Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)

MS ALEXIS CLEVELAND, MR CHARLIE MACKINNON AND MR GEORGE MCCORKELL

WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002

  60. Has that whole mapping process been done?
  (Ms Cleveland) It has been done to take it down to numbers for Government Regional Office level. It has not been done down to individual towns yet and that is what we are planning to do.

  61. The original target was that part of this would be up and running by 2002 and part by next April, but you do not even yet know below regional level what the pattern of service delivery would be in each area?
  (Mr MacKinnon) Not with every "i" dotted and "t" crossed.

  62. You just said that you do not have the modelling done below Government Regional Office level. That means you do not have it done below London.
  (Ms Cleveland) We do not have it done in every part of the country. In London it has been taken down to a low level but it has not been taken down as low as we will need it.

Mr Dismore

  63. What is the level in London?
  (Ms Cleveland) I would have to go back and check. I am afraid I do not know.

Ms Buck

  64. I do not want to be too London-centric. Tell me about East Anglia.
  (Ms Cleveland) It will be taken down to individual towns.

  65. Is it done now?
  (Mr MacKinnon) The best thing we can do is come back to you with a status on the plans and the progress we have made with establishing the local service.[3] Just to remind the Committee, we only established The Pension Service in April. We only appointed the Operational Directors formally from then, but in the few months prior to that some work in helping us plan towards what we are doing obviously started in advance but it did not start with The Pension Service business. We have actually only really started to put effort into this in a meaningful way in the months running up to April and from April since then. We have made progress since then. Where we have to get to—and it will not be by October, it will be by the end of this year—is establishing a local service in all localities. It is largely around the number of local authorities that we want to serve and gearing things around local authority boundaries, groupings of local authority boundaries, clusters around local authority boundaries. It is also about the number of customers and the types of customers we have there. We do have some sophisticated analysis done. The statisticians have been able to give us, right down to street level using post codes and using modern packages, good analysis of where we actually have MIG customers now and Retirement Pension customers now. We are in the process of looking at that in relation to our work volumes, associating that with the development of local service. We are a bit behind. It will not be October, it will be December, but we will be there by the end of this calendar year.

  66. I am sorry you have a very difficult job. I am not trying to underplay how hard it is. It is just that here are targets, we were told this was going to happen and as yet—and I am not having a go at you about it; it is difficult—we are nowhere near having a concept of what the service model would look like, how it would be staffed, how many people you would need, let alone recruiting and putting things in place, let alone putting together the outreach package which I think is going to be central to this minority—whatever that percentage will be—of customers who will not use the telephone. For example, if I go into my community and I say we want to have an outreach desk, a surgery, or whatever, in this office or that office, that process of negotiation is going to take several months, because I know what it is like. It really does worry me that we are that far away. In terms of the outreach work you intend to do, how do you anticipate supporting and resourcing the community and voluntary organisations that you want—I think quite rightly—to ride on in order to deliver services locally, be that Help the Aged, be that a church or whatever? Tell me what the process would be when, say in North Kensington, you want to use the Methodist church, or Age Concern, to provide a surgery. What are you going to pay?
  (Ms Cleveland) We have experience from the Better Government pilots, which have come through about the different arrangements that have been made for that. In some we have paid; in the majority we have not, because it is seen, particularly by the local authorities, as an added-value service for their customers, which actually saves some of their people work as well. We have different arrangements. It is somewhat different with the voluntary sector rather than local authorities, which is where we have tended to pay, if we have.

  67. The Better Government for Older People strategy states that there should be a permanent information surgery in each local community. Are you going to do that?
  (Ms Cleveland) Yes, within local communities we will want to have points where people can access the service.

  68. Is that going to be every third Thursday, or is that going to be permanently accessible, we know where it is; I can take my grandmother to it knowing it is going to be there?
  (Ms Cleveland) In some places it will be. Where we have high numbers of people who are looking to access the service, we shall have some places where there is a permanent surgery; in other places it will be on market day or every third Tuesday.

