Joint Claims for JSA Age Range Extension - Qualitative Evaluation

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					Joint Claims for JSA: Age Range Extension - Qualitative Evaluation

Joint Claims for JSA forms a key part of          These barriers were most strongly felt by
the government’s strategy for reducing the        previously dependent partners.
number of workless households.
Previously, one person in a couple claimed    •   Customers were a diverse group in terms of
on behalf of their partner, and the partner       lifestyle, relationships with partners, health
did not have to seek work. Under Joint            and outlook.
Claims, both members of the couple must
actively seek and be available for            •   Jobcentre processes were not generally
employment. When it was introduced in             considered flexible enough to accommodate
2001, people were eligible for Joint              individuals’ or each couple’s varying needs.
Claims where at least one of them was             It was suggested that greater choice should
born after 19 March 1976. Only couples            be available to customers in terms of joint or
without dependent children were affected.         single interviews, interview lengths, training
The age range was extended in October             options and signing procedures.
2002 to include couples where at least one
was aged between 18 and 45 at the time of     •   There was felt to be potential for clearer
implementation.                                   communication of the rationale behind Joint
                                                  Claims (including the Extension) to both
This report presents findings from the            staff and customers. There was a particular
qualitative evaluation of the age range           need for better explanation of the financial
extension. The research involved                  implications of couples’ actions.
individual in-depth interviews with Joint
Claimants, as well as two phases of           •   In theory Joint Claim customers can
interviews with Jobcentre staff involved in       choose between an individual or joint
delivering Joint Claims. A                        interview when they first claim.
complementary quantitative study has also         However, whether they attended
been conducted.                                   together or separately appeared to
                                                  depend more upon adviser preference or
Key Findings                                      Jobcentre policy.

•   There was evidence that the extended      •   Joint interviews were felt to result in a
    Joint Claims had encouraged some              better understanding of the couple’s
    previously dependent partners to              circumstances. However, staff were
    consider working, as well as                  more comfortable with the familiar
    increasing job search activities among        format of single interviews, and needed
    some main claimants.                          more guidance in best practice for
                                                  conducting joint interviews.
•   There was general support amongst
    staff for Joint Claims. Extension         •   Amongst staff, there was some
    customers also generally accepted the         confusion at contact centre/ reception
    policy. The most positive reactions           stage over exception/ exemption criteria.
    came from previously dependent                There were also difficulties with
    partners keen to work. However,               Jobcentre IT systems, particularly
    there was resistance to change among          JSAPS, which need to be improved.
    some men with more traditional
    values.                                   •   Jobcentre staff suggested that Joint
                                                  Claims be extended further to older
•   Customers in the extension age range          couples and those with school-age
    had greater perceived barriers to work        children, provided that careful
    than younger Joint Claimants. These           consideration was given to the potential
    included health issues, limited work          impact on Jobcentre workloads.
    experience or qualifications, employer
    prejudice, and caring responsibilities.
                                               specific barriers more keenly expressed by this
Executive Summary                              older group, including health issues, limited
                                               work experience or qualifications, employer
Background                                     prejudice and caring responsibilities. These
                                               barriers tended to be most strongly felt by
Joint Claims was first introduced in March     previously dependent partners. In addition,
2001 for certain couples claiming JSA at       some men with more traditional values
the higher rate for a dependent partner. It    expressed reluctance for their partners to work
requires both partners to be available for     on cultural grounds.
and actively seek employment. People
were initially eligible for Joint Claims       Introducing the Joint Claims Extension
where one or both partners were aged over      Neither staff nor customers felt that the Joint
18, that is at least one was born after 19     Claims Extension had been widely publicised.
March 1976. Only couples without               Staff had received information via the Intranet,
dependent children were affected. The age      handouts or verbal communication, and basic,
range was extended in October 2002 to          mainly generic, Joint Claims training had been
include couples where at least one was         conducted within Jobcentres. Customers had
aged between 18 and 45 at the time of          either heard of the Extension by letter or in the
implementation. This research concerns         Jobcentre.
the extended age range.
                                               Implementing the Joint Claims Extension
Research objectives and                        There was evidence, even after six months, that
                                               some staff had problems identifying Joint
methodology                                    Claimants and were confused over the
                                               exemption/exception criteria at the contact
The aims of the research were two-fold: to     centre/ reception stage. Staff were experiencing
consider the impact of the Joint Claims        ongoing problems with LMS and with the
Extension on the individual and the            payment system (JSAPS). Some cases had been
household with respect to labour market        converted into clerical cases as a result. This
participation, and to explore factors which    suggests a need to review computer systems and
affect the operation and delivery of the       staff training needs. Couples had experienced
Joint Claims Extension. The research           problems when one of them was failing to sign
comprised in-depth interviews with staff       on time as this jeopardised both parties’
and joint claimants, including ‘stock’         benefits. It was also questioned as to why
(already claiming before the Extension         payment was made to one claimant rather than
was introduced) and ‘flow’ (not claiming       both.
until after the Extension began) customers.
The research complements a separate
quantitative evaluation.
                                               Joint Claims interviews
                                               Customers are in theory allowed to decide
                                               between having a joint or individual interview.
Key findings                                   However, whether they attended together or
                                               separately appeared to depend more upon
Extension customers                            adviser preference or Jobcentre policy. Staff
The number of Joint Claims extension           had limited experience of interviewing Joint
customers was lower than anticipated by        Claimants and their approaches differed
staff. This meant that there was little        considerably, some conducting separate and
opportunity for staff to become confident      others, joint interviews with customers. Joint
in dealing with this group. Joint Claims       interviews were felt to result in a better
Extension customers were more diverse          understanding of the couple as a unit.
than the 18-24 age group, expressed            Customers could welcome being able to support
through their lifestyles, relationships with   each other through a joint interview and share
partners, their health and outlook. They       information. There was greater resistance to
expressed similar barriers to work to          joint interviews among customers who felt that
younger customers. However, there were         it duplicated information and therefore wasted
their time (usually ‘Stock’ customers).         work; movement onto Incapacity Benefit;
Potential improvements included                 frustration with Jobcentre processes; and
conducting lengthier or more thorough           fraudulent cases (according to staff speculation).
interviews, distributing time more evenly       There was little evidence to suggest that couples
between partners, and introducing more          were dropping out of the Joint Claims process
flexible booking systems.                       because of an objection to the new policy per se.

