Select Committee on Social Security Sixth Report


Communication with claimants

  10. Given the length of time that decisions and appeals take, it is essential that the Agency's communication with claimants is of high quality. We have a number of concerns in this area. The Royal Air Forces Association told us that the Agency's major failing is in the field of written communication and that the majority of letters forwarded to claimants are impersonal and abrupt.[25] The Royal British Legion suggested that more user-friendly forms should be introduced.[26] Mr Hextall told us that developments in the use of IT would enable letters to be tailored specifically for each recipient.[27] It is clear to us that significant improvements in the Agency's written communication need to be made if the Agency is to achieve the target of delivering a first class service to war pensioners and war widows.

11. The War Pensions Agency telephone Helpline is very important in enabling claimants to communicate with the Agency. Developments in IT will further enhance the service offered by the Helpline.[28] The Royal British Legion suggested that the number of Helpline staff should be increased to ensure a timely response to inquiries.[29] We were encouraged to hear that the number of Helpline staff has been increased from twelve in November 1998 to twenty today.[30] In 1995 this Committee recommended that "for a trial period the War Pensions Agency [should] limit the cost of calling the War Pensions Helpline from anywhere in the UK to the cost of a local call."[31] In the reply to that report the Government said that it intended "to investigate the cost implications and viability of restricting the cost of calls...from within the UK to the cost of a local call."[32] Despite this, calls are currently charged at the national rate, though a call-back facility is offered.[33] Mr Hextall told us that he believed that there was a case to be made for a Freephone number.[34] We recommend that calls to the telephone Helpline should be charged at the local rate and that urgent consideration should be given to the introduction of a Freephone number.

25   Appendix 5, para. 2a. Back

26   Appendix 7, para. 2. Back

27   Q 18; see also Ev. p.7, para. 4.4. Back

28   Q 25. Back

29   Appendix 7, para.1. Back

30   Q 24. Back

31   Fifth Report from the Social Security Committee, Session 1994-95, The Work of the Department of Social Security and its Agencies, HC 382, para. 44. Back

32   Reply by the Government to the Fifth Report from the Select Committee on Social Security Session 1994-95, Cm 3148, para. 30. Back

33   Q 23. Back

34   Q 24. Back

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Prepared 23 June 1999