for Richard Plant, or send an email to Richard Plant at rpp@irs-review.org.uk )

bob jilles
Posted on 1 Jul 2008 11:05 am (Report this annotation)

I'm glad that Benefit Delivery Centre is going to issue 0800 numbers, I think that it's really helpful, I saw it here http://www.smart-numbers.net/ for their customers. These 0800 numbers are specific to their Regions and Countries that makes much easier for clients to contact the center and consult. Installation of 0800 numbers is a good idea, as usually the give profit to company and comfort to its clients.

Loan Ranger
Posted on 7 Jun 2009 5:55 pm (Report this annotation)

I'm glad to see that your lobotomy was successful bob.