Universal Jobmatch, the DWP’s job search website that became ‘mandatory’ for those claiming unemployment benefit on March 1st 2013, has been dogged by controversy amid claims it is simply a tool for keeping tabs on jobseekers rather than an effective aid to help them find work.
BSN has been sent the following account by a claimant at a London Jobcentre which reveals the kind of intimidation that can await those who resist pressure to sign up to Universal Jobmatch. The moral is: educate yourself!
Jobcentre Misleading Claimants on Universal Jobmatch
By Edward Glebocki (Guest Post)
On Tuesday, August 20th, I arrived for an appointment at 9.20am with ‘D’ at X Jobcentre as my personal advisor ‘E’ was on holiday. I had never met D before. Having waited a few minutes I heard my surname barked out loudly by D. Usually, claimants are addressed as ‘Mr’, ‘Miss’ or by their first name if their advisor knows them well. I don’t think I have ever heard just a surname shouted out in the manner of a prison warden doing a head count. It was extremely rude, setting the tone for the entire interview. D’s manner, from the start, was unpleasant.
After enquiring about my jobsearch D asked petulantly if I had registered with Universal Jobmatch. I informed him that I had watched the Channel 4 News investigation into UJ which revealed its serious security flaws and which described the site as a ‘scammer’s paradise’:
‘Hackers have obtained the personal details of scores of job applicants taken from the government’s Universal Jobmatch website in a bid to highlight the site’s vulnerability. The leaked data includes passwords, national insurance numbers and even scans of passports…there are no security checks performed on the people who post jobs, so our investigation was able to register as an employer in minutes…. Using clearly false details the hackers registered as an employer and gained access to the site posting a fake ad for a cleaning job which went live seemingly unvetted. They were then able to quickly harvest personal information including passwords and passport and driving licence scans that can be used to for identity fraud or allow them to illegally access email and even online bank accounts of applicants.
Channel 4 News has drawn this problem to the attention of the Information Commissioner’s Office for investigation…..Within days of the new website going live a spoof ad for a “Target Elimination Specialist” was posted seeking applicants with James Bond-like skills. More worryingly bogus jobs have begun to appear requesting CVs, contact details and passport pictures to accounts based as far afield as Thailand. A number of unusual ads seeking a “gay princess” have repeatedly appeared and stayed live for a number of days’.
Channel 4 News followed up with a second report:
‘The government promised to secure the site after we exposed serious security flaws but we can reveal that it is still possible for anyone to register as an employer on the site without any checks…jobs have been posted in recent weeks looking for MI6 agents, drug traffickers and ‘internet chat babes’, raising concerns over the site’s suitability. In response the Department of Work and Pensions promised that the site’s security would be improved. However, following today’s announcement we were again able to register an employer account on the site in minutes unvetted, despite DWP claims that employers would be checked manually.
Potential users have raised concerns over the new mandatory website, fearing that their personal details could be available to identity thieves if the security of the site is not improved. Nic Lane is a claimant with fears about the new system, which he thinks stigmatises jobseekers and without addressing the problems of unemployment. “Most jobseekers have already paid contributions into the NI system for many years prior to becoming unemployed. This is about reassuring the taxpayer rather than addressing the problem of structural unemployment, or helping people back into employment. It was revealed last week that there were 6,000 fake jobs on UJ already and the site had been data-mined by hackers. What employer would post a job on a site like that?”
I then informed D that I, and others, had lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (this regarding the serious concerns about data protection arising from the use of UJ that have been identified) and that I would never upload my personal information to a website proven to be as insecure as Universal Jobmatch. I made clear, too, that I consider other job search websites I use to be far superior to UJ in every way and that as a highly educated and intelligent person I am more than capable of undertaking job searches suited to my needs.
D responded by saying, ‘it’s mandatory’ and repeating this every time I attempted to speak forcing me to ask if he was actually capable of conducting an adult conversation? In a childish tone he said, ‘yeah, are you?’. I knew then I was dealing with an extremely immature personality who had no business dealing with the public in any capacity but I ploughed on explaining my position on Universal Jobmatch. D appeared curiously annoyed that I hadn’t signed up for it becoming more agitated as he repeated, ‘it’s mandatory’. I replied that that decision was up to my personal advisor, not him, which elicited once again the mantra: ‘it’s mandatory’. I told him that my advisor, who knew my circumstances and had heard my objections, had decided that I was more than able to conduct an appropriate job search myself and he had not considered mandating necessary. D snapped: ‘well, he should’.
When I emphasised once again that I had discussed this with my advisor and I was not mandated D, clearly angry, stated that when my advisor returned, ‘you will get a direction’. [A jobseeker direction is basically an order to comply and requires strict observance of procedures governing when they can be issued – BSN eds].
