Select Committee on Social Security Sixth Report



  5. The decision-making and appeals process is at the heart of the Agency's work. The Chief Executive, Mr Gordon Hextall, outlined the complexity of the process: claims can be for multiple conditions; every condition has to be investigated and linked to service; and new claims can be introduced during the course of the claim and during the course of an appeal.[11] This complexity means that the target clearance times are relatively long. The Agency aims to clear 75 per cent of war disablement claims within 145 working days and 90 per cent of war widows claims within 65 working days.[12] An independent review by Ernst and Young of the decision making and appeals process was commissioned in December 1998.[13] The Chief Executive told us that the review had been completed and that there were a number of recommendations that he would be taking forward.[14] Indeed, one of the Agency's targets for the year 1999/2000 is "to agree improvements in the end-to-end Decision Making and Appeals process."[15]

6. The Agency's commitment to improving the decision making and appeals process is to be welcomed. Several of the ex-service organisations commented on the need for improvement. SSAFA expressed concern at the number of cases which go to appeal, commenting that if a little more time was spent on the initial claim fewer would need to go to appeal.[16] Mr Hextall commented that "we do spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get things right at the outset, which is why it takes so long to decide a claim and appeal."[17] The Royal British Legion commented that the "overall length of time in the Claims and Appeals process needs to be reduced substantially in the light of the increasing average age of claimants and appellants."[18] The Ernst and Young Report outlines a package of opportunities for improvement which seek "to refocus the operation of the scheme on the individuals making claims under it...[and identifies] improvement opportunities which together could reduce the end-to-end process times significantly."[19] We expect the independent review to result in changes to the decision making and appeals process which bring about significant improvements in the service provided by the Agency and we expect the Agency to take note of the concerns raised in this Report.

7. The Agency met those Secretary of State targets for 1998/99 which applied to the quality and clearance time of initial claims.[20] For example, at the end of February the Agency had cleared 76.48 per cent of war disablement claims within 145 days—against a target of 75 per cent. This achievement is a credit to the ability of the Agency's staff and management. It is of no help, however, to the 23 per cent of claimants whose claims were not cleared within the target time. We are concerned that the overall statistics disguise the fact that there are a number of cases where the delays are unacceptable. The Ernst and Young review found that the average times taken to process claims masked a considerable range.[21] Though we acknowledge that the Agency's overall performance is good, we are concerned that there may be a significant number of claimants who experience unacceptable delays.

11   Q 17. Back

12   Ev. p.17, Annex G. Back

13   Q 3. Back

14   Q 3; Q 38-42. Back

15   Ev. p.17, Annex G. Back

16   Appendix 1. Back

17   Q 3. Back

18   Appendix 7, para. 10. Back

19   Ev. p.44. Back

20   Ev. p.15, Annex E. Back

21   Ev. p.44. Back

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Prepared 23 June 1999