Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  120. Good try. Try again.
  (Mr Edge) You are absolutely right. I think this is part of the new DMA process bedding in. Later figures are showing that we are improving those areas. We have got a long way to go.

  121. You have got later figures which show improvements?
  (Mr Edge) I think I have. I did have.

  122. Can we see those?
  (Mr Edge) I think they are probably in the figures. From going live in April 1999 to DMA going live, I think—

  123. Send them in.[6] I am genuinely not trying to be clever here. All I am saying to you is in the Annual Report there is a level of incorrectness there which worries us. If you are saying "Okay, this is part of the transition process" that is fine. We will want to watch that carefully.

  (Mr Edge) It worries me as well.

  124. 57 per cent, DLA is a difficult benefit. We have explained reasons why that is true. Joan is right, we had a very encouraging visit to Mr Sumner's organisation and the staff there were, I think, excellent and doing a good job. I think that is something we will want to look into.
  (Mr Edge) Can I just say that I sit on the Standards Committee and so does Archie here. Some of the outputs from that have been (a) instructions from me about DMA and the process but (b) us putting into play this training which will actually start this year to take that forward and improve the process.

  125. That is the training you were talking about, Mr Roy?
  (Mr Roy) Yes. In fact there are a number of strands to training. One is the general training for DMA for decision makers throughout the organisation. There is also a need for us to look at some more specific training to handle, for example, things like complex cases. We are in consultation with the Appeals Service in terms of looking at the improvement and training for presenting officers and for listing appeals. Probably in terms of the submissions it is improvement in the writing of appeals, drawing that information together, where this training is particularly targeted.

  126. So you think that you can deal with that a bit better in the future?
  (Mr Roy) Yes.
  (Mr Sumner) May I just make an observation about DLA. Since your visit in February we are now rolling out the new IT to all our appeals writers in the Directorate, so by July everybody will have a standard new PC with interactive IT where they will be able to write submissions. From our point of view this is a very significant piece of progress.

  127. Does this mean that there will be no screens in your office that are black and green?
  (Mr Sumner) No.

  128. That is too optimistic.
  (Mr Sumner) I am afraid that is a little bit too optimistic.

  129. Some of them are still 1986.
  (Mr Sumner) Yes, but it does mean that all appeals writers will actually have modern IT with which to write submissions which will give us a look and feel which is standardised across the Directorate and hopefully, by virtue of the way this IT is organised, it will aid decision makers in ensuring that when they write the appeals they include everything they should include.

  130. That is encouraging.
  (Mr Sumner) The other point I wanted to make in relation to the 57 per cent is that we are in the process of introducing new checking regimes so that we will be looking at appeal decisions and first tier decisions on a more regular basis, so we are hoping to improve quality by that as well.

  131. There is a problem here that we perceive perhaps in terms of the evidence the Appeals Service gave to the Leggatt Committee about the low presenting officer turn-outs at some of these tribunals. It is a bit disappointing. Thirty per cent is the figure that springs to mind as the number of times that the Benefits Agency was represented. They are invariably parties to the bulk of these hearings and it is a bit disappointing prima facie if you can only get staff there for 30 per cent of the time. What is going on here?
  (Mr Edge) I will make two points on that, if I may. First of all, the people who write appeals are generally the same people who present appeals, that is generally the case, although sometimes we do split them up. We had to make a decision about getting the arrears down to some extent. Especially through the last year or so we had high levels of appeals and, as we said earlier, we were concerned about the time that the customers were having to wait to get their appeals heard and sorted. So we put most of our effort into writing the appeals. Writing the appeals is a considerable job because we are getting the evidence together, etc. That what was what we did. We put an SLA—

  132. What is an SLA?
  (Mr Edge) Service Level Agreement, I apologise. With the Appeals Service where we have agreed what sort of cases we will present. There are some issues about some of those definitions as complex cases and no doubt the Appeals Service and ourselves will have a view on that, which we are working on. There are a number of things we are doing in our committee to try to make sure that we represent the right cases.

  133. Are you saying to me that this figure will improve now that you have cracked the backlog? It is a management decision for you, and you may well be right, but are you saying now that is all dealt with you will get better attendance by presenting officers at tribunals?
  (Mr Edge) What I am saying is there is an agreement with the Appeals Tribunal about which cases we should attend. What we need to do is to make sure that we hold to that agreement properly. There is an issue, of course, about resources. We are not resourced to attend every tribunal and there is an issue about that. If, in fact, that was seen to be necessary then we would need to be resourced to do that. We may be half way resourced to attend all tribunals.

  134. So you think that you should be more than 30 per cent but not 80 per cent?
  (Mr Edge) Absolutely, on the current agreement we have.

  135. I would have thought it is actually quite important in terms of the judicial standards to have a representative of the Agency there most of the time.
  (Mr Edge) Legal advice is that it is not required.

  Chairman: That interests me.

Dr Naysmith

  136. Are there not some instances where if there is not a presenting officer there you get an adjournment from the tribunal? I have people in my surgery saying that.
  (Mr Edge) We are supposed to attend on complex cases.

  137. If somebody is not there to present the case then—
  (Mr Edge) That could be the case.


  138. Who chooses these complex cases? Is this some agreement with the Appeals Service?
  (Mr Edge) Yes.

  139. Where is the claimant in that? Is there an appellant's opportunity to make a submission to that question?
  (Mr Edge) No.

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