Memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Defence on the transfer of the War Pensions Agency (6 November 2001)
This memorandum provides evidence to the Defence Committee on the questions raised following the transfer of the War Pensions Agency to MoD.
The Committee asked that:
The MoD comment on the reasons for the transfer of the WPA;
The MoD comment on any implications this might have for the delivery of services;
The Acting Chief Executive of War Pensions Agency provide his views of the implications of the transfer and
The Acting Chief Executive of War Pensions Agency may wish to comment on the pensions and compensation reviews.
The War Pensions Agency was established as an Executive Agency of the Department of Social Security in 1994. Prior to this it had been a discrete unit within the DSS Benefits Agency.
The Agency has three main responsibilities:
The War Pensions Scheme
WPA is responsible for all aspects of the assessment and payment of war disability and war widow's pensions to approximately 280,000 beneficiaries, 22,000 of whom live outside the United Kingdom. The majority of pensioners are Second World War veterans, although a small number are First World War veterans and widows, ex-National Servicemen and those disabled in recent conflicts such as Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Bosnia and the Gulf Conflict.
The War Pensioners' Welfare Service
WPWS provides a comprehensive advice and support service to all war pensioners and war widows living in the UK and Irish Republic. The service is delivered from a network of welfare offices, each of which has responsibility for a particular geographical area.
Ilford Park Polish Home
IPPH is a residential and nursing home in Stover, Devon. It provides care for approximately 100 people who qualify for admission under the Polish Resettlement Act because they or their spouse fought under British command during the Second World War.
The Agency employs just under 1,000 staff, the majority of whom are employed at the main office headquarters at Norcross on the Fylde Coast. The remainder are employed within the War Pensioners Welfare Service, the Ilford Park Polish Home and the War Pensions Policy Branch in London.
RESPONSE TO THE COMMITTEE REQUEST
The reasons for the decision to transfer the War Pensions Agency to MoD
As part of the machinery of Government changes announced by the Prime Minister on 8 June 2001, the responsibility for war pensions moved to the MoD.
A key element of the Strategic Defence Review was the Policy for People, which put people at the centre of the Ministry of Defence's plans. One of the principles of the MoD's Armed Forces Overarching Personnel Strategy is to ensure that the specific needs of veterans and their dependants are recognised and addressed. Placing responsibility for war pensions within this central MoD veterans' focus will provide a more coherent service to war pensioners.
The WPA has always had close links with the MoD, who hold the service records required for the determination of war pensions claims. These links have been strengthened through the MoD/DSS Joint Review of Compensation, the emerging recommendations from which were recently the subject of a public consultation exercise. The pension and compensation services provided to Service pensioners can be enhanced by bringing the management of Armed Forces pension and compensation matters together in a single Department.
The change should also be seen in the context of the Government's announcement, earlier this year, of the appointment of a Minister for Veterans' Affairs within the MoD. This was designed to improve the support given to Service personnel throughout their lives by better co-ordination across Government of veterans' policy and support. Bringing together in one Department the responsibility for Service personnel and for the war pensions paid with respect to injury or illness that is attributable to service should produce a more integrated approach to policy in this area.
Details of any changes in the delivery of services
It is not anticipated that the transfer will have any immediate impact on the delivery of services to war pensioners and the longer term aim will remain a programme of continuous improvement of agency services. The immediate focus of work has been to deliver the many administrative changes associated with the move whilst ensuring that front-end services to customers are in no way disrupted or impaired.
Although the formal change of ownership was effective from 11 June 2001 there remains a considerable amount of work to undertake to migrate WPA from the Department for Work and Pensions into MoD. The key areas being addressed as part of this work are:
Introduce changes to financial and personnel management;
Agree future IT infrastructure needs;
Transfer legal responsibility for the administration of war pensions from the Secretary of State for Social Security to the Secretary of State for Defence via a Transfer of Functions Order.
The views of the WPA Chief Executive on the transfer
The machinery of government changes present many positive opportunities for better integrated policy, for better service and for improving feed-back into the main-stream of the MoD's personnel strategy. It also offers opportunities for the WPA to play a fuller part in delivering veterans' services in the future. The reaction from the Agency's staff, measured through a recent perception survey, has been very positive and optimistic. The Agency's management and staff look forward to contributing to the wider agenda for veterans' affairs through the Chief Executive's position on the Veterans Forum, chaired by the Minister for Veterans Affairs. We are also well placed to take on the role of delivering services under the new compensation scheme.
We have well-established relationships with the major ex-Service organisations and have had numerous meetings with key stakeholders to discuss the transfer to MoD and its implication for services. A major concern expressed by most organisations was that the independence of the agency might be jeopardised, particularly with regard to adjudication on claims for disablement pensions. We believe we have largely assuaged these fears by confirming that existing structures, especially the right of appeal to the independent Pensions Appeal Tribunal, will continue to safeguard claimant's rights. Generally it is acknowledged that having a single government focus for veterans' pension and compensation interests is a sensible move. Reaction from individual customers has been minimal, with only a handful of general enquiries raised.
The Minister and the Agency remain committed to seeking continual improvements in the standards of service. In November 2000, when the first Government Beacon Scheme was launched, the Agency was announced as one of a group of just 23 organisations named as exemplars of excellence. We hold the Charter Mark and Investors in People accreditation, and more recently we have been awarded the prestigious Unisys Management Today Service Excellence Award. We are confident that the MoD provides us with an environment in which we can continue to raise standards of service for our customers.
The latest report of agency performance against key service delivery targets is attached at Annex 1.
Chief Executive comment on the pension and compensation reviews
There is no comment on the reviews at this stage pending completion of analysis of the results of the consultation exercise. Agency staff are closely involved in the work on the compensation review which is the only one of direct interest to the Agency.