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DWP losing post

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neilbateman
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Welfare Rights Author, Trainer & Consultant

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I am becoming increasingly annoyed about the number of occasions when I am told (including in writing in response to complaints) that for particular items of post I have sent “there is no evidence that this was received” by DWP.

All my outgoing post is stamped and correctly addressed and has my name and address on the envelopes so anything undelivered can be sent back by Royal Mail - I have never had anything sent to DWP returned to me. 

Given the DWP’s separation of post opening from processing and the practice of couriering papers around the country so that different offices end up dealing with the same client it is most likely that post is being lost internally within DWP.  Indeed, one does not have to be a genius to observe that such physically fragmented work processes greatly increase the likelihood of internal loss.

One also hears accounts from ex-DWP staff of some DWP staff deliberately destroying or mislaying post from advisers in order not to have to spend time dealing with the complex issues we often raise.

Just once, recently a DWP a manager had the honesty to write back and admit that something had gone astray but invariably they repeat the tedious and incredible line that they have no evidence of a letter being received which is rather like claiming that the moon is made of Swiss cheese. 

How often do other advisers experience this?  Do you make formal complaints when it happens?  Has anyone reported DWP to the Information Commissioner?

I sometimes resort to using recorded delivery but this adds to cost and is time consuming as it has to be taken to a Post Office and even that is not guaranteed - I have had instances of them denying that recorded post was received when I have evidence of a signature and also instances of DWP offices refusing to accept Recorded Delivery items.

Aside from the irritation factor, it is of grave concern that correspondence which will often contain highly sensitive and confidential personal information is being mislaid and this may be an offence under the Data Protection Act 1998.

1964
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Deputy Manager, Reading Community Welfare Rights Unit

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Agree on all fronts.

The issue of missing post has become particularly relevant since MR came into being. A recent example was an ESA MR request I lodged for a client in early December and a GP letter in support of the request sent 10 days later. Rang to chase up on it during first week of Jan- told no record of either letter having been received. Sent copies with covering letter. Rang third week of Jan- told the same thing. In the intervening period the post handling address had changed (now Wolverhampton) and whilst post sent to the old address (which was on the decision letter and continues to regularly appear on decision letters) is supposed to be forwarded on it clearly isn’t happening.

I received call back from local BC who confirmed the above (and that none of my letters had apparently been received). Thankfully they were helpful, accepted faxed copies of everything, and I had call from a DM today to confirm MR is ongoing and decision should be issued soon. However, if nothing else it has added a susbstantial delay to proceedings (client is not well enough to claim JSA and has no current income other than ad hoc support from family). I just don’t believe that three letters vanished into the ether.

Andrew Dutton
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Welfare rights service - Derbyshire County Council

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I’ve just raised this as something to discuss in our DWP liaison. I am spending much time checking back on unanswered letters and sending copies to DWP using what has become my stock pained line ‘I am disappointed to see that this letter has received neither acknowledgment nor reply’.

I’ve taken one to formal complaint where I have not been able to get a reply in nearly a year. The initial complaint letter, clearly marked ‘formal complaint’ also received no reply. Awaiting reply on the second try.

I do not understand how it can be good practice to have a benefits centre in one city, but its post is sent elsewhere and then sent on. Surely, as said above, that is asking for trouble.

Peter Turville
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We are having similar problems particularly with mandatory revision requests since post handeling moved from our ‘local’ DWP post handeling centre to Wolverhampton B (sounds like a nuclear power station - maybe thats where a % of the post actually goes?). Part of the problem appears to be the delays with registering post on the system.

But given the time limit for a MR thats not a lot of help if one discovers the application has ‘not been recieved’ after the time limit (or indeed wasn’t on the system when phoned to check receipt, but was at a later date after sending a duplicate - and then there are two MRs recorded on the system etc etc etc).

Things appear to have become much worse since Benefit Centre’s have stopped dealing with a specific geographical area.

adviceplus
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Rhondda Cynon Taff CBC (Welfare Rights Project)

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Yes I agree very much with Peter I posted on this forum on 16/12 (sorry can’t do the link)

Since the centralisation of the mail it seems   worse.  We do more recorded deliveries because of this and 3 of them went missing in December , they are tracked and traced to Wolverhampton and delivered by Royal Mail but nowhere to be seen in one case,  and weeks later in the others. 

