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Forum Home  →  Discussion  →  Conditionality and sanctions  →  Thread

Interaction between light touch regime and work focused interview/work preparation groups

Charles
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Accountant, Haffner Hoff Ltd, Manchester

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This is not something new, but something I’ve come across a couple of times this week.

The cases both involved a couple who have sufficient household earnings to be placed in the light touch regime, but also have a child under 3, meaning the lead carer for the child is in the work focused interview or work preparation group.

Current DWP practice is to leave those in the light touch regime almost completely alone, whereas those in the work-focused interview or work preparation groups generally have regular interviews, and possibly more conditionality applied.

The practical effect of this is that in cases like the ones I’ve had, the lead carer is subject to regular interviews etc., whereas the other member of the couple is left alone completely. This is the case even if the lead carer is the only (or main) earner.

This is simply nonsensical, and I even suggested to one couple to consider changing the nomination for lead carer just for this reason (even though the current lead carer really is the lead carer!). Obviously it’s important to understand that there are limitations on how often you can change the nomination, so you must be careful when doing this.

WillH
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Hello Charles, and apologies for the very late reply.

I’m fascinated by this, as like you I have had clients affected. In fact, I’ve also had single parent clients with sufficient earnings to be in light touch affected (being contacted when child is 1). Initially, my view was that although reg 99(1) & (6) means no work search or work availability requirement, there was still the possibility of being required to attend work focused interviews and engage in work participation (and certainly this remains legally possible).

Despite this, I kept having clients tell me that they shouldn’t have to attend WFIs in light touch, & it did appear that when they raised this with the JC+, the interviews stopped… But then I would get other new light touch clients being told to attend weekly…

I’ve tried an FOI to get to the bottom of this, but I’m not entirely happy with the results. DWP seem to be saying current policy is no WFIs or work preparation requirement for people in light touch, and that any participation is voluntary, but that does not fit with what is happening out there. It could of course be that messages from work coaches are not sufficiently clear and clients are misunderstanding.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/work_coach_guidance_on_work_rela#describe_state_form_1

If I get another example I may see if the client is willing to involve their MP & get them to ask a question. For now, I’m advising clients in light touch:

if you are told the consequences of not participating in a WFI could be a sanction, then you should participate, although if you cannot you should explain why (good reason may apply)

if you are NOT told that the consequences of not participating could be a sanction, then you shouldn’t be sanctioned for not doing so, and if you are, then that (failure to correctly notify) would be one of the arguments to revise the decision. If you can attend though, that avoids the possibility of a sanction in the first place

remind the work coach you are in light touch due to your/your partner’s earnings & you do not want to voluntarily participate at the moment because ....(eg childcare responsibilities).

Shortened version of this of course is: participate if you can, given reasons if you can’t, tell work coach you’re in light touch.

Also worth saying that I have absolutely no evidence of anyone in light touch actually being sanctioned for missing a WFI.

The UC guidance is clear enough that mandatory work preparation is not currently required in practice (though much less clear about WFIs):
http://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2021-0835/178_Work_related_activities_and_Labour_Market_regimes_V6-0.pdf

In the cases you’ve seen, it sounds as if legally, either partner could be required to attend WFIs, but are the DWP inviting the person who’s not in work at all? That would fit with the recently revised policy on who is eligible for the Restart scheme, for example (they appear to call this group ‘Light touch out of work’:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/restart-scheme/how-the-restart-scheme-will-work?utm_source=https%3a%2f%2fnews.dwp.gov.uk%2fdwplz%2f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Touchbase+-+13+May+2022&utm_term=Touchbase+-+13+May+2022&utm_content=102172)

Anyway, might be worth checking the invitations to attend (is there a mention of consequences), and/or pointing out to work coaches that participation is supposedly voluntary as a matter of policy.

Will

UB40
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I’m attempting to post a Powerpoint slide from the UC DMA team but falling foul of the pixel restrictions, here is the text.

