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Mr. Alfred Morris : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make it his policy that attendance at rehabilitation courses will be regarded as a period of incapacity to work in relation to eligibility for disability working allowance.
Mr. Alfred Morris : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what consideration his Department has given to defining unemployment benefit as a passport for disability working allowance for otherwise eligible people.
Mr. Alfred Moris : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make it his policy to increase the margin above family credit to provide an incentive for appropriate persons to claim disability working allowance.
Mr. Alfred Morris : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the difference between the current number of disabled people receiving the disability working allowance and his Department's original forecast ; and how he accounts for the difference.
Mr. Scott : The current caseload is 3,405. The original estimate was that about 50,000 people might be entitled to disability working allowance, which was introduced as a completely new benefit in April 1992 and can, of course, be expected to take a number of years to become established. We have commissioned extensive independent research to help evaluation and this is expected to be completed in 1996.
Mr. Alfred Morris : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what is his present estimate of the number of people now receiving invalidity benefit who will not qualify for the benefit by which it is being replaced ;
(2) what estimate he has made of the number of people now receiving invalidity benefit who will not qualify for the proposed new incapacity benefit and who, being unable to work full time, will have to seek income support.
Mr. Scott : Our current estimate is that around 200,000 people receiving invalidity benefit in April 1995 may be excluded from receiving incapacity benefit by the proposed new medical test during the first two years. It is not possible to give an accurate assessment of how many will have to seek income support.
Column 368national organisations of and for disabled people about his proposal to discontinue invalidity benefit ; what replies he has sent ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Scott : We have received a large number of comments on our proposals, mainly in response to the consultation document on the proposed new medical incapacity test. We will be publishing a report on the outcome of the consultation exercise, which ends on 11 February. The national disability organisations which have responded include the following :
Cancer Relief Macmillan Fund
The Churches Council for Health and Healing
The Disabled Living Foundation
The Disability Alliance
The Disability Benefits Consortium
The Disablement Income Group
Ileostomy Association of Great Britain and Ireland
The Mental Health Foundation
The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Pensioners and Disabled Alliance
National Back Pain Association
National Schizophrenia Fellowship
National Advisory Council on Employment of People with Disabilities
National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux
The Neurofibromatosis Association
The Pain Society
Scottish Association for Mental Health
The Stroke Association
Mr. Ron Davies : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) for each of the administrative regions of the Benefits Agency in the United Kingdom, how many women have (a) had an increase of invalidity benefit suspended, (b) applied for that suspension to be lifted and (c) had the suspension lifted ;
(2) for each of the Benefits Agency district offices in Wales, how many women have (a) had an increase of invalidity benefit suspended, (b) applied for that suspension to be lifted and (c) had the suspension lifted.
Letter from Michael Bichard to Mr. Ron Davies, dated 8 February 1994 :
The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Questions about women in receipt of invalidity Benefit (IVB) in the United Kingdom, and more specifically Wales, who, at age 60, have had an increase of IVB suspended. The information is not available in the exact format requested. This is because the statistics provided are for Great Britain rather than the United Kingdom (the United Kingdom including Northern Ireland). I have therefore appended the information that is available for the United Kingdom which has been collated into Benefits Agency Area Directorates, within which there are a number of District and Benefit Offices. The information for Wales has been broken down by Benefit Agency District, each District comprising of a District Office and one or more Benefit Offices.
The information given is that available at the last working day of August 1993, the last for which detailed information is, at present, held.
