Housing Benefit Staff Letter to Duncan-Smith from Unison

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Dear Mr Duncan-Smith

Universal Credit                

We note your statement of 10 December 2015  that “there will be no 'staff transfer arrangements' for local authority housing benefit staff as universal credit rolls out”; and that this decision was “reached following 'extensive consideration of the issue and engagement with the local authority associations'”.

I note that you have taken this unilateral decision without any recourse to the trade unions and ask if you now intend to discuss your detailed plans for the future of local authority housing benefit staff. 

You say that “universal credit is a new benefit,[and will be] delivered in a new and fundamentally different way”, and as such your department “has concluded that there will be no 'relevant transfer' within the meaning of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (as amended)”(“TUPE”). I am not clear if your department has sought legal advice, and absent a clear explanation as to why TUPE does not apply, UNISON cannot simply take their word as to its dis-application.

We would suggest that even if the method of delivery differed, the provision of services were fundamentally the same and that therefore there will be a relevant transfer under TUPE. 

If as you suggest this is a transfer of administrative functions between public administrative authorities, it would follow that the requirements of the Cabinet Office statement of practice (COSOP) would apply. Again, your explanation as to the disapplication of COSOP does not follow.

Please can we have an urgent meeting to discuss this matter?  UNISON will be seeking legal advice and pursuing claims against local authorities that fail to inform and consult on any relevant transfer involving local authority housing benefit staff, and indeed will also pursue unfair dismissal claims, where its members are dismissed prior to any relevant transfer.

Yours sincerely,

Heather Wakefield