– ” Claimants in the light-touch regime are required to participate in two Work Search Interviews (by telephone, only re-arranged as face-to-face when phone contact is unsuccessful) at day one and week 8 in the regime. There are no further mandatory requirements. Claimants are not required to attend further Work Search Reviews, and all other work-related activity is agreed as part of a voluntary action plan.​”

Charles
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Hi Will

My understanding is that the UC computer system automatically places every claimant into one, and only one, labour market regime. This will be the regime with the lowest conditionality requirements, from a legal perspective. The hierarchy is as follows:

1. No work related requirements - working enough
2. No work related requirements - other reasons
3. Work focused interview only
4. Work preparation
5. All work related requirements - Light touch
6. All work related requirements - Intensive work search

See here.

As mentioned in that link, the labour market regime can be manually adjusted, and that could be what has happened in some of your cases. But I have never seen that happen in practice, and I think it is more likely that it has simply been a case of the work coach simply agreeing not to call them in for extended periods, and not an actual change of regime being applied.

Current DWP policy (although not mandated by law, as you point out) is not to require those in the “light touch regime” to attend interviews. However, that is NOT the same thing as saying that anyone “falling within Reg 99(6)” will not be required to attend interviews. “Light touch regime” and “falling within Reg 99(6)” are not the same thing! Due to the hierarchy used by the UC computer system, not everyone “falling within Reg 99(6)” is in the “light touch regime”.

As such, I think DWP are well within their rights to require the main carer of a 1-2 year old child to attend a WFI, and potentially apply sanctions, despite the fact that they have sufficient earnings to fall within Reg 99(6).

My gripe is simply due to the nonsensical outcome where the member of the couple who is not the main carer is left completely alone (due to being in the “light touch regime”), whereas the main carer is called in for interviews, as they are in the “Work focused interview only” regime, or the “Work preparation” regime. And this is the case even where the main carer is the ONLY earner (i.e., earning enough to fall within Reg 99(6), but not the equivalent of 16 hours at NMW)! I see this regularly in practice, and is what caused me to start this thread last year.

It’s not too terrible, as the work coaches always agree, in my experience, to allow the WFI to take place as a simple telephone chat about how my client is doing and what their plans are, and to reduce the frequency as much as the system allows them (generally, 6-monthly).

As an aside, my experience is that most work coaches simply don’t understand the light touch regime, and often get the rules wrong. I believe this is because the conditionality regimes are mostly set automatically by the system. For example, many work coaches think that the light touch regime always depends on the individual’s earnings, and not on the couple as a whole.

EDIT TO ADD: There is a separate issue that it sometimes takes an AP or two before claimants who have recently started working and earning enough to be in the light touch regime to actually be moved into that regime. I’ve not got to the bottom of when and why this happens. I often get my clients to put messages on their journal requesting they be moved over, but that doesn’t always work.

[ Edited: 17 May 2022 at 12:52 am by Charles ]
WillH
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Hmm, thanks Charles, but I’m still not convinced by the relationship between what happens in practice and the guidance.

Why would someone covered by reg 99(6) NOT be in the light touch regime? (I may be missing something here)

Does the problem arise from this guidance:
https://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2022-0452/088-Light_Touch_regime_V9.0.pdf

I can see why that might be the problem if the main carer of a child aged 3/over isn’t the earner (if the work coach ignored the previous bullet points!), but you’ve said it happens even where the carer is the earner?

UB40, thanks, that seems to echo the guidance here:
https://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2022-0452/175-Work_related_activities_and_the_Labour_Market_regimes_V6.0.pdf

Although confusingly that also says the 2 telephone interviews no longer apply….

Charles
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We have to separate the legal requirements from DWP’s administrative decisions.

Legally, anyone covered by Reg 99(6) cannot have work search or work availability requirements placed on them, but can have other conditionality applied.

Administratively, DWP have decided that anyone placed by their computer system in the light touch regime will be left alone (almost) completely.

They have also decided that claimants within Reg 99(6) who are ALSO in a regime with lower LEGAL conditionality requirements are not placed in the light touch regime, but in the regime with lower legal requirements.

The end result of the above is that the main carer of a child under 3 is not put in the light touch regime, but in one of the following regimes (depending on the child’s age):
Aged <1: No work related requirements
Aged 1: Work focused interview only
Aged 2: Work preparation

This sometimes has the perverse results discussed above, but is, I believe, legally sound.