To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what arrangements currently exist for establishing whether claimants to unemployment benefits are available for work; and if he will make a statement.
We introduced in October last year a new procedure to ensure that claimants to unemployment benefits are available for work. The procedure, which followed criticisms by the Public Accounts Committee of the effectiveness of the previous arrangements, consists of a questionnaire to all new claimants about the work they are looking for and the steps they are taking to find it.The questionnaire has clearly enabled a better assessment to be made by the independent adjudicating authorities of claimants' entitlement to benefit. However, experience has also shown some changes to be desirable. First, it is clear that the existing questionnaire needs to seek more information in certain respects, such as on the qualifications and experience of claimants for the jobs they are seeking. Second, the current procedure does not pay sufficient regard to the fact that the circumstances of claimants can change considerably over time.Accordingly, I am introducing two changes to existing procedures. The first is a revised questionnaire for use as from 1 February next year when a claim is first made. The new form seeks more information on such subjects as the claimant's qualifications and experience and on the type of work which is being sought. A copy of the revised questionnaire has been placed in the Library. It will he supplemented as soon after 1 February as possible by providing new claimants to benefit in areas of buoyant labour demand with information on occupations in which there are jobs immediately available.The second change is to issue a questionnaire from the end of April next year to all those claimants being invited to a restart interview. This will seek information about qualifications, training and recent job-seeking efforts in order that the restart interviewer can identify more accurately the most appropriate help that can be offered. The questionnaire will also seek information about any restrictions which claimants are placing on the jobs they will take so that a check can be made that they continue to be available for work. The new procedure will be introduced in a small number of offices as from 1 February next year in order to gain practical experience of its use prior to its national introduction at the end of April. A copy of the questionnaire for use in the initial offices has been placed in the Library.Neither of these measures affects the law on availability for work which was last re-enacted in the Social Security Act, 1975. They are intended solely to ensure that the law is administered effectively.