Background and overview
From April 2011 a number of schemes operated by Jobcentre Plus – including the Deprived Areas Fund, the Adviser Discretion Fund and the Travel to Interview Scheme – were abolished and replaced by the “Flexible Support Fund” (FSF).
The FSF gives Jobcentre Plus Districts greater freedom to tailor back-to-work support to individual and local need. Working within local guidelines and priorities, Jobcentre Plus advisers have discretion to decide how to help individuals move closer to or into work. The FSF also includes a grant funding mechanism, enabling Jobcentre Plus District Managers to award funding to local “partnerships” to address barriers to work. There is no exhaustive list of the needs that may be met by the FSF, but examples include travel expenses, training courses and clothing for interviews. The FSF is available to assist all Jobcentre Plus ‘customers’ that are awarded a qualifying benefit.
The budget allocated for the FSF in 2015/16 was £69.5 million, and in 2016/17 is £76.7 million, and this is set to go up again in 2017/18. A breakdown of FSF spending in 2012/13 was provided, but according to answers given to Parliamentary Questions asking for breakdowns of subsequent years have been
Publicising the fund
Primary responsibility for publicising the fund lies with Jobcentre Plus advisers. However the Social Security Advisory Committee expressed concern at how little is known about the FSF and suggested its low profile allowed opportunities for partnerships with local authorities and agencies to be missed. An investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme into a Universal Credit contact centre in Bolton found advisers choosing not to inform claimants about the FSF. One adviser likened the FSF to the illegal boxing clubs in the film Fight Club, in that they don’t talk about the FSF.
There is limited information on the FSF in the public domain. This note sets out such information as is currently available, including extracts from DWP guidance and responses to Freedom of Information requests.
Misuse of the fund at Plaistow Jobcentre Plus
In 2013, two employees of Plaistow Jobcentre Plus were dismissed after they were found to have misused the FSF, awarding payments in order to inflate benefit off-flow, a measure of jobcentre performance. The employees claimed that misuse of the FSF was extensive, and that the DWP investigation was insufficient. They claimed that managers encouraged aggressive approaches to improve off-flow, including falsely signing off benefits claimants and using the FSF to cover gaps in benefit payments. The NAO published a report looking into the event and DWP’s investigation of it in July 2016.