Forty civil servants at Enniskillen Jobs and Benefits Office could be sent out of the county to work as a result of welfare reform changes, it has emerged.
The Department for Communities has no plans for redundancies but it has confirmed that it will redeploy staff if necessary.
Two local MLAs have tabled questions and debates in the Assembly amid “grave concerns” among staff at the Queen Elizabeth Road office that the new benefits system will result in less work, forcing staff to commute to other offices across Northern Ireland.
Eighty civil servants are employed in the Enniskillen office, including 40 back office staff who process Job Seekers Allowance for Enniskillen, Omagh and Dungannon. 
A new benefit, Universal Credit, will replace Job Seekers Allowance, leaving those 40 staff uncertain of their future.
The Department for Communities – which is now responsible for benefits and pensions – has proposed that the Enniskillen office will administer Benefit Cap, a new system that will make sure that households on out-of-work benefits do not receive more than the average take home pay for working households. 
However, local staff estimate that Benefit Cap will only bring 11 jobs to Enniskillen for a period of three months, after which the number of jobs will reduce to four.
A member of staff at the Enniskillen Jobs and Benefits stated: “Ultimately, Benefit Cap will fall under the umbrella of Universal Credit and will be removed from Enniskillen into the three Universal Credit centres: Belfast, Londonderry and Newry. 
“This is a poor allocation of welfare reform posts.”
In response to a query from The Impartial Reporter, a spokeswoman for the Department for Communities stated: 
“If the amount of welfare reform work allocated to certain offices is not enough to occupy all the current staff, alternative opportunities will be identified and staff transferred using the department’s current redeployment policy.”
The staff member – aged 36, with two young children – told The Impartial Reporter: 
“We’ve all done our time in Belfast but we chose to live here in Fermanagh. We want to live and work in our local area. There’s potentially no other work coming to Enniskillen.
“Staff have grave concerns as to where they can be redeployed to. The Omagh position is similar to our own therefore Omagh would not appear to be an option. Positions for the new Discretionary Support Scheme have already been filled in Dungannon. How far are Enniskillen staff going to have to travel?”
The staff member continued: 
“We are now Department for Communities staff. It is the largest department with a vast remit. If benefits are not going to have a significant presence in the West, can any other Department for Communities work be dispersed fairly across this area?
“Over recent years numerous public sector jobs have been drained out of Fermanagh e.g. NI Housing Executive and HMRC.” 
At September’s meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, independent Councillor Bernice Swift received cross party support for her proposal to invite officials from the department to discuss the issue with the Council. 
She said: “The issue must be fought intensely to retain all services and employment in Fermanagh.”
Last week, Communities Minister Paul Givan announced that his department was successful in securing an additional contract to deliver welfare services to claimants in Great Britain on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions which will create an additional 280 jobs. 
These jobs have been allocated to Belfast and Armagh. 
Sinn Féin MLA Sean Lynch stated: “Myself and my party colleagues will be endeavouring to ensure that the staff that are currently based in the Enniskillen office remain in Enniskillen.” 
His party colleague Michelle Gildernew has tabled a party motion on the issue.
UUP MLA Rosemary Barton stated: 
“While a ‘no redundancies’ assurance has been given for the present, the statement lacks clarification on the future of the posts at the jobs and benefits office. I would hope that any restructuring of civil service jobs does not result in a reduction of the number or quality of posts in the area.”
The MLA has tabled a question to the Minister of Finance in Stormont asking for a breakdown of the number of civil service posts currently located in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and how many posts will be here in 2018.
“It would be very disappointing if changes move jobs from Fermanagh and South Tyrone to Belfast or other distant offices,” concluded the Ulster Unionist MLA, Rosemary Barton.