House of Lords written question – answered on 14th January 2014.

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Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the remarks by Lord Freud on 25 January 2012 (HL Deb, col 1061) that decision-making processes relating to civil penalties and the recovery of overpayments would continue to be consistent with the Wednesbury principles of public law, what steps have been taken to train and monitor the decision-making of Jobcentre Plus officials.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Decision makers are already familiar with applying the principles of public law. Specific training for all departmental staff, including those in Jobcentre Plus, involved in civil penalties was introduced in September 2012. Consideration around what may constitute negligence and what may count as a reasonable excuse is subject to guidance and was explored in preparing that material through training with decision makers. This training was incorporated into a wider training requirement when the Department brought in the Overpayment, Decision, Calculation and Appeal (ODCA) process and is designed to ensure that the civil penalty is considered at the same time as an overpayment decision and is a fundamental part of the process.

When a claimant error overpayment occurs, a decision maker will consider the full circumstances of the case, including any further information supplied by the claimant (gathered by telephone, letter or visit) against the civil penalty guidance on what constitutes negligence, reasonable steps or reasonable excuse. Each case is considered individually by the decision maker and the reasons that have led to the error or lack of action.

Following the introduction of the civil penalty in October 2012 the application of the penalty was closely monitored to ensure the penalty was operating as intended. A review of the process and guidance was undertaken, with evidence gathered from live cases and stakeholder feedback helping to inform a refreshed version of the guidance, published in October 2013. Supporting products were also updated where necessary including improving customer notifications. During the first year of operation around a half of all claimant error cases considered for a civil penalty resulted in a civil penalty being applied. This shows that taking into account an individual's reasonable excuse and personal circumstances are key to the decision making process.

The guidance for decision makers is publicly available.

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