Training New Benefits staff

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    R Parkes

    I have been a member and reader of Hbinfo for years but this is my first ever post so be gentle… 🙂

    I am trying to find the most efficient way of training new benefits staff – assessors and customer services staff.

    Would anyone like to share views/opinions/experiences of how you find it best to train people who join your benefits team with little or no experience?

    I am specifically interested in whether you have an internal training team or if you buy in training from an external company and what you think the pros and cons of both are.

    Also how long do you train for and do you train in stages with gaps of consolidation in between or do you have one long training programme?




    Hi Rachel,

    Our internal training team consists of me so I can give you an idea of how I deal with the new assessors that start with us ( and there have been a few recently ). I afraid I don’t have much to do with our Customer Services team so you’re on your own there.

    Generally when a new assessor starts we try to get them on a Introductory A-Z of Benefits course which a) gets them out from under my feet, b) puts the fear of God into them and c) gives them a general overivew of the whole benefits system. Once they’ve done that I just start going through different types of new claims with them starting with the most straightforward ie Council Tax only cases. We go through the process of requesting and gathering the required info and when its all there we assess the claims.

    Once they’re comfortable assessing these claims we move on to RSL new claims and for a period building in the rent and HB element and them move in to LHA claims. I don’t have a set time as to how long they deal each type of claim. They move on whenever I feel they’re ready to. Its an advantage to have a backlog of new claims, you’ve always got plenty to pick from!!!

    Once they’re confident dealing with all sorts of new claims, and it may be 12 months before they get to that stage, we move on to changes of circumstances but they will have actioned plenty of these in the process of dealing with New Claims without knowing it.

    Also depending on when they start there may be specific jobs that they can get on with in along with dealing with new claims. For example we had 3 new assessors start in January so I had them all actioning the pension credit upratings at various points. It was just a quick job they could be trained to do and get on with on their own when I wasn’t available to go through new claims with them. When they’d done that we had the RSL rent increases for them to action……almost as if I planned it.

    Not sure if this is any help to you.

    Trevor Kenward

    Probably obvious but dependent on the pay scale involved/job spec etc we try to recruit (subject to good interviews obviously)where possible personnel who have worked in a similar enviroment , ie CSA, DWP etc
    I know this is not always practicable but it does enable them to be
    ‘hitting the ground running’ earlier if they came from this sort of background.
    I am all for the classroom approach interspersed with sitting in with exisiting staff. The main premise should be to teach them the law first,
    systems and working practices change more frequently!
    Internal or external? You will have to weigh up the cost and the quality of both. Good luck


    Hi there, like sunnyjim I am the training team. I send our new starts to the Corporate Induction and using a Training Database I send them on the various bog standard courses that all council employees need to attend, ticking the boxes as they go. I have a modular training course which is based over a 5 week period which is competely unrealistic in terms of retaining the information required to do the job effectively, however, i was required to create a timetable to follow as closely as possible.

    We are a paperless office so our staff need system training on Civica and Northgate and shortly will be receiving more training on Customer Relationship Management systems as we are moving into a new role as Customer Services. So the Northgate and Civica training is incorporated into a modular training system based for each candidate over a 5 week period. This is a mix of classroom style learning followed by a couple days back in the office consolidating the training. They work through from basic Customer Services skills and tasks which include verifying claims and handling info for COC also. They then move on to keying basic COC fairly quickly and New Claims. We also seperate New Claims and start with easier ones first. I had to bring COC into it sooner than previously as I find the majority of mail we receive tends to be COC and it means they can be of more use more quickly.

    As they develop within Revs and Bens they are sent on more courses both in house and using external courses and their progress logged on the database where we can see at a glance what is still outstanding and what has been done etc….. its still under development and can change depending on what info management need/want at hand.

    Hope some of this helps.

    R Parkes


    Thank you for all of your replies – they really help.


    Late to the party I know, but here goes. We ran a new starters programme last year where we took on about 18 people in 3 batches and trained them from scratch. Due to the size of the task we engaged an outside contractor who trained the new starters in HB/CTB legislation and use of the benefits software. This training was designed by the external trainers in conjunction with ourselves on the internal training team to fit around our policies, procedures and working practises. We picked up any other topics not covered by the external trainers, such as inductions, using the DIP system, work flows, customer service and so on.

    The programme lasted 16 weeks and consisted of a period in the classroom, then a period of consolidation on the office floor, first with test cases and then live case work. This provided a structured process of learning and then practising. While in “consolidation” the training group were still under the supervision of an external trainer assisted by a senior assessment officer hand-picked for the job. Throughout the process the new starters were being “managed” by the people whose teams they would eventually join providing clear lines of reporting and performance management.

    We on the training team worked very closely with the external trainers and the whole programme went off very well. The officers who completed the course are very valuable members of their teams. They do the job correctly and they question bad practice and lack of knowledge. We have only lost a couple of these guys since the programme ended. One went into welfare benefits advice within the authority and one sadly didn’t make the grade and moved into pre-assessment instead.

    Overall, our new starters programme has had a positive effect on the work done by our assessment teams to the extent that we are looking to repeat the exercise again this year, albeit with just one, smaller group. Whether this is to be done by an outside contractor or by us on the training team is up for debate. While I was initially sceptical about bringing someone else in to do the job, it worked very well. As I said above, we worked very closely with the contractors and the fact that we were only overseeing the programme rather than delivering it allowed us time to deal with other more trivial matters. Like LHA and ESA. And students and interventions. And training customer service staff and other parts of the council. And the 1001 other things that get dumped on the training team.

    I hope this helps but feel free to PM me if you have any queries.


    We will train anyone who can pass our aptitude test. It can be better training with someone who knows nowt. We train on the job, and have induction milestones to be achieved by 3, 6, 9 and 12 months.

    R Parkes

    Thanks Darren – Do you think any of that external training would have been possible without an internal training team to work with? And did it still take quite a considerable input from your training team?

    Fran – I would love to know how hard your aptitude test is and what the milestones are. I like the idea of both.


    Hi Rachel,

    Yes, it is possible but the programme has to be managed by someone who knows what the outcome needs to be. You can’t just let the contactor pitch up and leave them to it. Clear objectives must be set and lines drawn as to who is responsible for doing what. The contractor must be given all of the local policy, procedure and practice and this must be worked into the training from the outset.

    It worked for us very well, but then we are by no means your average authority.


    Bristol City Council has 3 dedicated in-house benefits trainers. We deliver a comprehensive programme based on a DWP model since 2001 for staff who will process benefit claims rather than other support staff in our service. Ours has evolved from 8 weeks intensive knowledge delivery to a 13-week programme incorporating placements within various customer frontline teams to a current 22 week schedule providing modulised theory and practical activity where trainees are supported in a ‘nursery’ environment. Helpfully, our staff join at a staged career progression therefore we separate out more complex assessing skills.

    We invite specialist in-house team leaders to deliver awareness of their teams roles, e.g. appeals, overpayment recovery, subsidy, quality control, etc. and make use of any relevant corporate personal development training available, particularly equalities, customer care and welfare benefits. We have in the past bought-in training for more complex areas and regularly use one external trainer who we commissioned to write a course for us on effective writing and communication skills.

    I am happy to forward our programme(s) if you want to e-mail me

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