Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Benefit advice cuts due

September 26 2009
Will major changes in the availability of benefits advice across London day centres result in a poorer service? Homeless benefits services are due to radically change this April. Major changes are being introduced to the availability of benefits advice across London day centres, which is feared will result in a poorer service. Currently, 38 JobCentre Plus (JCP) outreach staff operating at sixty locations - mostly day centres - across London provide clients with access to benefits, assessing their claim and enabling them to 'sign on' for the support they're entitled to. In addition, they offer accommodation advice and assistance with gaining proof of ID, National Insurance numbers and other essential documents. From April, due to changes brought about by the Department of Work and Pensions, these provisions will be reduced. Staff will be cut to just 22, with the service having to withdraw from some locations as a result. Staff will be less likely to operate on a drop-in basis, instead requiring claimants to make appointments. In addition to this, the emphasis in services will shift from linking people into the benefits system, to focusing on getting people into work. In keeping with the main purpose of JCP, the advisors will concentrate on finding work for their clients, with performance measures imposed on them to encourage this. Combined with the reduced number of staff, this change will mean that those who aren't already linked into the system, and able to start work, will effectively be shut out of the service. While JCP used to case-work those who, for example, had no proof of ID and weren't yet able to start looking for employment, from April the new direction of the service means that it's unlikely that JCP will be able to assist in those complicated circumstances. One worker told The Pavement that "the thinking behind it's okay, but it means that we can't concentrate on getting people onto benefits in complex cases. It's the most vulnerable who'll suffer". In addition, it's recognized that to successfully get people into work, their overall circumstances need to be stable and secure; something JCP will no longer be able to help with. A statement issued by the Public and Commercial Services Union, who oppose the cuts, states, "whilst we recognise helping people back to work is a desirable long term aim, we firmly believe that homeless people need a lot of practical help from our members before this aim can be achieved." The proposed changes are to be introduced in order to meet the targets set out by the Department of Work and Pensions ‚Äö?Ñ??Public Sector Agreement' with the Treasury. Although they do not officially take effect until April the service will likely be disrupted before then, as staff levels will be reduced from January.