Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. Total clearance times.
  (Mr Edge) From a customer's point of view you are absolutely right. When we responded last time I think there was an issue about two chief executives with different targets across the piece but from the customer's point of view you are absolutely right. That is one of the things we are looking at it in this committee that Neil and I are actually working on. The real end to end has to be when the appeal is lodged to when the decision is implemented.

  101. That is total clearance time?
  (Mr Edge) That is what the real end to end from a customer's point of view is.

  102. Focusing on that total clearance time, can you give any figures for what the total clearance time is at the moment in relation to dealing with various appeals in relation to various categories of benefit—Income Support, Incapacity Benefit—are you in a position to provide us with figures for those?
  (Mr Edge) I think that is the same as Neil said. There are figures there which we have got between us but we have not published those. We clear ours on average in 40 days. My understanding is I think Neil made the point that he was down to 14 weeks for clearance on his part.

  103. Is it possible for us to ask through you, Chairman, for some figures from you indicating what the total clearance time is as we have discussed—
  (Mr Edge) We will take that away.

  104.—for Income Support, Incapacity Benefit, DLA, Attendance Allowance, Child Support and Industrial Injury Benefits, is that possible?
  (Mr Edge) I will see if it is and make enquiries. We may not be able to differentiate between all of those benefits, we run some together. A number of those are separate. I think I can do that. I will come back to you on that.[5]

  Mr Thomas: Thank you. Chairman, I am going to leave it there. There may be some supplementaries but I think that answer has covered everything I wanted to cover.

  Chairman: Gareth is quite right, we are struggling a little. Of course we do not believe that anything is being covered up here, because we are not conspiracy theorists, I think there are probably good reasons in the transition that has just occurred and everyone is struggling. There is evidence that success is being assured but we want to be sure that over the distance we can measure things that are consistent and are consistent from our constituents' point of view.

  Mr Thomas: Chairman,—

  Chairman: Mr Thomas has thought of another question.

Mr Thomas

  105. I have indeed. What we want is some hard figures, if I can just come back to you on that, because we need evidence which actually deals with the issue as to whether there has been an improvement.
  (Mr Edge) I think I have given you some hard figures of the cases lying with us, the very first preparation of appeals submissions, and the cases we actually get given to us which go through the process. The figures which are missing are those which actually join the two processes together between ourselves and appeals.

  106. There is a question that I should ask you. Obviously, as you know, the Benefits Agency is on the verge of a break up into various constituent parts: the Working Age Agency, the Pensions Organisation, etc. What effect do you think that will have on the overall goal of reducing clearance times? I should say total clearance times.
  (Mr Edge) I do not think it should have any detrimental effect at all. In essence, pension cases will be dealt with significantly by people concentrating on pension cases, and working age the same. The other piece of the jigsaw is debt. Over-payment appeals are a considerable issue these days, as are appeals on disability. With debt we are now concentrating again on putting that into a separate organisation. I hope, for example, that it should improve by concentration on that. We are concentrating on three different areas, not client groups exactly, debts, working age and pensions, and it will be key to make sure that the services from those three improve forwards, and I do not see any reason why they should not. The same people will be involved but concentrating, generally speaking, on those particular aspects. People that actually do appeals preparing will be doing all over-payments appeals rather than doing a mixture of different appeals, so I hope the quality will improve with that concentration.

  107. Is that a hope or a realistic expectation?
  (Mr Edge) It is a realistic expectation. I do not see any reason why it should be different than that.

Dr Naysmith

  108. Something John said about trying to bring the process for all the different appeals together, so that the client could more easily understand whichever appeal was involved—it would be much more user friendly—implied that was that, as a result, the standard of the appeals review might not be quite as high as it used to be. If that is true, if I have summarised what you have said reasonably fairly, there is a trade-off here, is there not, between people understanding and quality of decision making? It would be bad in my mind if it were to result in poorly made decisions just so people could understand that they were going to get these poorly made decisions.
  (Mr Sumner) I did not mean to imply that the decision was poorly made—

  109. Or the process.
  (Mr Sumner) What I was trying to articulate was the fact that the actual written explanation of the decision is now a rather simpler and less wordy process and perhaps not as legalistic in the attempt that the customer will understand it better.

  110. So everything that will be gone into in reaching that decision will be the same?
  (Mr Sumner) The considerations the decision makers should have gone through should be the same. As Tony says, we need to review this and make sure from the technical point of view that everybody is doing as they should be. There is no reason to suppose intrinsically that this procedure will produce less quality decisions.
  (Mr Roy) Tony did mention the issue of training and there is a considerable investment that will happen shortly in terms of carrying out refresher training and remedial training for staff who originally trained in the DMA process. Part of that will be looking at lessons learned from the administration of DMA. It is not, if you like, simple training in terms of "here are the processes and here are the procedures for carrying out DMA", it is actually looking back at what has actually happened and learning those lessons and making them, if you like, benefit specific DMA training because some of the issues will read across all the benefits, some of the other issues will be more important for some of the specific benefits.


  111. Can I just ask you, you have the Appeals Integrated Service Delivery team which meets quarterly. It first met in January. When is its next meeting?
  (Mr Edge) It is in May, I think it is 4 May.

  112. That high level senior cross agency team is looking at some of these end to end issues that we are talking about?
  (Mr Edge) Absolutely. Of our main issues on there, end to end is the big one. From a customer's point of view that is the key issue. Other ones are quality of process on appeals, as you raised with the Judge. We need to keep improving that quality. Also, obviously, the speed of throughput. They are the three things that matter.

  113. That cross agency team will consider these things quarterly?
  (Mr Edge) Yes. Not only meeting quarterly, I take an ongoing work programme away from that. I am a member of that team. One of the things I have done recently, over the last few months, is chase the old appeals and lean on people to get them sorted. That is the sort of thing we actually do.

  114. Two questions just to wrap up really. I am a bit worried about the Annual Report in 1999 of the Standards Committee. We have the Benefits Agency Standards Committee, is that right?
  (Mr Edge) Yes.

  115. Is this a body you recognise?
  (Mr Edge) Yes, I sit on it.

  116. Did it produce a report for 1999?
  (Mr Edge) Yes.

  117. It did a little monitoring exercise on incorrectness in the submissions, does that make sense? Am I making sense to you?
  (Mr Edge) Yes.

  118. Because some of the findings were—I will just quote four of them at you—"Of 53 Income Support submissions examined, 38 per cent were found incorrect; Of 30 Invalid Care Allowance submissions, 20 per cent were incorrect; Of 28 DLA/AA submissions examined, 57 per cent were incorrect; Of 30 Child Benefit submissions examined 17 per cent were incorrect". That still is a level of worry. Can you offer us any kind of assurances that there are reasons for these things which you are on top of dealing with?
  (Mr Edge) There is one issue here you have to understand which is the payment was not necessarily incorrect. We have different figures on accuracy. This is the actual process.

  119. I think we understand that.
  (Mr Edge) Okay. Just to make sure.

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