Benefits Agency Scotland and Northern Territory Benefits Agency area |Number of |Applications |Number of directorate |IVB cases |for suspension |cases where |suspended |to be lifted |suspension |lifted --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Tyne Tees |3,237 |258 |230 South Yorkshire and Humberside |997 |33 |29 North and West Yorkshire |1,604 |28 |20 Scotland and Northern |2,585 |37 |1 North, Central and West Scotland |4,151 |267 |218 East of Scotland |1,630 |18 |12 |--- |--- |--- Totals |14,204 |641 |510
Benefits Agency Wales and Central Territory Benefits Agency area |Number of |Applications |Number of directorate |IVB cases |for suspension |cases where |suspended |to be lifted |suspension |lifted ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- East Midlands |855 |28 |18 Midlands South West |637 |9 |3 West Mercia |1,843 |20 |7 Wales |2,906 |44 |19 Merseyside |1,779 |81 |71 Greater Manchester |1,590 |63 |18 Lancashire and Cumbria |2,244 |34 |21 |--- |--- |--- Totals |11,854 |279 |157
Benefits Agency southern territory Benefits Agency area |Number of |Applications |Number of directorate |IVB cases |for suspension |cases where |suspended |to be lifted |suspension |lifted ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Anglia |580 |16 |8 Chilterns |1,146 |12 |7 South London and West Sussex |658 |16 |12 West Country |811 |31 |9 East London and Essex |508 |3 |1 South East |548 |20 |10 Wessex |960 |5 |0 |--- |--- |--- Totals |5,211 |103 |47
Wales area directorate District |Number of |Applications |Number of |IVB cases |for suspension|cases where |suspended |to be lifted |suspension |lifted ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Gwyneddigion |176 |9 |5 North Wales Coast |307 |13 |3 Mid Wales and Maelor |9 |2 |1 West Wales |0 |0 |0 Swansea |0 |0 |0 Ogwr Afan Nedd |405 |4 |0 South Glamorgan |434 |6 |1 South Gwent and Islwyn |254 |8 |8 Cynon, Merthyr and Rhymney Valley |687 |0 |0 Taff Rhonda |282 |1 |0 North Gwent and Brecon |352 |1 |1 |--- |--- |--- Totals |2,906 |44 |19
Mr. Ron Davies : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) on what basis he will assess extreme hardship in individual cases of women over 60 years whose invalidity benefit increase is being suspended ;
(2) what discretion he has to lift the suspension of invalidity benefit increase for women over 60 years in
Column 370Wales in cases of extreme hardship ; and what are the limits on the lifting of the suspension in terms of the income of the women concerned.
Mr. Scott : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's discretion to take account of extreme hardship in deciding whether to impose or lift suspension of benefit is exercised on his behalf by Benefits Agency staff. Mr. Michael Bichard, the chief executive of the Benefits Agency will write to the hon. Member with further information.
Letter from Michael Bichard to Mr. Ron Davies, dated 8 February 1994 :
The Secretary of State for Social Services has asked me to reply to your Parliamentary Question about women in receipt of Invalidity Benefit (IVB), who at age 60 have had an increase of IVB suspended. Regulation 37A of the Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations provides that where a decision by a Social Security Commissioner is being appealed to the Courts, payment of benefit in any cases affected by the decision may be suspended by the Secretary of State (SoS) pending the outcome of the appeal. Payments of Invalidity Benefit to women over 60 are currently being suspended under this regulation pending the resolution of a case which is before the Court of Appeal.
The power to suspend is discretionary. The SoS therefore also has discretion not to susped if it would be inappropriate to do so, for example if it would cause exceptional hardship in an individual case. This discretion is exercised on the SoS's behalf by Benefits Agency (BA) staff.
There are no set criteria for lifting suspensions. Each case is considered in relation to the personal circumstances of the customer. However, the BA, conscious of the requirement to treat all customers fairly, has recently issued guidelines on the question of hardship to all local offices. They stress that cases have to be looked at individually and that, while it is not possible to state in hard and fast terms what constitutes exceptional hardship, a number of factors need to be borne in mind by staff considering hardship applications. These include the fact that hardship will arise only in exceptional circumstancses ; that prior to the Commissioner's decision IVB would have been reduced to the rate of the Retirement Pension that would otherwise have been payable ; that Income Support and Social Fund are available to meet financial hardship ; and that the onus is on the customer to prove that hardship exists rather than on the Agency Department to disprove hardship.
