DWP staff instructed to issue signposting slips after ‘concerns over data protection’

Historically around one-third of the clients receiving food from the Food Hub have been referred to us by Purley Jobcentre.

But with effect from 19th February, Purley and all other Jobcentres have been instructed by the Department of Work and Pensions to stop referring benefit claimants to food banks.

Instead, they have been told to signpost clients needing food support to another agency for them to make the referral. So, Purley and the other Jobcentres now issue claimants in food crisis with a ‘signposting slip’ giving alternative local information.

We met Purley Jobcentre’s Front-of-House Manager and Universal Credit Work Coach shortly before the changeover and then sent them the following information with a request for them to include it on the slip:

PURLEY FOOD HUB delivers emergency food parcels to people in crisis living in CR8, CR5, CR2 and CR0 4 (Waddon). A referral is required – ask your GP surgery or child(ren)’s school, or contact an organisation such as:

PURLEY FOOD STOP offers fresh, chilled/frozen and other food on Fridays from 9am-12noon at Old Lodge Lane Baptist Church, Reedham Park Avenue, Purley CR8 4BQ (payment £3.50). Phone 020 8668 6260 / email office@ollbc.org.uk.

For people in Monks Hill, Selsdon and Forestdale South Croydon, ST FRANCIS FOOD STOP is open Fridays 9.15am-1.15pm at St Francis Church, Tedder Road, Monks Hill, Selsdon CR2 8AH (payment £4). To book a timed visit, phone 020 8657 7864 or email stfrancisselsdon@gmail.com.

PURLEY MASJID FOOD BANK is open Wednesdays 10-11.30am at 130 Brighton Road, Purley CR8 4EX. Phone 07982 446062. No referral required.

For people in New Addington, THE VINE FOODBANK is open Wednesdays & Saturdays 10am-12.00noon between 11 & 13 Salcot Crescent, CR0 0JJ. A referral is required from Citizens Advice or other local organisation. Email thevinefoodbank@gmail.com.

Purley Jobcentre has confirmed that they will include the information on the signposting slip and provide recipients with the relevant details according to where they live.

Campaigners say ‘callous and shortsighted’ changes will cause chaos and confusion

Charities and poverty campaigners have criticised the new measures, saying they will make life even harder for families in crisis and those trying to help them.

Sabine Goodwin, Director of the Independent Food Aid Network, to which the Food Hub is affiliated, said the new DWP guidance could “only add further chaos and confusion” and would put extra pressure on claimants and food banks.

The Disability News Service reported concerns by disabled campaigners and union allies that the new policy could make it harder for claimants to access food parcels.

The Fair Credit Charity went further, calling the DWP’s decision “callous and shortsighted.” Chair of Trustees Tom Levitt said: “Those suffering the worst excesses of poverty will suffer even more.”

The DWP have said that their policy has not changed, but according to an internal DWP briefing seen by The Guardian newspaper, Jobcentres are no longer issuing referrals because they amount to “inappropriate use of personal claimant data.”

Before the changeover, referrals from Purley Jobcentre to the Food Hub included brief details of a claimant’s circumstances, but this is no longer the case.

The Guardian report said that the DWP felt it was not its job to screen claimants for food bank slips. It quoted a spokesperson as saying: “Our signposting slips continue to provide vulnerable claimants with information on local services available to them. It is up to the discretion of food banks to whom they offer support.”

Responding to the newspaper report, Mr Levitt, a Labour MP from 1997 to 2010 and a former member of the parliamentary Work and Pensions Select Committee, wrote: “If the DWP can find a single instance of a benefit claimant denying them permission to use their data for the purpose of referral to a food bank then I will be both impressed and incredulous.

“I hope that the DWP will reconsider, ministers will step in, and public opinion will state categorically that the DWP has an obligation to help those in need the most.”