The mail is now delivered to Wolverhampton even when you still address to the local JC+office . 
What it is going to be like when there are only 2 mail handling sites for all the UK mail   I fear to think but, I suppose by then it was envisaged that claims were to be digital so there would no longer have to be much provision for paper mail ?

1964
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Deputy Manager, Reading Community Welfare Rights Unit

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All roads seem to lead to Wolverhampton now don’t they? It’s not just the local BC, Pension Service and Social Fund have followed suite now. All the addresses are Post Handling Site B too (only the post codes are slightly different). Must be one hell of a letter box is all I can say. Either that, or Peter is correct and it all get shovelled into a Sellafield style reactor.

past_caring
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Welfare Benefits Casework Supervisor, Brixton Advice Centre

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neilbateman - 12 February 2014 02:25 PM

One also hears accounts from ex-DWP staff of some DWP staff deliberately destroying or mislaying post from advisers in order not to have to spend time dealing with the complex issues we often raise.

I cannot help but feel that the extreme reluctance to give out fax numbers that has developed over the last 5-6 is connected to this. After all, virtually all of the problems Neil and others raise would disappear in an instant if the DWP were prepared to release the (correct!) fax numbers.

stevenmcavoy
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Welfare rights officer - Enable Scotland

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lost sick lines were a pretty constant source of work for me (and as a result the client’s GP).

Mike Hughes
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Can someone explain the relevance of recorded delivery when post opening and processing are separated?

I have a number of concerns.

1 - advisers using it routinely but never bothering to track and trace or understanding what it actually is!

2 - the fact that arguments about whether an item was received frequently go nowhere. If all you want is proof of posting that can be obtained at no cost.

3 - it strikes me as futile to send post by recorded delivery when DWP are organised like this. You are paying for recording of its arrival at the final address. However, it is only signed for at the post opening centre. That isn’t proof of receipt at the address you want. It’s transferred from post opening to destination by, as I understand it, a private company. No-one is then going to be asked for a second signature as, at best, this is done upon receipt at post opening. So, is it me or have you just wasted your employers money by paying for something which says “Congratulations. You have a signature to show your letter has completed the first part of its journey!”.

past_caring
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Welfare Benefits Casework Supervisor, Brixton Advice Centre

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So far as point 3 goes, a claim is effective only on the date it is received in the appropriate office. So, despite the ‘postal rule’ proof of posting alone is not determinative where there is dispute as to whether a claim was received. Whilst I understand your point re DWP interal procedures for transferring mail between the mail processing centre and the actual BDC, I would like to see the DWP try to argue at FtT or UT that mail going astray during the course of that process somehow let them off the hook when it came to the requirement of the claim actually being received. If the claimant can show receipt of a claim at the address that the DWP has said claims must be sent to, that is an end of it.

And whilst these same considerations (i.e. the requirment of a claim having to be received, rather than posted) will not apply in regard to other items of mail, proof of receipt at the mail opening centre will, I think be good for other matters of dispute - e.g. disclosure of a change of circumstances made in writing - again, I think I know which way a UT decision would fall on the question of whether this was disclosure to the appropriate office.

Peter Turville
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The “appropriate office” will (usually) be that specified at the top of the decision notice or letter from DWP - Claims & Payments Reg 2. Increasingly that is Wolverhampton post centre. The fact that the full address may be Nowhere BC, Wolverhampton etc. is not relevant as the postal address is Wolves.

The fact that the item of post has to be redistributed internally from the DWP post opening contractor to another physical location is DWPs problem (in terms of the regs). Of course it is a practical problem for advisers / claimants if the post gets lost between Wolves and the processing centre. I can’t see a a tribunal entertaining a DWP argument that the “appropriate office” is the final internal destination!

One would have thought in the brave new ‘digital be default’ world DWP could now provide an email or fax number to forward correspondance by. After all think of the time & money DWP would save by not having to deal with large numbers of cases where sending / receipt of post is disputed!

