Dear member,
You are invited to attend the 2018 PCS DWP Bolton and Bury Branch Annual General Meeting

Date: Friday 9th February 2018.
Location: Bolton Library, Lecture Theatre 1.
Time: 1pm – 2pm

Guest Speaker:
Guest speaker: Mark Page, DWP Group Assistant Secretary.

If you wish to attend, please advise / book the time ASAP with your team leader.

*Please use your right to attend the most important branch meeting of the year for reports and debate on the workplace issues that affect you*

There is no flexi credit for time off to attend this year, but see your local branch rep about requesting time off as Trade Union Activities ( TUA).Or you can use assumed consent if on a non fixed end time and you work more than than half your standard working day.

Use your right to attend the Annual General Meeting of Bolton and Bury branch on 9 February.
This circular
confims that you can use trade union activities ( TUA) to attend the AGM.
You will not have any pay deducted from your salary if the meeting lasts less than half the standard working day. (3.42 or 3.24)

Update from PCS Universal Credit Liaison Group
09 Jan 2018 - An update for members on the Universal Credit Liaison Group meeting held on 28 November 2017.

The PCS national executive committee set up the Universal Credit Liaison Group (UCLG) some time ago to discuss issues arising from the transfer of staff from HMRC to DWP to work on Universal Credit and to discuss the union’s wider campaigning activity on this far reaching welfare reform. The group met intermittently up until August of 2017. However, it has now been agreed that it will meet at least quarterly and that an update will be provided to members in both DWP and HMRC following each meeting.

The UCLG is made up of members appointed by the NEC and members appointed by the DWP and HMRC groups. NIPSA, our sister union in Northern Ireland, is also invited to the meetings of the UCLG. NIPSA represents both the members who work for the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency, who will deliver UC in Northern Ireland, and the members who work for DWP in Northern Ireland, many of whom will be involved in delivering UC for the mainland UK.

The current membership of the committee is:
Ian Bartholomew – PCS FTO and secretary, Fran Heathcote – Chair, Sam Hall – NEC
Hector Wesley – NEC, Baljit Johal – DWP, Dave Owens - DWP, Mark Page – DWP
Katrine Williams – DWP, Steve Ryan – HMRC, Colette Smith – HMRC, Tony McMullen – NIPSA

The most recent UCLG meeting was held in the PCS Office, Leeds on Tuesday 28 November 2017.
The next meeting is scheduled for Friday 12 January 2018.

Roll Out
We welcome the fact that pressure from PCS, MPs and various organisations has resulted in the slowing down of the UC Full Service rollout. However, we still believe that rollout should have been paused until the, not insignificant, problems with UC are fully ironed out.

The recent budget announced that there will now be a slowing down of the UC Full Service rollout from February 2018. Instead of 50 Jobcentres per month going live, there will now only be 10 per month for February to April, an increase to 41 in May and then 60 per month, still with a pause in August. The resulting impact is that full rollout will not now be complete until the end of December 2018. It was also announced that new claims to UC Live Service will cease from 31 December 2017. This will mean many more claims, during one of the busiest months of the year for new claims being made for legacy benefits. Where Full Service has not yet rolled out those people who would have been eligible to make a new claim to UC will now have to claim JSA. It will also mean significantly more people claiming ESA and IS, as 120 less Jobcentres will now roll-out with Full Service between February and the end of April.

In addition to slowing down the rollout, there has also been the introduction of free telephone lines for all benefits (This has been a long-term goal of PCS) and the removal of the seven day waiting period for UC. Whilst welcome for UC claimants, this will create a discrepancy, and significant detriment for those people who still have to claim JSA and ESA. It was agreed that, through the PCS Parliamentary Group, we will raise this with a view to applying pressure on the Government to remove the waiting days for all benefits. The changes will also see an increased demand for staff to work on legacy benefits, with a reduction, at least in the short-term, of staff needed to move onto UC. We have asked for an urgent meeting with DWP management to discuss these wider impacts, and we meet with UC management on 16 January 2018, where we will be discussing issues, including staffing, in some detail.

HMRC Transfers
The on-going move of members from HMRC to DWP is continuing with the phased transfer of staff from two HMRC sites in Preston. The members will become part of what is currently the DWP Preston Central Office Branch, which over time will incorporate all members in Preston. Officers from the DWP North West Region have worked with the branch and the exporting HMRC branch, holding inductions and members meetings with those transferring. We will continue to get DWP and HMRC branches to work together around future transfers and are producing guidance for branches and a standard letter to issue to all members who move from HMRC to DWP as part of the UC rollout.

