Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence



Memorandum submitted by the Department for Work and Pensions (PS 01)

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Pension Service replaced the Benefits Agency services for pensioners from 1 April 2002, and is working to introduce an improved service tailored to the needs of pensioners.

  2.  The Pension Service will play a crucial role in both tackling pensioner poverty and encouraging saving by:

    —  Providing a dedicated service for today's pensioners, using modern technology whether they deal with us by telephone, through the internet, by post or face-to-face.

    —  Improving the service to future pensioners, by providing accurate information to help them make decisions about saving for their retirement.

  3.  The 2002-03 targets for The Pension Service are attached at Annex A.

THE PENSION SERVICE—BACKGROUND

  4.  Pensions work is currently spread across 400 sites over the length and breadth of the country and pensioners have to contact several different sites to conduct their business with us. Over time the Pension Service will bring together pensions work through a more efficient network of pension centres where staff will be able to deal with all a pensioner's business. The pension centres will work with a Local Service that will be tailored to take full account of the needs of individual communities.

  5.  The primary means of contact with The Pension Service will be via the telephone and people can also contact us by post and via the Internet. We already provide effective telephony services such as Retirement Pension (RP) and Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) teleclaims, Pensions Direct (dealing with customers who are paid their RP direct into their bank account by Automated Credit Transfer (ACT), and the Winter Fuels Help line. These services will continue, with pensions processing and enquires dealt with by the pension centres.

  6.  We recognise that not everyone can access the service using the telephone, post or Internet—for those customers there will be the community based local service.

  7.  The local service is being introduced on a phased basis from 1 April 2002 and will be in place nationwide by October 2002. The local service will be made up of two key elements. A direct local service, providing support directly to customers including a targeted visiting service and appointment based surgeries at third party locations. A "drop in" surgery service for outreach and take up activities should be available from April 2003. And partnership services provided with partners such as Local Authorities and voluntary sector organisations.

  8.  In the interim, our customers will still be able to access our services—including the Social Fund—through the existing social security network.

  9.  We have already mentioned that the primary means of contact with The Pension Service with be via the telephone—research shows that the telephone is our customers' preferred method of carrying out their business. We are moving towards an improved and modernised telephone service making it easier for our customers to contact us through a simple range of telephone numbers and quicker response times.

  10.  We are putting in place plans to ensure that our telephone agents are multi-skilled on a range of benefits of interest to pensioners and our long term goal is to provide a service whereby around 80 per cent of calls are dealt with at the first point of contact. This heralds a move to a more customer focussed approach where in time, both current and future pensioners can contact a single person who will be able to deal with all of their pensions business, rather than having to navigate their way through a complex benefit system. To support this we will install an enhanced telephony system in each of our pension centres.

  11.  The move to pension centres also creates the opportunity for RP and MIG work, and in time Pension Credit, to be co-located and this will improve the exchange of information in the operational environment.

  12.  We are looking to introduce new IT systems into The Pension Service and anticipate this will start in 2004. Until then, we will continue to use existing IT systems and clerical processes.

PROGRESS TO DATE

  13.  All the pension centre locations have been identified and design and planning work is progressing to deliver the pension centres within our required timescales.

  14.  At the time of writing we now have 6 pension centres open—Burnley, Dundee, Wolverhampton, Bath, Plymouth and Nottingham—handling a limited amount of pensions related work (but not new teleclaims as they continue to be dealt with at Newcastle-except Burnley). Further caseload moves have been formally planned from now until the end of September. Our customers will continue to deal with their existing social security offices until they are contacted in writing about the new arrangements.

  15.  Our centres are starting to establish operations on call centre lines as planned, although the complete call centre model will not be achieved until the movement of customer cases is complete in 2004. This will be undertaken in a phased approach and we are working closely with Jobcentre Plus colleagues to ensure a smooth transition of work to the pension centres.

  16.  Our pension centre in Burnley opened on 4 February 2002 and was designed to be the first of a new breed of pension centres. Once the new, business processes, training methods and IT systems have been thoroughly tested in a live environment, they will be rolled out to the other pension centres across the country. Examples of the new IT are customer relationship management and document imaging processing software.

  17.  The Burnley Pension Centre currently deals with new claims for RP and MIG for Burnley and Blackburn, Blackpool and Preston, Bolton, Wigan, Leigh and Skelmersdale. We have also started to move existing caseloads from the surrounding area. Gradually this caseload will be increased to include pension work from Cumbria.

