The less obvious manifestations of DWP’s exemplary approach to customer service.
Unless you fall foul of DWP’s sensitivities there is much that goes on of which you would be blissfully unaware, so the purpose of this posting is to warn you that all may not be as it seems based on my own (albeit limited) experience.
Firstly, there is the little known acronym “UPC” – Unreasonably Persistent Customer, which is a status attributed to anyone who in DWP’s view is making a nuisance of themselves. It is a totally unilateral designation which although it has certain consequences, you are not told directly that you have achieved this accolade. I only found out about mine by chance through an unrelated SAR (Subject Access Request under the Data Protection legislation).
One of the upshots is that you are assigned a single point of contact within DWP, which means that any communication you attempt with anyone within DWP is funnelled through this one person – this even applies if you are following one of their published procedures – your mail is still intercepted. You are at least told who this person is. It is hard not to get the impression that you are being treated as a pariah, with a degree of contempt and are presented with every obstruction imaginable. I was recently told that through the programme to improve customer service, my responses would now take up to 3 weeks rather than 2. Nobody has yet been able to explain how this represents an improvement -but hey, remember that DWP has its own dictionary.
There is at least an internal application procedure which has to be justified and approved before this status is designated, but my impression is that it goes through pretty much on the nod. My SAR also provided some insight into the degree to which one might be investigated by the DWP “police”, which can be well beyond what might be regarded as necessary and clearly both an infringement of privacy rights and an overt attempt at persecution/intimidation. DWP of course not only has its own extensive IT resources but also has Atos in the wings, so I doubt there is little they could not unearth if they had a mind to. There is no reason to assume that their own internal controls will prevent this “Big Brother” heavy-handedness continuing.
Secondly, there is the “Customer Compliance Department” – an innocuous title but with a powerful and imprecise remit. Manifestly it is there to investigate potential abuse on the path to accusations of fraud. It does claim to also investigate cases of possible underpayment, but one has to wonder what proportion this forms of the overall workload. There is some information available on the internet and it is clear that their style is deliberately aggressive taking the form of an interrogation rather than an interview, with a clear presumption of guilt over innocence despite protestations to the contrary.
My introduction came through a short, totally unexpected letter demanding my attendance at my local JC+ office a few days hence, with the usual thinly veiled threats if I did not instantly comply. It contained no explanation or information either in general or specific to my referral, which in itself was highly intimidating and clearly intended to be so. So I immediately rang the Compliance Officer involved.
In a quite lengthy phone call he would not explain the basis of my referral, pointing out that very many of their leads come from the members of the public calling their “Hotline”, as a result of which they HAVE to instigate an investigation. This is evidently the case no matter how vague and unsupported the call might be and the fact that the caller will not disclose their identity – even if they do, DWP’s promise of anonymity would prevent them passing the information on. He didn’t quite say it, but there was a strong inference that this was the source of the information. I’ll come back to the credibility of this later.
DWP has assessed my work capability wrongly three times in a row on its own admission. In the most recent sham, the FFW decision was reversed before reaching formal appeal and involved senior members of staff from both DWP and Atos, so one would have thought the decision was well considered and robust. However it appears it can be completely undermined by an anonymous phone call containing an accusation with no substance whatsoever. This is either complete bollox or DWP really needs to recruit more competent senior staff if it has so little faith in their judgement.
Compliance-Man also explained that my interview would not be under caution and he was only seeking to clarify certain matters, but would not say quite what they were or why he had any reason to doubt that the information he already had was anything other than wholly accurate. I would be expected to sign a statement of some kind but with no indication of what it might contain. Also, there would be no medical questioning or examination - again, all very intimidating and a bit scary.
I decided to write to him in the strongest possible terms objecting fiercely to the implication that I was being in anyway dishonest over my ESA claim and demanding to know the reason(s) why he thought this might be the case – OK I wasn’t to be under caution and had not been accused of fraud per se, but I had already been accused of non-compliance which is only one small step away from criminality.
I received a fairly prompt reply stating that an interview would not be necessary after all evidently as my letter contained the information he needed – I still do not know what this might have been. I have also asked what this information was not requested by post in the first place (it is quite perfectly acceptable for them to do this), but have not received an explanation.
So I am left wondering what the hell it was all about . . . . . . . My conclusions are as follows having done a bit of background work. I have never been diagnosed as paranoid, nor am I a great proponent of conspiracy theory, in fact rather the opposite preferring sound evidence, which rather speaks for itself here.
· In reality, only a tiny proportion of compliance investigations stem from calls from members of the public. By contrast, 3 in 4 arise from within DWP [confirmed through FoI request].
· Nobody other than DWP & me knows I receive ESA.
· Why haul me in for an interrogation, when a far more subtle and sensitive exchange of letters would have done the job just as well?
So it is pretty obvious, at least to any reasonable person, where the referral truly originated from and the motivation behind it.
As regards “Big Brother”, of course DWP denies any suggestion of discrimination, intimidation or persecution but will not confirm that my treatment has been “normal”. It insists it has remained objective and impartial, but cannot explain why it has collected data that on its own admission has no bearing on my ongoing complaint with them.
This is all just another manifestation of the underlying ‘benefit scrounging scum’ philosophy that permeates every aspect of DWP welfare reforms.