  69. That will be determined by demand or by your pattern of service.
  (Ms Cleveland) Yes.

  70. Exclusively?
  (Ms Cleveland) By our pattern of service. They are local demands and local needs of particular communities. I do not think I quite understood the question.

  71. It is back to where we were a minute ago. How do you make that decision about whether you are going to fund, or what deal you will do with, a provider, local government, voluntary organisations, whatever? How will you decide that Hendon or High Wycombe is going to have a properly resourced permanent information service or whether it is going to have every third Thursday?
  (Ms Cleveland) That will be on likely demand.

  72. What working assumption are you making about the proportion of clients you will serve through a direct service, as opposed to the telephone?
  (Ms Cleveland) I honestly cannot remember the assumption. We do have one and I shall write to you and let you know what that is.[4]

 

Chairman

  73. That last question was a crucial one. I recollect that the Minister in an early exchange recently talked about 20 per cent, which is 2.2 million according to my calculation, of pensioners who are potentially serviceable via a face-to-face service. Is that anything like right? That did surprise me, I have to say. Could you maybe look at that?
  (Mr MacKinnon) We do have numbers, because we have done some analysis of the customer segments, of people who are in vulnerable positions. We do have some headline numbers for that, so we can provide you with the information.
  (Ms Cleveland) The evidence we want to look at from that is how you identify those people who are going through life events, who would not normally contact us as a result of that life event but actually it might make a difference to their entitlement. It is how we actually access those people which is also going to be part of this exercise, but probably the other side of Pension Credit.

Mr Mitchell

  74. I want to stay with delivery methods and move on to the issue of home visits. I was very encouraged when the Minister told us that home visits would be an integral part of the service, that it would be a matter of choice for pensioners whether or not they could ask for home visits. I was then somewhat surprised to see the brief which the Committee was given for its visit away from London to Burnley, which made it clear that whether or not a home visit took place was very much up to The Pension Service and that it would be used where there was no reasonable alternative available. Those are very different approaches to this. Were you being spun by the Minister or was he correct and the brief was wrong?
  (Ms Cleveland) I do not have the transcript of the Minister's statement.

  75. Let me help you. He said, "Older people will have the choice of doing their business through pension centres . . . or receiving home visits". Their choice.
  (Ms Cleveland) We are not building a model which is actually showing that anyone can just choose to have a home visit.

  76. So the brief was correct.
  (Ms Cleveland) Yes, that is not being built in at the moment.

  77. The Minister appears to have been spinning us a line which was not correct.
  (Ms Cleveland) I need to go back and make sure I am delivering the brief which my Minister wants me to deliver.

  78. We need further clarification on this because there is a conflict between what we were told, which I have to say sounds consistent with some of the other things you have been saying, and what the Minister told the House of Commons. Perhaps we could have some clarification about that? Staying with the issue of home visits, perhaps you could explain to me what the criteria are for a home visit.
  (Ms Cleveland) We are already operating some of those in Burnley and we are still in experimentation, looking to see how to get the balance right here. Clearly if people are struggling with us over the telephone, if they are finding it difficult, if they have a medical condition which makes it difficult, emphysema or something which makes it difficult to deal with them on the phone, then it is for the clerk who is taking that call to take a decision on whether they need a home visit. Part of it will be based on some of the information they have given us, which indicates it is a very complicated case, and there may be a take-up issue which would also refer to it. There is not one set of criteria. It would be based on information which is given where we can set some criteria for it; the other way is how someone is dealing with us over the telephone.

  79. I think I understand. Would you like to give us an example?
  (Ms Cleveland) Someone who speaks English, they are quite cogent, they seem to have the information, but they are finding because they have breathlessness or something like that that they are having difficulty with what might be a 15- or 20-minute telephone conversation. The clerk would be able to stop that at some time and say someone will be sent to see them at home, if that would be more convenient for them.

 


3   Please refer to the supplementary memorandum from The Pension Service (PS02), para 3, Ev 22. Back

4   Please refer to the supplementary memorandum from The Pension Service (PS02), para 4, Ev 22. Back

 
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