PENSION CREDIT

  18.  Pension Credit was the subject of a separate Memorandum submitted to the Select Committee in January 2002.

  19.  Subject to Parliamentary approval of the Pension Credit Bill, currently before Parliament, the introduction of Pension Credit will be the largest and most important change facing The Pension Service in 2003-04. Implementing Pension Credit, and ensuring that the majority of eligible people receive the benefit to which they are entitled, will require us to:

    —  Process over 1.8 million applications and handle between 4 and 6 million customer contact enquiries during the take-on period; and

    —  Convert automatically, 1.8 million existing MIG customers to Pension Credit during the take-on period.

  20.  Take-on of Pension Credit claims will be completed as soon as possible. We will make best use of the advance claim period in the six months ahead of the peak claims activity from October 2003. The phased approach to take-on will ensure that The Pension Service is able to deliver the new benefit successfully, while continuing to deliver it's existing range of services.

  21.  The Pension Service is investing considerable time and resources to forecast the expected take-up of Pension Credit and to assess the staffing requirements for delivery during the initial take-up period and on an ongoing basis. Plans are being made for the recruitment and training of extra staff to deal with the additional work generated by the initial take-up of Pension Credit and the anticipated extra one million customers who will be receiving Pension Credit by October 2004.

  22.  The majority of customers will be encouraged to conduct their Pension Credit business by telephone, via The Pension Service teleservice, but if customers are unable to conduct their business in any other way (eg by "phone or post); local service support will be available as described in paragraph 7 above. The Pension Service will aim to ensure, in consultation with partner organisations, that pensioners see Pension Credit to be an entitlement, to be fair, accessible and modern, to meet pensioner needs and to be straightforward to claim.

ACCESSIBILITY OF SERVICE

  23.  Although the telephone will be the primary means of contact with The Pension Service, we are also committed to providing a wide range of channels to enable customers to contact us more easily and for us to provide a more responsive and tailored service. These include post, iDTV and the internet via The Pension Service website.

iDTV

  24.  The Pension Service launched an interactive Digital Television Service (iDTV) on 13 May 2002. The "iDTV for Pensions" service is a new channel for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to provide information about pensions to both today's and future pensioners. The "iDTV for Pensions" service will also enable customers to interact directly with The Pension Service through their TV. The service is aimed at existing subscribers to iDTV and can be accessed using NTL, Telewest and Sky via brightBlue.

 

  25.  Customers planning for retirement can get information about state and private pension options. Customers approaching retirement can find out how and when their state pension will be paid, and how to review their financial circumstances. Customers who have already retired can get information on a range of benefits that are available on retirement. There are also a number of contact names and telephone numbers for customers who require further information.

  26.  A leaflet request service is available to all customers. Specific leaflets can be chosen and sent direct to their home. Customers who have already retired and who receive their Retirement Pension by Account Credit Transfer will also be able to report certain changes in circumstances directly through their iDTV. There will also be an online survey for customers to complete.

The Internet

  27.  In addition to this, our customers can currently use the internet to complete and print out RP claim forms. The return of these forms electronically is dependent a secure transmission route and IT capable of supporting electronic claiming. Work on these issues is currently being carried out to determine the viability of the provision of electronic claiming for The Pension Service in the future. However, we are committed to providing access to our service in this way at the earliest available opportunity.

THE FUTURE

  28.  The Department for Work and Pensions is currently undergoing a huge modernisation programme and this will of course take time to complete. The key priority for The Pension Service in the coming years will be the successful delivery of Pension Credit (subject to legislation)—whilst maintaining a steady state of service to our existing customers.

  29.  Our expectation is that The Pension Service will deliver the following service to its customers by 2006:

    —  be accessible to customers and available at convenient times to encourage the take-up of the service and entitlement;

    —  be joined up so that all benefits, information needs and links with other services can be normally managed in a single transaction;

    —  be tailored to reflect different customer needs and focus resources effectively on the most vulnerable customer groups;

    —  be modernised, making best use of technology and new services to increase efficiency, accuracy and customer service;

    —  be professional, delivered by expert staff with good people and IT skills who will provide customers with accurate information and take responsibility for delivering the appropriate customer outcom;e

    —  be comparable with the best, by continuously measuring, improving and benchmarking against best service providers in the public and private sectors;

  30.  The Pension Service will look at new ways of delivering its business to customers and will work closely with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and Local Authorities to achieve improvements in accuracy and consistency in service delivery across the country.

Annex A

 


 
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