Good News
One significant issue for members transferring to DWP should now be resolved. Members are transferring on COSOP terms, which means that existing HMRC contractual terms apply unless people opt to take on full DWP terms and conditions. In relation to working hours, UC management were interpreting the HMRC contracts as allowing them to ask transferees to work any hours they require. This meant that there was pressure put on staff to cover more than one 6.30 tent-pole, as management believed former HMRC staff were not covered by the protections in the Employee Deal agreement. However, PCS took the issue up with DWP HR, arguing that the HMRC contracts were not so flexible as to allow DWP to ask people to work whatever they wanted, and that the DWP Flexi Working Hours Policy, which also sets out a maximum of one late finish per week, covers all staff. This has been accepted by DWP, so no one transferring from HMRC can be required to work more late finishes than any other DWP member of staff. Further Improvements Negotiated
It has been agreed that we can hold PCS induction meetings with all future transferees from HMRC to DWP.

The UCLG resolved that we would approach DWP with a demand that all PCS reps who transfer from HMRC should receive the PCS DWP specific training, regardless of what previous training they have had. This training, a three day new reps course and two day personal cases course, is on official duty time and is paid for by DWP. Since the meeting we have reached agreement with DWP Employee Relations that these courses will be available for all reps who transfer from HMRC, and we will be contacting the branches with reps in that position to facilitate this.

In-Work Conditionality and Staff as Claimants
The pilot on In-Work Conditionality is currently running, and we await the detailed evaluation, which is due mid-2018. This is unique to UC and has no precedent to learn from in any welfare system anywhere in the world. We believe that this area is fraught with problems and will continue to campaign for it to be scrapped.

We have also raised concerns about how claims to UC from people who are employed by DWP will be handled. The current number of staff claiming UC is likely to be very small, but, as there is no requirement on DWP staff to inform their employer that they are claiming UC, DWP have no idea of the act number. However, once conversion of existing Tax Credit claims to UC begins (date and timeframe as yet unknown) a significant number of our members will be in the position of both working for DWP and being in receipt of the main benefit that it administers. This will also bring into focus the issue of how In-Work Conditionality will apply to DWP’s own staff. We have asked for DWP to consider setting up a specific unit for handling the UC claims of its staff members, which is what currently exists with HMRC for staff who are in receipt of Tax Credits, but so far DWP have been reluctant to this. We are also trying to negotiate protections for our members, both those claiming UC and those who have to deal with claims from their colleagues.

Northern Ireland
PCS is not directly responsible for the staff who work on UC in Northern Ireland. NIPSA is the union to which the vast majority of Civil Servants in Northern Ireland belong, including those who are working for DWP. Due to the current recruitment policies in operation within the Northern Ireland Civil Service, there are a number of agency workers employed in the delivery of UC for the mainland UK. It was agreed that we would specifically demand that DWP should cease the use of agency staff and only employ staff directly. We will continue to work closely with our sister union on issues of joint interest like Universal Credit.

Welfare Reform and Campaigning
We have continued our campaigning work over recent months. This has included providing evidence to select committees, working with opposition parties, giving detailed information to the PCS Parliamentary Group, getting our issues raised and questions asked in parliament. We have also made regular contact with the press and media. UC is currently under significant scrutiny and is attracting a lot of public interest. We will attempt use this as a means of gaining improvements both for our members and those who claim UC.

Keeping Up the Work for Members
In addition to the UCLG, the DWP Group have a Universal Credit Advisory Committee that meets quarterly. Members should feed in their concerns about UC via their branch to that committee.The rollout of UC will continue to present many challenges, and we will continue to use all means available to us to highlight our issues and make gains. We will continue to keep members informed of developments and progress. 

Universal Credit and Assumed Consent
21 Dec 2017

Earlier this week a number of sites reported that local managers were placing restrictions on flexible working, particularly in relation to the use of assumed consent. The restrictions included members being told that assumed consent had been suspended over the Christmas period, and at least one site issued an e-mail to staff advising them that assumed consent would only be allowed in emergency situations, and an HEO would make the decision as to whether the circumstances classed as an emergency or not. There was even one report of a member being told that they faced disciplinary action for using assumed consent to leave work early.