The guidance also gives two examples of circumstances in which exceptional hardship might be considered. These are :--
(i.) where it is already known or suspected that a customer has a terminal illness and is likely to die before the outcome of the appeal is known ; and
(ii.) where the customer has been led to believe that benefit will continue at the higher rate and has entered into a financial commitment on that basis.
It is not inevitable that exceptional hardship would be found to exist in these sort of situations. Nor are they the only situations in which exceptional hardships would be considered. Nevertheless they provide examples of what "exceptional hardship" might mean and indicate that such cases can be expected to arise only rarely. I hope you find this reply helpful.
Mr. Rooker : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will list those topics on which it is not his practice to answer parliamentary questions ; and if he will list any recent changes in the practice of his Department.
Mr. Haselhurst : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many United Kingdom citizens are entitled to overseas pensions not exceeding £500 per annum to which contributions were made before 1970 and which are not remitted to the United Kingdom.
Mr. McMaster : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the planned operational opening date of the new Benefits Agency office in Paisley ; how many staff will be deployed to this office ; how many new (a) full-time and (b) part-time jobs will be created ; and if he will make a statement.
Letter from Michael Bichard to Mr. Gordon McMaster, dated 8 February 1994 :
The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question asking about the new Benefits Agency office in Paisley.
The planned operational opening date of the new office is Spring 1995. At this stage I cannot give a more specific date as work on the site commenced in November 1993 and we have assumed approximately 18 months for a new building from start to finish.
As the 1995/96 resource allocations are not yet known it is not possible to be precise about the number of staff in the new office. However, on current projections, the new office is expected to house around 245 staff in total- -around 220 Benefits Agency staff (including Sector Fraud), around 15 Contributions Agency staff and around 10 Child Support Agency staff.
It is not anticipated that any new jobs, either full time or part time, will be created in Benefits Agency, Contributions Agency or Child Support Agency. This is a move of an existing organisation from a very poor and inadequate building to a new custom built premises to provide improved quality services for customers and staff alike. The Renfrew District Manager, Colin Wright, will be happy to provide you with any further progress reports should you require them.
I am sorry that I cannot be more precise with the information I have provided at this stage, but I hope you find my reply helpful.
Mr. Bayley : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) how many Benefits Agency local offices displayed information on their local performance in July 1993 ; and what indicators were used ; (2) what new national targets for benefit services were published in 1992-93 ; and what reports were published by the Benefits Agency on how it performed against existing targets ;
(3) how many Benefits Agency districts had published local performance targets by July 1993 ; and to what extent they were being met.
Column 372Letter from Michael Bichard to Mr. Hugh Bayley, dated 8 February 1994 :
The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Questions asking about local and national performance targets within the Benefits Agency (BA). I am pleased to say that by the end of January 1993 all BA districts had published Local Charter Standard Statements which included local performance targets. Information as to how individual districts performed against these targets is not available as it is not collated centrally. I have, however, provided at appendix A the national year to date performance against targets, as at December 1993, for District benefits.
Local Charter Standard Statements are displayed in all local offices and contain local standards of service. As many local standards are focused on the specific needs of the local customer population it is not possible to give a complete list of all indicators used. However, in general, Income Support clearance targets, Social Fund clearance targets, and waiting times are the most likely, and most usually displayed.
From April 1994 we will be collecting centrally information on how districts are performing against national targets.
Details of the new national targets for benefit services published in 1992- 93 are provided at appendix B. These include targets for new benefits introduced, and new targets for existing benefits. The Benefits Agency Annual Report and Account published in July 1993 provides details on how the Agency performed against existing targets.
I hope you find my reply helpful.
