Page last updated at 23:55 GMT, Monday, 22 March 2010

Jobcentre Plus is 'failing customers'

A new report published by a government-funded consumer watchdog, Consumer Focus, says that job centres in England and Wales are not doing a good enough job for people during these difficult economic times. Allan Urry hears how some jobless people have fared.

Jobcentre Plus is under fire in a new report by a consumer watchdog

Steve Dixon started to have doubts about the kind of service his local job centre in Redcar offered when a print-out from a Jobpoint terminal in the centre advertised the post of submarine designer - no experience necessary.

"We only have 20 submarines in the whole of Britain, it said no experience necessary, which sounds ridiculous," he told BBC File on 4.

"It said you would be working on a certain style of submarine redesigning a submarine and working on your own initiative and I found that strange too on the local Jobpoint."

He added: "I decided to apply for it... I was curious to see what the feedback would be, but of course there was no feedback."

On the day File on 4 visited Steve, 42, who trained as a graphic designer, he had received 12 "local" job leads.

One was for Scotland, another based in the North West, one in the South West and one was nationwide. Another was based 45 miles away.

'Speculative vacancies'

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) maintains that vacancies are on the increase nationally but Steve doubts if some of the jobs advertised at job centres really exist.

Steve Dixon
We only have 20 submarines in the whole of Britain, it said no experience necessary, which sounds ridiculous
Steve Dixon, unemployed

He said he had once seen 30 jobs listed with no job title, only a code number and an identical description and salary.

Paul Convery, policy consultant on labour markets and welfare to work policies, is also sceptical about some of the jobs advertised in Jobcentre Plus.

"Jobcentre Plus probably does carry a number of what you might call 'speculative vacancies'," he said.

He added: "Often employers pull the wool over Jobcentre Plus's eyes and Jobcentre Plus has a performance regime where getting the maximum number of vacancies in on the books is a sign of success, so I think there may be people in Jobcentre Plus who aren't probing those vacancies quite as well as they should be."

Unemployed professional Ian Skelton is also unimpressed with the face-to-face help he has received.

"I'm gutted not to get the support I'm supposed to be getting," he said.

Mr Skelton, 42, who is based in Birmingham, said Jobcentre Plus offered little help when it came to courses or information that would help.

Ian Skelton
Ian Skelton is disappointed at the support jobless professionals receive

A former PR and marketing manager who now wants to start his own business, he was annoyed to find out that a self-employment course he discovered through outside agencies could have been offered by his local job centre.

"I had asked direct questions about such a course and was told 'how about a bank loan?'"

Paul Phillips, Jobcentre manager in Birmingham, told File on 4 that job centres had improved their packages for professionals.

He said he could not comment on individual cases, but added: "Certainly all the advisers are provided with the full raft of information... and I think there is an onus on the customer to discuss with the adviser what is on their mind."

Consumer 'criticism'

However, wider concerns have been expressed about Jobcentres in a new report from Consumer Focus, the government's own consumer champion.

Senior Policy Officer Henny Abuzaid said Jobcentre Plus was not putting "the customer at the heart" of its operations.

"Customers are not getting the service they want and they have told us on two different occasions and it's important for DWP to address our findings."

He said the government had ignored its findings.

But Employment Minister Jim Knight responded: "It is useful to get that consumer feedback and we've produced things like a consumer charter in order to try and drive more responsiveness to our customers through the Jobcentre Plus system.

"There's more we can do and there's more that we should do and we've started to roll that out."

File on 4 is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, 23 March 2010, at 2000 GMT, repeated Sunday, 28 March, at 1700 BST. You can listen via the BBC iPlayer or download the podcast.

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