PCS Response
When the issues were raised with us with we immediately raised it with UC management, and we were given an assurance on 19 December that assumed consent had not been withdrawn. Management believed that they had allowed as much leave as possible, so were operating with staffing levels that meant that they would be busy, and needed those in work to do as many hours as possible, but they did not believe the situation was so exceptional as to warrant any suspension of Assumed Consent. They also said that no one was being disciplined for using assumed consent.

On Wednesday we received contact from several other UC Service Centres about similar restrictions being placed on members in those sites. We again raised these with management and a telekit was arranged for late afternoon. Management reiterated that this was a busy time and they would like people to make as little use of flexi as possible, so that they could make sure all claimants get paid and that those staff in work are under as little pressure as possible. However, they maintained that they were doing this by asking staff to consider the delivery of business and not by withdrawing assumed consent or stopping people from making use of flexible working. They accepted that some poor messaging had gone out in some places, and that certain sites were being over restrictive. They agreed to put out a clear message to all staff and managers. In this (attached for reference) they confirm: “We have not withdrawn the use of flexi in this period or the use of assumed consent.”

The management position is that, as should be standard practice in normal circumstances, where someone wants to make use of assumed consent they should advise their immediate line manager as a courtesy. What could be different is that the manager might have a conversation about whether someone could stay longer, if there are payments outstanding or other urgent work that needs to be carried out. However, if the member says “no, I need to leave, or come in later” then this should not be a problem. There should be no requirement for approval to be sought from HEO or SEO level.

There should also be no automatic cancellation of, or ban on, the use of TU time over the festive period.
Any continuing problems should be notified to leeds@pcs.org.uk

Universal Credit Update December 2017
18 Dec 2017

PCS has held discussions with Universal Credit management including People Survey Results, management structures, the impact of the recent budget announcements and festive leave plans.

People Survey Results
The GEC has reviewed the data from the People Survey. Unfortunately the way the data has been presented makes it difficult to be clear what the issues are in Universal Credit. This is because the hierarchy has been built to reflect a future management structure not the structure of the organisation at the time the survey was taken. Until the management structure is better developed PCS will be looking at the Area Directorate survey results at a national level.

PCS is very keen to engage with Universal Credit management particularly in order to address the concerns expressed by members working in the Service Centres about the levels of stress they are experiencing.

Superficially the results would back the reports of high levels of stress as virtually every Service Centre has responded negatively to the statement in the survey “I have an acceptable workload”. This is a clear indication that members support PCS’s claim the Universal Credit Service Centres are need more staff.  The GEC will ask for further analysis of the data affecting members working in Universal Credit with a view to addressing the concerns that members continue to raise with us and that are evident from the survey results.

Management Structure
The survey results are presented in the format of the new Area Directorate Structure. There are 4 Area Directorates: Scotland, North of England, central England and Wales, and Southern England and London and the home counties. Directors have been appointed to manage all of the Service Centres located within these areas and all the associated jobcentres. The aspiration is to have as many Service Centres as possible dealing with the Jobcentres in their geographical vicinities with the exception of London and parts of Southern England where Service Centre activity will be delivered from more geographical disparate areas such as Northern Ireland and the Bolton. The structure below this is still developing. A trade union side structure will be convened that reflects the management hierarchy.

Budget announcements
The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the budget that new claims to Universal Credit Live Service will end at the end of December and in addition the rollout of jobcentres to Full Service will dramatically slow down from 50 to 10 between now and June at which point the rollout is due to ramp up again. This means that significant numbers of claimants that were not planned for will be claiming JSA, ESA and IS during this period. As a consequence staffing numbers will have to be reviewed for both Working Age Benefits and Universal Credit. PCS has asked for a meeting at the earliest opportunity to discuss how the budget changes will impact on staffing across all areas of DWP.Training for Universal Credit Full Service
Many members have contacted the GEC with issues regarding the belief that they are expected to give up part time working patterns in order to undertake training for Universal Credit Full Service. The PCS Universal Credit negotiating team confirmed with senior managers in UC that full time learning would be encouraged where it was possible but that there was no desire to pressurise or force part time staff into full time working patterns whilst undertaking training. In most situations solutions should be available for part time staff to undertake training and maintain their working patterns if they have to.

Additionally concerns have been expressed about the training schedule over the peak leave months of August and September. PCS have been clear that training commitments should be minimised during this period as the pressure brought on the staff left operating jobcentres at these times could become unacceptable.

