Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
MP, MR STEPHEN
380. Could I ask you about some of the practical
aspects, particularly budgeting loans and crisis loans? If I was
applying for a budgeting loan or a crisis loan and I came into
one of your offices, what grade of official would meet me?
(Mr Watson) It would depend on the circumstance set
up in that particular office. If you are walking straight off
the high street
381. I am talking about a difficult case.
(Mr Watson) If you were a difficult case I think it
would be quickly identified that you, Mr Kirkwood, were a rather
challenging case and an executive officer would typically become
involved in understanding your needs and what it is you require.
382. Off the street, if I am in gentle mode
and I come and meet you, what grade of official would be at the
(Mr Watson) Typically at the front desk that would
be an administrative officer.
383. And in the Chilterns what do you pay them
(Angela Eagle) I have to say, Chairman, we did inherit
a system where some of our lower-graded officials are working
at the front desk which is why our Focus on Delivery initiative
has been sending more management grades out to the front end in
order to strengthen the support, and why we are doing a lot of
work with adviser staff to try to beef up the support we can give
at the front desk.
384. Obviously, some of these questions are
very complicated and some of the cases are very difficult, particularly
in London. Chilterns may be an unusual example because some of
the procedures may be handled in Glasgow but the point is that
the evidence we have had is that there is quite a high turnover
of grades at that level, putting it mildly, and that means you
are investing money in training, then putting people into difficult
situations and getting a high turnover of staff. Is that something
that would worry a manager like Mr Watson in terms of the long-term
profile of the staff compliment dealing with this difficult work?
(Mr Watson) Trying to answer your earlier question
first, and then coming back to this one
385. I am genuinely not trying to be difficult.
(Mr Watson)For an administrative officer, AO
would be the term used in the memorandum of evidence, it ranges
from a minimum on the national scale of just over £11,000
a year to a maximum of £14,000. Depending on what part of
London, whether it is inner or outer, there are extra allowances
there so the maximum for a person in inner London would be £17,260.
386. So somebody coming in off the street in
Kensington North would meet somebody paid £17,000 a year
(Mr Watson) Yes.
387. And in Hendon?
(Mr Watson) With Hendon you are challenging me a little
bit but that is in the outer rim of London rather than inner so,
subject to their experience and how long they have been with us,
that would be £16,460.
388. That is the maximum?
(Angela Eagle) The figures I have for turnover at
national level are 1 per cent at EO level and 5 per cent at AO
level but, clearly, there will be some variation between districts
389. Is an AO or the person who is in these
kind of categories dedicated to this kind of work?
(Angela Eagle) If they were a Social Fund officer
then they would be dealing with the Social Fund for a period of
390. But they would not be an administrative
(Mr Watson) What we now call them are local decision-makers
and they will typically concentrate on matters of discretion,
particularly within the Community Care Grant. Those would be executive
391. How much do they get paid?
(Mr Watson) I will refer to my list. Again I will
give you the national scales, it is a minimum of £14,410
to a maximum of £19,430. If you are in Hendon, for example,
outer London, the minimum is just over £16,000 to a maximum
392. What about turnover in London?
(Mr Watson) As the Minister has indicated, and she
has given you the average
(Angela Eagle) It is higher in London. I cannot give
you the London figures off the top of my head.
393. Could we have a regional break-down?
(Angela Eagle) We could get you a regional break-down,
394. Staying with budgeting loans and crisis
loans, have you any idea what proportion of the people applying
for crisis loans are applying for them because their ordinary
benefit applications have been delayed? Any notion? Any figures?
Any vague intelligent guesses?
(Mr Watson) Applications for crisis loans segment
into three basically. A third, typically, are people who are seeking
help who will be waiting for their pay day or their benefit to
395. Pay day or benefits?
(Angela Eagle) It is called alignmentfilling-in
the gap between when your cheque arrives and when you have applied.
396. The criteria to assess applications includes
the likelihood of applicants being unable to meet repayments;
people are refused loans because they are too poor to repay them.
Where would you expect people who are refused loans for that reason
to go next?
(Angela Eagle) You mean a crisis loan or a budgeting
397. I am talking about budgeting loans or crisis
(Angela Eagle) I think it is different.
398. Let us take budgeting loans first.
(Angela Eagle) Because of the way we have changed
the system, one of the reasons why people are refused a budgeting
loan now is if they have not repaid half of their last budgeting
loan; there is a cap of £1,000 on what you can owe in the
discretionary system. If they did not get a budgeting loan because,
say, they owed too much money from the last time they had one,
there is a specific Secretary of State direction to staff to see
whether crisis loans in that circumstance would be appropriate.
Also if a budgeting loan is refused on the grounds that the applicant
is too poor to repay it, then it might also lead on to a Community
Care Grant but only in some circumstances.
399. What does the Secretary of State's guidance
and direction say if all else fails, the answer is no and you
are shown the door? Does the Secretary of State give advice as
to what happens next?
(Angela Eagle) No, because the system has dealt with
the application, so there would not be Secretary of State guidelines
or anything on that. From my own experience of constituency case
work, I would say credit unions or there are sometimes other forms
of credit that people can get, and at the absolute worst there
is the credit which none of us want them to get.
5 See Ev. pp 151 and 152. Back