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
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.
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
• 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