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Flexible Working at the Child Benefit Agency

The Child Benefit Centre in Tyne & Wear, UK, pays government benefits to seven million ‘customers’. They process over 60,000 incoming items each day. Becoming fully effective in awarding benefit can take up to six months, so it is important for the centre to retain experienced staff with as many flexible employment schemes as possible.


A teleworking scheme has brought significant benefits. At home the processing of awards improved by almost 40%. Spending time in the office to communicate with colleagues, sort and distribute work, catch up on calls, and finish off work is essential, and means the average productivity improvement is 14%. Speed and accuracy of work are much improved, and the home worker still offers a transparent one stop shop for callers. 

The workers themselves report less stress, improved morale and motivation, and benefit from the responsibility and flexibility it gives them. Better still, however, the centre and the individuals gained from an average increase in hours of eight per week from part timers, including some who were able to return to full time work. Several others were able to remain at work or remain full time, which they would not have been able to do without the scheme.

The most popular work pattern is two days at home each week, though some do four. A fax, dedicated telephone line and answerphone are provided, with desks and chairs for those who would like them. Health and safety training is an important part of the scheme. Security is handled in the same way at home and in the office, with secure documents controlled at home just as they are in the office.

Teething troubles

At first colleagues who were not part of the scheme reported feeling a bit jealous, even when they didn't want to take part. They perceived an increased telephone load. When they realised, however, that home workers are often prepared to take complex work to the peace and quiet of home in exchange for some handling of office work, they feel they win as well.

Some supervisors have found the change difficult, having to deal with more forward planning and provide more structure to the work, together with more specific work objectives and measurement to allow fair appraisal. Home visits were found to be an unnecessary intrusion on the home worker, also creating unnecessary extra work for the supervisor!


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