Appendix A Field operations-year to date performance 1993-94 |Target |Achievement to |December 1993 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Income support Claims |71 per cent. in 5 days |74.3 |90 per cent. in 13 days |89.9 Accuracy |96 per cent. |90.8 Changes |65 per cent. in 2 days |91.3 |95 per cent. in 6 days |96.2 Appeals |68 per cent. in 28 days |72.1 |95 per cent. in 90 days |94.5 Social Fund Crisis Loans |on the day the need arises|96.3 Community Care Grants |65 per cent. in 7 days |78.7 |95 per cent. in 20 days |96.7 Budget Loans |65 per cent. in 6 days |75.3 |95 per cent. in 20 days |97.3 Incapacity Benefits Sickness Benefit/Invalidity Benefit Claims |65 per cent. in 10 days |72.2 |95 per cent. in 30 days |94.2 Accuracy |96.5 per cent. |96.1 Retirement Pension Claims |65 per cent. in 60 days |68.7 |95 per cent. in 60 days |94.5 Changes |65 per cent. in 5 days |83.4 |95 per cent. in 15 days |96.1
Appendix B New Target Areas-1992-93-Plus improvements to 1991-92 Targets Benefit Area |Per cent. |Target |Days --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Retirement Pension Post Award System Activity |65 |5 (PASA) |95 |15 Disability Living Allowance Claims |60 |30 |95 |55 Disability Living Allowance Accuracy |96 |- Disability Living Allowance Special Rules Cases |80 |10 |90 |15 Disability Living Allowance Reviews |60 |55 |95 |75 Disability Working Allowance Claims |95 |5 Disability Working Allowance Accuracy |95 |- Disability Working Allowance Renewal Claims- |60 |15 Employed |75 |25 Disability Working Allowance Renewal Claims- |60 |20 Self Employed |90 |30 Disability Working Allowance Reviews |75 |10 |90 |20 Disability Working Allowance Appeals |30 |15 |60 |25 |90 |35 Attendance Allowance 65+ Claims |60 |35 |95 |60 Attendance Allowance 65+ Reviews |60 |61 |95 |81 Attendance Allowance 65+ Special Rules Cases |80 |10 |90 |15 Income Support Claims |- |4 Income Support Accuracy |94 |- Family Credit Claims |60 |13 Family Credit Accuracy |94 |- Social Fund Budget Loans |- |5 Invalid Care Allowance Claims |60 |29 |95 |129 Legal Aid Applications |80 |20 Central Pensions Branch Appeals |65 |30 Overseas Branch Appeals |55 |30
Mr. Burt : The refurbishment of DSS local offices is a matter for Mr. Michael Bichard, the chief executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to the hon. Member with such information as is available. Letter from Michael Bichard to Mr. Hugh Bayley, dated 8 Feburary 1994 :
The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question asking about the proportion of local offices which have been refurbished since June 1991. All local offices will undergo some form of refurbishment in the course of the year. This can range from simple redecoration, through the upgrading of specific areas, to large scale works involving the decanting of staff whilst major structural work is carried out. Minor refurbishment (costing less than £5,000), to improve both staff and public areas as part of general building management, is carried out at the discretion of local management. Records of this type of work are not collated centrally, and it is not therefore possible to give details of this work since June 1991.
However, figures for refurbishment projects costing more than £5, 000, ie the refurbishment of a public caller area, are collated centrally, and are available. Records of these projects indicate that since the start of the 1991-92 financial year 68 per cent. of DSS local offices have been refurbished in some way or another since April 1991.
I hope you find this reply helpful.
Column 374Letter from Miss Ann Chant to Mr. Hugh Bayley, dated 8 February 1994 :
As Chief Executive of the Contributions Agency I am responsible for answering questions about relevant operational matters. I have been asked to reply to your question about how many educational visits the Agency made to employers between 1 July 1992 and 30 June 1993.
The Agency makes two types of visits to employers for educational purposes- -educational visits and educational surveys. An educational visit is normally undertaken at an employer's request to provide assistance and advice on any aspects of the National Insurance (NI), Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) schemes. An educational survey, in addition to providing such assistance and advice, also includes a detailed examination of the employers NI, SSP and SMP records. Educational surveys are usually initiated by the Agency and are undertaken where employers are considered, in the light of the Agency's experience, likely to be at a greater risk of making mistakes in fulfilling their NI, SSP or SMP responsibilities. They can also be undertaken in response to an employer's request. In the year between 1 July 1992 and 30 June 1993 the Agency made 2, 318 educational visits and 27,569 educational surveys.
