Responding to Questions Posed by the Job Centre

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The Problem

Waiting on your desk on a Monday morning is a request from the Job Centre for information about a former employee.  The information requested will determine the former employee’s entitlements to benefits.  That employee left under a cloud and you are torn as to whether or not you want to be responding to the Job Centre with information about the employee in question.

The Principle

This is an increasingly common question we are asked but are you under any obligation to respond to this request?

The answer is found in section 109(b) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992.  It notes that there is a legal requirement to respond to such requests if an “authorised officer” of the Job Centre writes to a former employer asking for information.  Recipients of that request are legally obliged to respond in the form that has been requested and within the time specified.  It is a criminal offence to:

  1. Intentionally delay or obstruct the authorised officer in the exercise of their powers.
  2. Refuse and neglect to comply with the requirement to allow access to electronic records.
  3. Refuse and neglect to answer any questions or to furnish any information or produce any document when required to do so.

Back in 2008 the DWP published a code of practice which provides more information on the penalties which may be imposed in this regard.

The Practice

Often these requests can be dealt with in a straight forward manner but occasionally, where the employee has left under difficult circumstances, it may be more complicated.  For example, what if the employee has not been totally honest and there is a dispute about the reasons behind the dismissal or resignation?  The key is not to be perceived as being obstructive.  But the employer needs to keep in mind the risk of a victimisation claim (although it is difficult to think that responding truthfully to a Job Centre request would amount to detriment in this regard).  Also note that when entering into settlement agreements, for example, you may want to ensure that the employer reserves a right to notify government agencies or respond to queries from them which enables you to provide the information requested without being in breach of the settlement agreement itself.

For more information, help or advice please contact Tim Davies on 0191 211 7927.