Overall reactions to the Joint Claims
Extension                                       Conclusions and
Overall, customers within the Extension
group accepted the new system of Joint          recommendations
Claims, even though the merits of joint
claiming were not felt to be obvious.           Staff
‘Stock’ customers expressed greatest            Due to the lower than expected numbers of Joint
resistance to the change. Some Muslim or        Claimants, the Extension was not felt to have
more traditional, older men resented their      impacted significantly on staff workloads.
partner having to come into the Jobcentre,
or did not want them to work. Others            Jobcentre staff felt that joint claims could be
expressed concern that their level of           extended further to include older couples and
benefits would be reduced under the new         those with school-age children. However, they
system even if this was not the case in         were concerned that the availability of local
practice. This would suggest that               jobs, the likely extent of exceptions and the
customers would benefit from fuller             potential for increasing Jobcentre workloads
information regarding the new regime.           should be taken into account.
Suggested improvements to the system
included language training where required,      Customers
more training options, and faster               The Extension appeared not to have had much
movement into training. Not all of the          impact on the way customers made decisions
training provided was considered relevant       about work. Nor did it appear to alter the nature
to individuals’ needs. There was a desire       of relationships. However, it did tend to
for greater choice in terms of when a           reinforce strong relationships and exacerbate the
couple signed for their benefit. There was      tensions in weaker partnerships. Overall, there
also resistance to joint payment as it was      appeared to have been least impact on ‘Flow’
felt that one person could be penalised by      customers. This was because these individuals
another’s failure to sign.                      tended to be the most motivated towards work
                                                already. Where there was an impact, it was
Staff were in favour of the Joint Claims        greatest on previously dependent partners, some
Extension in principle. They supported an       of whom were now considering work as a result
extension to older age groups but felt that     of the Joint Claims Extension. The research
attention ought to be given to the potential    suggested that the Extension may also motivate
numbers affected by any further extension       some Stock customers to seek work more
and the impact this might have on               actively.
Jobcentre workloads.
                                                There appeared to be potential for improvements
Not pursued cases                               as follows:
When Joint Claims was extended, there           • Improve initial communication of the Joint
was some concern that couples may cease             Claims policy and the rationale behind it;
claiming due to objections concerning the       • Ensure that staff understand eligibility
partner having to look for work.                    criteria and technology, as well as best
                                                    practice in conducting joint interviews -
The research suggested a variety of                 through further training of reception and
explanations for not pursuing a joint claim         contact centre staff in particular;
including: initial misidentification (never     • Address the JSAPS system in order to
eligible in first place); separation; finding       resolve outstanding errors;
•   Introduce more flexible interview
    booking mechanisms;
•   Broaden the training programmes on
•   Improve the scope and relevance of
    training to customers, including
    language training where required;
•   Review the payment system to ensure
    that people are not penalised for their
    partner’s failure to sign; and
•   Allow more flexible signing times for
    partners engaged in training, working
    part-time, or with caring