The threat of a strike by jobcentre workers in a Covid-related safety dispute has come a step closer.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) are being asked in a consultative ballot if they would consider taking industrial action.
Another vote would have to be held before any walkouts go ahead.
The union said it was opposed to the Department for Work and Pensions “insisting” more staff return to work in jobcentres and that full reopening should now start to take place.
PCS officials said they did not believe the work can be done safely due to coronavirus or that the necessary risk assessments and safety measures have been put in place.
In a recent survey, only a fifth of staff said they felt safe returning to work in jobcentres while 58% said they felt unsafe, said the PCS.
One PCS member, who did not want to be named, said: “My office is a small office with an increased number of staff from the recruitment drive that took place during lockdown.
“I don’t see how the office can safely accommodate all staff as well as customers and still adhere to Covid regulations and social distancing.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “We oppose the reckless and unnecessary full reopening of jobcentres when many of our staff are delivering Universal Credit and other services to claimants from home.
“Some claimants are from the most vulnerable sections of society and our members are dedicated to assisting them in accessing what they need. However, jobcentre staff have the right to do their job safely.
“DWP and ministers need to rethink this approach to avoid possible industrial action in the future.”
A DWP spokesman said: “We have worked closely with the unions throughout this pandemic and continue to do so to ensure our sites are safe, and that the health and safety of colleagues remains at the centre of our response to provide vital jobcentre support to those who need us.
“It is, therefore, disappointing to hear the PCS has chosen this course of action as the country reopens and our jobcentres return to full opening hours.
“We remain absolutely committed to maintaining all our services to customers and ensuring our sites remain Covid-secure for colleagues and customers in line with the latest public health and Government guidance.”
The DWP added that Covid secure measures include rigorous cleaning regimes, strict social distancing and the rolling out of lateral flow testing for staff at larger sites.
PCS members at the DVLA centre in Swansea, South Wales, started a four-day strike on Tuesday over the same issue.