Mr. Burt : Measures to improve the standard of telephone service within the Benefits Agency are a matter for Mr. Michael Bichard, the agency's chief executive. He will write to the hon. Member. Letter from Michael Bichard to Mr. Hugh Bayley, dated 8 February 1994 :
The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question about measures taken by the Benefits Agency took in 1992-93 to improve service by telephone. On 9 September last year the Secretary of State announced a national programme whereby all Benefits Agency District Offices will provide a One Place service by July 1994, and part of this service includes customers being able to obtain, by telephone, advice and information on Benefit Agency benefits from their local office. The National Customer Service Definition issued to all managers states the minimum hours that local office switchboards must be open, and offices are required to publish these hours. Offices will also make provision for dealing with customers who contact the office outside normal switchboard hours.
The Benefits Agency is committed to improving accessibility for all our customers, including those who are hard of hearing. All offices/units have been encouraged to install the Minicom and/or Typetalk facilities (both are text telephone services).
The Department has, for some years, operated a policy of replacing old and new inadequate telecommunications equipment. In April 1992 this was turned into a formal roll out programme which identified and replaced ageing and substandard switchboards in offices, with modern, digital switchboards. These replacement switchboards provide the technical platform and facilities to support the customer services and organisational initiatives developed in other areas of the Benefits Agency.
In April 1993 this roll out programme was integrated with Benefits Agency Estates' programme and the implementation of IT equipment, to provide a comprehensive technical base from which to provide a uniform service. This integrated programme is ongoing and will continue for the next 3-5 years.
At the Fylde Benefit Directorate there has been an enhancement to the telephone service provided during 1992-93. Measures undertaken include an increase in the number of consoles on the Fylde switchboard together with requisite staffing, and also the introduction of Direct Dial IN (DDI) to the 8,000 or so telephone extensions located on sites occupied by the directorate lines. The Central Inquiry Handling Service (CEHS),
Column 375renamed Customer Care Helpline in early October 1993, has had line capacity increased from 120 to 192 with staffing to match. Additionally opening hours were extended in March 1993 to cover the timeband 07.30 to 18.30.
The Family Credit helpline launched in April 1993 deals with an average of 35,000 calls per week and on average 85 per cent. of those calls are answered within five rings.
The Benefit Enquiry Line (BEL) was also extended in April 1993 to provide a form completion service for a range of incapacity and disability benefits. Its opening hours were extended to cover the time band 8.30-18.30 Monday to Friday and 9.00-13.00 Saturday. The equipment was further enhanced in March 1993 and now has the capacity to cope with over 100 work stations. In April 1992 40 advisers were employed with the number rising to 81 by March 1993. During 1992-93 approximately 17,000 customers telephoned BEL and used the Forms Completion Service.
The Child Benefit Centre ran a pilot study last year offering a more personalised and complete service for its customers. Following the success of this pilot, the Centre embarked on a major overhaul of its internal structure, and widely publicising a list of direct dial numbers. The Child Benefit Centre is now handling three times as many calls compared to this time last year.
Following a review of the Freeline service, a project manager was appointed last year to take forward a programme of improvements aimed at making the service more widely available to customers. Five Freeline centres have installed Automatic Call Distribution (ACD), which allocates calls to lines on a strictly first come first served basis. The indications are that the ACD has been effective in reducing call waiting times. It is hoped to install ACD equipment in the remaining five centres, and to open an 11th Freeline centre later this year, which will improve the service still further.
I hope you find this reply helpful.
Mr. Nicholas Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to his answer of 24 January, Official Report , column 15 , regarding firms which do not comply with his department's guidelines over privatisation bids, what plans he has to disqualify CNN Data Company from tendering for the DSS Longbenton national insurance computor processing contract.
Letter from Miss Ann Chant to Mr. Nicholas Brown, dated 8 February 1994 :