I too wonder why DWP are making it more difficult to convey information to them by not replacing those ‘ex-directory’ telephone & fax numbers we were able to use as they re-organise benefit processing (yet again).

Although on the 100th aniversary of WW1 maybe the crate of pigeons is still the most effective method?

JFSelby
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Benefit caseworker (SDAIN project) - Selby CAB, North Yorkshire

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A recent case with wonders of post (multiple)

Client seen he it transpires has been on the appeal rate of ESA for over a year, client tells me he won his appeal last summer

I ring Benefit call centre they advised they have no knowledge of the appeal result as ‘tribunal service not good at sending in the information’

Suggested I send in result( appeal decision) covering letter, explanation and authority (which of course goes 1st class to ESA mail handling)

Allowing 3 weeks (7 days for mail handing plus for desk it lands on) I call benefit delivery centre who can see my previous call

No record of my letter but a note to say ESA have found out (?) client won appeal and have changed the benefit to appropriate rate

Three weeks later client has received some money (no explanation) no award letter, neither have I, presumably both those ‘lost in post’

Brian JB
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Advisor - Wirral Welfare Rights Unit, Birkenhead

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We have just received an email from DWP on Merseyside, asking “partners” to encourage people not to claim ESA by post as it takes 8 days on average for a posted ESA1 to arrive in the Benefit Centre. This is likely to be the delay for all post, there being no reason why ESA1s are slower than anything else.

My understanding is that the post will not be recorded anywhere on receipt at Wolverhampton, and it may still be the case (as it was when I worked in the DWP 10 years ago) that most post is not actually recorded as being received on any computer system, although I would expect MRs to be recorded straight away, rather than at the point they are dealt with

Peter Turville
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Tony Bowman - 13 February 2014 02:38 PM

Edited to add that HMCTS are becoming extemely good at losing TAS1s - just about every single one I’ve sent them for the last 18 months or so (it’s actually more likely that their follow up times have neglected to take into account delays in sorting post). I’m surprised to have only had to argue just one or two strike cases on this basis.

Tony ask Brum to provide the email address for the team that deals with listings at Reading venue (and the appropriate post-hearing team), I would give you the one we use but I believe Reading is a different team. No problems then with claimaing its not received (and seems to reduce the delay recording the post on HMCTS system). You can also use it to send submissions etc.

Robbie Spence
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This is interesting. I attended the DWP Operational Stakeholder Engagement Forum on 18 Sept 2013 and there was a presentation by MOSAIC Project officer, Doug Nowell, called Supporting Documents. It was about how the Mosaic project will transform the way DWP deals with customer mail.

“The technology / scanning systems are already in place across a number of business areas such as Pensions, Child Maintenance Group and Debt Management. The indexing part of the process uses key facts such as the customer name, national insurance number and reason for contact with DWP. Details of the mail received will be sent form the mail opening units electronically to the relevant department or individual. Doug confirmed that scanning technology went live to support UC pathfinder and PIP from April 2013.

“For the next stage of the project DWP will explore how to exploit the technology to improve other aspects of operational business. For instance to support the exchange of information between government departments. The technology has the ability to store all formats of information such as email, text, web-pages etc so presents great potential across areas of the business.  Doug ran through possible scenario of a PIP claim form. If a customer forgets to sign the form before sending to DWP, under the current system the claim is significantly delayed while the form is returned to the customer via the postal service. The new technology has the ability to recognise common errors such as a lack of signature and to send an automated letter to the customer on the same day to inform them and request a signature. In the meantime the form is indexed and stored awaiting the return of the signature. Once the letter and signature is returned it can be attached with the claim form and sent electronically to the appropriate department / adviser. 

“An HMRC rep shared some positive experience from within HMRC who are already using this technology within a number of business areas. This is working very effectively. Alongside the obvious benefits to the customer there are huge green savings to be made. She added that the technology does require a cultural change amongst staff in the move from paper in-trays to electronic work management systems.”

So there you have it (from the minutes of the meeting). If any readers attend he DWP Operational Stakeholder Engagement Forums, maybe they can bring up the problems listed in this thread.

nevip
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Welfare rights adviser - Sefton Council, Liverpool

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“DWP Operational Stakeholder Engagement Forums”.

Is that what they’re actually called?