Festive planning
Universal Credit plans for managing staffing levels during the festive period have been shared with PCS. We welcome the steps taken to manage business continuity over this period and we are committed to ensuring that claimants receive the service they need. The festive plans include 54 additional staff from the Surge Team, offers of overtime, support from jobcentre staff, offer of extra hours for Twilight Shift workers, communications time over the three week festive period being for essential communications only e.g. replacing team meetings and reading time with short buzz meetings as necessary. Trade Union Duties will be deemed as essential.

We are also clear that assumed consent and access to flexible working has not been suspended during the festive period and it would not be in the gift of local managers to do so. There should be no repercussions for members who choose to use assumed consent over this period. Any suspension of assumed consent should be notified to leeds@pcs.org.uk

Know your workplace rights in cold weather

12 Dec 2017

As the snow and ice hits PCS members across the UK you should ensure you know your rights about working in low temperatures.

PCS has guidance on workplace temperatures with health and safety regulations stating that the temperature of all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable, with a recommended minimum of 16°C or 13°C if employees are doing physical work.

Your employer must provide enough thermometers for you to measure the temperature. If you are required to work outside, then winter clothing is classed as personal protective equipment (PPE) and should be provided wherever there is a risk.

However, guidance produced by the Health and Safety Executive makes it clear that, even at 16° the workplace temperature may still not be 'reasonable'. Thermal comfort is dependent on more than just temperature: air movement and humidity are also important factors. In draughty conditions, people feel colder than they would at the same temperature with no significant draught.

Similarly, people can tolerate higher temperatures in a room with good air movement than in a still and humid atmosphere.

Preventing or alleviating the worst effects

When temperatures are uncomfortably low, managers should be looking to alleviate the worst effects:

  • by allowing breaks for people to get hot drinks, or to permit them to warm up
  • by providing additional heating
  • by allowing anyone with particular health concerns to leave the workplace, either to go home or to move to another workplace which does have a reasonable temperature
  • by relaxing dress code requirements where appropriate.

It may also be possible to relax hours of attendance/flexible working hours rules, where opening hours for public access are not a critical issue, to allow people to start work earlier in the day, take longer lunch breaks and/or finish earlier.

Home working might be a possibility in certain cases – though home temperatures may be no more acceptable than those in the workplace

The laws on temperature can be found in the legal summary of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

If you cannot negotiate a suitable solution, contact your PCS branch, regional centre or headquarters officers as appropriate.

PCS members demand a pay rise at last
A group of PCS members and reps gather outside of the Bolton site to show support for the pay campaign.

Members can opt to vote by post, email or phone (all members involved in the ballot will receive a ballot by post). More info here.
If you have not received a ballot paper in the post or received details of how to vote online to your personal email address by 20 October you should request a replacement ballot paper before 30 October by emailing balloting@pcs.org.uk

PCS pay campaign 2017

Here's a link to a Facebook live event this Wednesday evening (11.10.2017) at 7pm: https://www.facebook.com/PcsUnion/ 
This event will be hosted by journalist Rachel Shabi, PCS leader Mark Serwotka will be live, answering your questions.
Please log into this event, have your say.

October 2017:
Green report and environmental info downloadable here.

September 2017:
Theresa May urged to halt Universal Credit roll-out (BBC news).

August 2017:
Click HERE to download a pdf copy of Yasmin Qureshi MP's letter to Damian Hinds, the Minister Of State for Employment, dated August 3rd 2017, regarding her objection to the closure of Farnworth Jobcentre.

Older Branch news items

The DWP Bolton & Bury Branch of PCS has over 600 members, based at Bolton Benefit Centre and 4 local JobCentres (and this figure is rising in the face of the staffing cuts, AA redundancies, the victimisation of members and reps by our particularly bad managers and the Government's attacks on DWP staff pay and conditions).

The Bolton Benefit Centre was the very first in the country to take claims for the controversial Universal Credit, which replaces the conventional DWP benefits and is currently the cause of much concern for the staff on the Bolton site and for the Tory Government.

Bolton DWP has a particularly bad reputation within DWP as 'a problem office' and to have an entirely different management style to the majority of the rest of DWP. Members (and Reps) on this site need protection from this bizarre and harsh management style and Trade Union membership is key in defending job security. Issues such as 'Must Improve' performance markings being given to members who have not deserved them are regular tasks for our reps to deal with and we have a pretty good success rate in overturning them because management do not seem to be able to read or follow DWP procedures properly.

PCS is a democratic organisation, run by our members, for our members. We campaign for fair pay and conditions, decent pensions for all and equality in the workplace and beyond. If you're not a member of PCS, there's never been a better time to join the union.