I knew immediately that this was a serious matter in terms of attempted intimidation. Making a veiled threat to a claimant whilst ignoring all proper procedures associated with issuing a direction is a gross breach of conduct. Employing the tactic of fear, related of course to possible stopping of benefits, is a truly outrageous way for an advisor to behave. I expressed these concerns and from this moment on D stopped his juvenile responses and became dour and uncommunicative. I speculated on the reasons why he seemed to have such a poor attitude and a desperate, angry need to see claimants signed up to UJ. It was clear to me that his motivation was not based upon a wish to genuinely help claimants find work, instead he seemed to have a curiously personal stake in seeing that they do as they are told. He was clearly willing to abandon all professional standards in order to achieve this.
In my complaint to the DWP I made clear that I have read the Universal Jobmatch Toolkit (obtained by a Freedom of Information request) which contains the procedures advisors must follow before any direction can be issued and that I am well aware how unacceptable D’s behaviour was. The creation of a UJ profile and public CV can only be mandated by Jobseeker’s Direction and is not a prerequisite for claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance. D misrepresented this situation, claiming that all jobseekers must sign up to UJ, his follow-up threat and his repeating of the phrase, ‘it’s mandatory’ in response to everything I said, a clear case of deliberate distortion in order to intimidate a claimant. Even after a direction is issued a claimant must then ‘unreasonably’ refuse to comply which is another part of the procedure that must be carefully examined before any further action is taken. Mandating in the first place must be ‘reasonable’ in terms of improving a claimant’s employment prospects’. From the Universal Jobmatch Toolkit:
What to consider before issuing a Direction
54. The Jobseeker’s Direction guidance explains the factors that must be
considered before a Jobseeker’s Direction is issued. In particular, a
Jobseeker’s Direction mandating claimants to create a profile and public
CV in Universal Jobmatch must be reasonable in terms of:
improving the claimant’s employment prospects; and
the claimant being able to use the service.
The Jobcentre Advisors’ own union, the PCS Union, has also published the following on UJ and mandatory sign up:
‘ …with effect from 4th March 2013, FLAs can mandate claimants to register for UJ. This will be done via a Jobseeker Direction. Importantly, however, management have acknowledged that mandatory sign up to UJ will not be a blanket approach; instead, FLAs should encourage claimants to use UJ Mandatory sign up will be on an individual basis, if the FLA feels that UJ would be beneficial to the claimant, and they have ‘unreasonably refused’.
The Information Commisioners Office is currently investigating the DWP and its legal information on UJ non-compliance with data protection and EU law. As another complainant to the ICO has stated : ‘My understanding of a person’s individual rights is that they may freely choose which information they share, where they share it, and via which medium. Please specify how the authority in 2(a) is able to supersede the individual’s right to protect their data under EU law, and their right to refrain from consenting to submit their data to a non-necessary 3rd party. I was asked to create a UJ account a few weeks ago…it would mean I had to give up my right under the DPA. I stated that I … wanted documentary evidence proving that I was no longer entitled to protection under DPA as I believe that as the DPA is primary legislation it could only be superseded by additional primary legislation it being a fundamental principle of English law that all citizens have an equal right to protection under the law. I also asked for confirmation that my data would not be stored on any servers outside the UK as I felt this would effectively negate my rights under DPA. (as far as I can work out monster.com a USA company hosts UJ for the DWP)’.
The ICO’s response, although tactful, makes clear that the DWP has not handed over to them the information asked for regarding what legal advice they hold on data protection but they do arrogantly state that they consider it is ‘exempt’ from the Data Protection Act. Unfortunately for them, this is not good enough for the Information Commissioner:
‘I believe DWP’s response of 3 May 2013 is a little vague – in that it does not confirm exactly what recorded information is held relating to this matter. Its response says that it considers any legal advice that may be held would be exempt. I therefore first need to establish with DWP what recorded information is held, if any, relating to your request. I wrote to DWP yesterday to request further clarification. I have asked DWP to review any recorded information that is identified to see whether this can be disclosed to you or whether some or all of it is exempt under the Act. If it considers information is exempt, I have asked for a copy of it and detailed arguments to support its position. I have allowed the DWP 20 working days to respond. Once I have received its response, reviewed it and decided how your case should proceed, I will write to you again with a further update. This is likely to be towards the end of September’.
So what happened? Well, not much. On 7th October the complainant reported that they had written to the ICO requesting an update. I assume the DWP is dragging its feet in order not to expose its non-compliance with DTA and the ICO will need to give them a good kick up the arse.
Watch this space. But in the meantime, do not sign up to Universal Jobmatch!