Fresh written proof comes as head of Jobcentre Neil Couling claimed previous leaks pointed to an isolated incident.
Fresh written proof has been leaked showing that jobcentre staff are being set targets to sanction benefit claimants, and warned they will face disciplinary action if they do not meet the targets.
The document, from the Malvern jobcentre newsletter, came as the head of the Department for Work and Pensions [DWP] estate, Neil Couling, insisted a previous leak to the Guardian showing targets was, he believed, “an isolated incident and not something that is widespread”.
The government has agreed to hold a 12-month inquiry into the sanctions regime, but Labour is pressing for a quicker inquiry that looks at specific allegations.
The Malvern jobcentre newsletter states: “We are now into the new sanctions regime … and we are currently one of the worst performing offices with sanction benefit referrals and unless we improve we will put under special measures. That will mean staff from other offices and the performance team coming into Malvern and looking at all our processes to see how we can improve our SBR [stricter benefit regime] performance.”
The newsletter adds that the jobcentre will have “little say” on subsequent recommendations and its staff may have their “personal individual performances” monitored to “achieve the end result”. “We do not want this,” the newsletter goes on. “My plea to you is to identify SBR issues and refer to DMA [sanctioning] where appropriate.” The document, passed to LabourList, adds that overall performance should be 5% of the “live load”.
Yet in a letter received by many jobcentre staff on Monday , Couling denies there are national targets for applying sanctions and adds that “individual targets should not appear in performance agreements”.
He says: “We do keep management information on the numbers of referrals but that is to monitor for anomalies, for example it might highlight where there are higher numbers of sanctions than one might expect. They are not league tables.” He defends the tougher regime introduced in September, including greater requirements to provide regular evidence of efforts to seek work.
He states: “Sanctions and conditionality are important tools for advisers in helping people back to work. The international and national evidence shows they play an important role in making the system work effectively and people return to work more quickly and spend less time on benefits where public employment systems make use of sanctions.
“Where sanctions are appropriate they should, without hesitation, be used. So if you are an adviser you should not be surprised if, from time to time, your manager does challenge you about whether you are applying the sanctions regime appropriately. That is right and proper and that will continue. This challenge though does not constitute a target, nor is it evidence of one.”
But Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “There is now clear evidence of a nationwide culture of targets, league tables and intimidation at the heart of the Department for Work and Pensions sanctions regime.
“Iain Duncan Smith‘s point-blank denial has been exposed as a complete falsehood. We will demand the independent review is set up immediately so it can begin the job of putting the DWP’s house back in order.”
Numerous jobcentre staff have contacted the Guardian since last Friday’s story on targets for sanctions to claim such targets are part of the culture at their workplaces.