DWP HQ, Caxton House, London. Photo: Paul Billanie for Welfare Weekly.

Hundreds of staff working on the UK Government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme are considering industrial action over “severe under investment, staff shortages and criticism from claimants on how they are treated”.

Close to 700 Universal Credit case handlers working at centres in Wolverhampton and Walsall are to be balloted by the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) for potential strike action.

If PCS members vote for industrial action, strike action could take place as early as March, which will see staff walk out in protest for 48 hours. The ballot closes on 25 February.

Jobcentre Plus sign.

PCS are calling on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to hire 5,000 new staff, full contracts for fixed-term workers, and a reduction in the number calls from Universal Credit claimants each case manager is required to handle.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The possibility of a strike by Universal Credit staff should serve as a wake-up call to ministers who have repeatedly insisted Universal Credit is working well for workers and claimants when the opposite is in fact the case.

“Our members have not taken the decision to ballot lightly, but the responsibility for the breakdown in industrial relations lies squarely with the Government who want to run this service into the ground while treating staff with contempt.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that PCS has chosen to take this course of action and planned meetings with the union are ongoing.

“Our top priority remains assessing and making payments to customers.

“We are comfortable with current staffing levels and will monitor and reallocate resource where necessary.”