Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2001
100. Total clearance times.
(Mr Edge) From a customer's point of view you are
absolutely right. When we responded last time I think there was
an issue about two chief executives with different targets across
the piece but from the customer's point of view you are absolutely
right. That is one of the things we are looking at it in this
committee that Neil and I are actually working on. The real end
to end has to be when the appeal is lodged to when the decision
101. That is total clearance time?
(Mr Edge) That is what the real end to end from a
customer's point of view is.
102. Focusing on that total clearance time,
can you give any figures for what the total clearance time is
at the moment in relation to dealing with various appeals in relation
to various categories of benefitIncome Support, Incapacity
Benefitare you in a position to provide us with figures
(Mr Edge) I think that is the same as Neil said. There
are figures there which we have got between us but we have not
published those. We clear ours on average in 40 days. My understanding
is I think Neil made the point that he was down to 14 weeks for
clearance on his part.
103. Is it possible for us to ask through you,
Chairman, for some figures from you indicating what the total
clearance time is as we have discussed
(Mr Edge) We will take that away.
104.for Income Support, Incapacity Benefit,
DLA, Attendance Allowance, Child Support and Industrial Injury
Benefits, is that possible?
(Mr Edge) I will see if it is and make enquiries.
We may not be able to differentiate between all of those benefits,
we run some together. A number of those are separate. I think
I can do that. I will come back to you on that.
Mr Thomas: Thank you. Chairman, I am going to
leave it there. There may be some supplementaries but I think
that answer has covered everything I wanted to cover.
Chairman: Gareth is quite right, we are struggling
a little. Of course we do not believe that anything is being covered
up here, because we are not conspiracy theorists, I think there
are probably good reasons in the transition that has just occurred
and everyone is struggling. There is evidence that success is
being assured but we want to be sure that over the distance we
can measure things that are consistent and are consistent from
our constituents' point of view.
Mr Thomas: Chairman,
Chairman: Mr Thomas has thought of another question.
105. I have indeed. What we want is some hard
figures, if I can just come back to you on that, because we need
evidence which actually deals with the issue as to whether there
has been an improvement.
(Mr Edge) I think I have given you some hard figures
of the cases lying with us, the very first preparation of appeals
submissions, and the cases we actually get given to us which go
through the process. The figures which are missing are those which
actually join the two processes together between ourselves and
106. There is a question that I should ask you.
Obviously, as you know, the Benefits Agency is on the verge of
a break up into various constituent parts: the Working Age Agency,
the Pensions Organisation, etc. What effect do you think that
will have on the overall goal of reducing clearance times? I should
say total clearance times.
(Mr Edge) I do not think it should have any detrimental
effect at all. In essence, pension cases will be dealt with significantly
by people concentrating on pension cases, and working age the
same. The other piece of the jigsaw is debt. Over-payment appeals
are a considerable issue these days, as are appeals on disability.
With debt we are now concentrating again on putting that into
a separate organisation. I hope, for example, that it should improve
by concentration on that. We are concentrating on three different
areas, not client groups exactly, debts, working age and pensions,
and it will be key to make sure that the services from those three
improve forwards, and I do not see any reason why they should
not. The same people will be involved but concentrating, generally
speaking, on those particular aspects. People that actually do
appeals preparing will be doing all over-payments appeals rather
than doing a mixture of different appeals, so I hope the quality
will improve with that concentration.
107. Is that a hope or a realistic expectation?
(Mr Edge) It is a realistic expectation. I do not
see any reason why it should be different than that.
108. Something John said about trying to bring
the process for all the different appeals together, so that the
client could more easily understand whichever appeal was involvedit
would be much more user friendlyimplied that was that,
as a result, the standard of the appeals review might not be quite
as high as it used to be. If that is true, if I have summarised
what you have said reasonably fairly, there is a trade-off here,
is there not, between people understanding and quality of decision
making? It would be bad in my mind if it were to result in poorly
made decisions just so people could understand that they were
going to get these poorly made decisions.
(Mr Sumner) I did not mean to imply that the decision
was poorly made
109. Or the process.
(Mr Sumner) What I was trying to articulate was the
fact that the actual written explanation of the decision is now
a rather simpler and less wordy process and perhaps not as legalistic
in the attempt that the customer will understand it better.
110. So everything that will be gone into in
reaching that decision will be the same?
(Mr Sumner) The considerations the decision makers
should have gone through should be the same. As Tony says, we
need to review this and make sure from the technical point of
view that everybody is doing as they should be. There is no reason
to suppose intrinsically that this procedure will produce less
(Mr Roy) Tony did mention the issue of training and
there is a considerable investment that will happen shortly in
terms of carrying out refresher training and remedial training
for staff who originally trained in the DMA process. Part of that
will be looking at lessons learned from the administration of
DMA. It is not, if you like, simple training in terms of "here
are the processes and here are the procedures for carrying out
DMA", it is actually looking back at what has actually happened
and learning those lessons and making them, if you like, benefit
specific DMA training because some of the issues will read across
all the benefits, some of the other issues will be more important
for some of the specific benefits.
111. Can I just ask you, you have the Appeals
Integrated Service Delivery team which meets quarterly. It first
met in January. When is its next meeting?
(Mr Edge) It is in May, I think it is 4 May.
112. That high level senior cross agency team
is looking at some of these end to end issues that we are talking
(Mr Edge) Absolutely. Of our main issues on there,
end to end is the big one. From a customer's point of view that
is the key issue. Other ones are quality of process on appeals,
as you raised with the Judge. We need to keep improving that quality.
Also, obviously, the speed of throughput. They are the three things
113. That cross agency team will consider these
(Mr Edge) Yes. Not only meeting quarterly, I take
an ongoing work programme away from that. I am a member of that
team. One of the things I have done recently, over the last few
months, is chase the old appeals and lean on people to get them
sorted. That is the sort of thing we actually do.
114. Two questions just to wrap up really. I
am a bit worried about the Annual Report in 1999 of the Standards
Committee. We have the Benefits Agency Standards Committee, is
(Mr Edge) Yes.
115. Is this a body you recognise?
(Mr Edge) Yes, I sit on it.
116. Did it produce a report for 1999?
(Mr Edge) Yes.
117. It did a little monitoring exercise on
incorrectness in the submissions, does that make sense? Am I making
sense to you?
(Mr Edge) Yes.
118. Because some of the findings wereI
will just quote four of them at you"Of 53 Income Support
submissions examined, 38 per cent were found incorrect; Of 30
Invalid Care Allowance submissions, 20 per cent were incorrect;
Of 28 DLA/AA submissions examined, 57 per cent were incorrect;
Of 30 Child Benefit submissions examined 17 per cent were incorrect".
That still is a level of worry. Can you offer us any kind of assurances
that there are reasons for these things which you are on top of
(Mr Edge) There is one issue here you have to understand
which is the payment was not necessarily incorrect. We have different
figures on accuracy. This is the actual process.
119. I think we understand that.
(Mr Edge) Okay. Just to make sure.
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