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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has made progress in improving the design of some leaflets but could go further to make them easier for the public to understand and get hold of, according to a National Audit Office report published today. The report also found that the DWP could improve how it checks the accuracy of leaflets and its supply and printing arrangements so that the most recent versions are widely available.

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The DWP produces almost 250 separate leaflets, printing 24 million copies of these last year at an estimated cost of £31 million. But the NAO found that DWP does not have a complete, up-to-date list of all its leaflets. The report recommends that it should review the need for so many individual leaflets and significantly reduce the number published. The report also finds areas where recent improvements have been made. For example, Jobcentre Plus has carried out research to establish customer needs and has, as a result, started to reduce the number of leaflets it produces, targeting information more clearly.

Many of the leaflets examined as part of the review, in particular recent ones, displayed elements of widely-recognised good practice but the layout and the language used in some made them difficult to understand. One issue was that some long leaflets did not have contents pages or indexes and the report highlights the need for better designed leaflets.

The Department works closely with the Plain English Campaign to ensure that its information products meet the standards required for the Crystal Mark and that information is accessible to its customers. But NAO research with a small group of customers using 11 key leaflets, asking them 16 simple questions (such as “how do you go about claiming Job Seekers Allowance?”), found that only four of the 16 tasks could be completed satisfactorily. The NAO also found that out of the 13 core leaflets tested, all of them required higher than average reading skills to fully understand the information.

The NAO tested the availability of a number of key leaflets at 100 departmental outlets and a further 100 other sites where customers might seek information. Leaflets for pensioners and disabled people were available at 20 per cent of all these sites. The NAO found core leaflets were available at only half of the 100 Departmental sites visited and where leaflets were not available staff found it difficult to help customers obtain information. Staff provided a range of responses, including giving out telephone numbers to call or alternative sites to visit, but there is currently no single number for the public to call to get leaflets.

In the majority (83 per cent) of the Department’s offices, leaflets were easily accessible to the public and well laid out. However, in some of the Department’s offices (25 per cent), it was difficult for customers in wheelchairs to access leaflets without help. Those leaflets that were available were not always the correct versions; for example, one recently reprinted leaflet was out of date at 40 of the 44 sites where it was available. In addition, some offices had different versions of the same leaflet on display. The report notes that steps have been taken at a senior level within The Pension Service to improve this situation and recommends that other managers should follow suit.

The Department has a policy to review leaflets every six months to ensure that they contain accurate information. However, given that it can take up to 16 weeks to review a leaflet’s accuracy, this is not followed in all cases and errors in leaflets can still occur. To address this, the NAO recommends that the Department prioritises reviews and introduces a central database for maintaining accurate and up to date information.

The NAO also found that the supply and printing arrangements within the Department are complicated and lead to duplication of effort and unnecessary costs. The report notes that the Department is already looking to use a single provider to source information products and manage print contracts.

“It is vital that people can rely on the accuracy of the leaflets the government produces to make informed choices about their lives. And it is vital that they can get hold of these leaflets and easily understand them when they do. The Department for Work and Pensions has made progress in these respects but needs to manage better the leaflets it produces to ensure those needing information can access it when they need to.”

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO


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