Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001
160. Why is it you have not earlier decided
that you need management information.
(Ms Cleveland) We have got management information
161. Just not the right management information?
(Ms Cleveland) Indeed. Our IT systems are not geared
up to deal with case management as opposed to benefit processing
work. That is one of the big gaps that we are seeking to fulfil
through the modernisation programme. What we have done is used
our performance improvement teams that we have in each of the
areas here to look at good practice in some areas and see what
lessons we can learn from that to apply across all areas.
162. Over how long a period have you been aware?
You say that you do not have the detailed informationwe
will come back to that in a momentfor how long have you
been aware that there is a total processing gap of 90 days in
the case of the West Country to the latest figure of 170 days
in the case of the West of Scotland? You must have been aware
that there was some glaring anomaly between the two?
(Ms Cleveland) Indeed and we know we had huge variations
in performance across our area directorates on all benefits.
163. Let's take that. Over time has that tended
to be the same two areas at the top or bottom or very near?
(Ms Cleveland) There is no correlation that the same
areas are always the worst at each benefit. Some of it reflects
the way they deploy their resources across the various different
benefits. We have done a lot of work already on Income Support
and Jobseeker's Allowance to equalise performance across the piece,
with some success although we are certainly not there yet, and
Incapacity Benefit is certainly on our radar for this year.
164. So why does it take 36 days on average
to issue a form?
(Ms Cleveland) There is no reason to think that it
165. I asked why?
(Ms Cleveland) Because staff are not taking the actions
that they should be taking.
(Ms Lomax) Because they are doing something else.
Basically this is because staff are focusing on other tasks and
they are not doing this; that is the reality.
166. Other tasks such as?
(Ms Lomax) Basically Income Support is what takes
first priority in offices.
(Ms Lomax) Characteristically Income Support is what
offices give first priority to. If they are in trouble on Income
Support they will take resource from other sections. If they have
got problems like NIRS2 for example on the pensions side they
might move people off Incapacity Benefit.
(Ms Cleveland) Mostly the priority on Incapacity Benefit
is to process new claims. This is a table looking at referrals
so these are people who are already on benefit and it is referring
those cases through for review, so the priority is to get the
new people onto benefit rather than the referral work which is
why we have ended up with some of the backlogs.
168. Even then it is barely conceivable that
it takes six times as long just to issue a form.
(Ms Lomax) Where we have set targets like the speed
at which the first claim is made or the accuracy of IS or JSA,
those are the things that people in management tiers will focus
on. We have not set targets for this. In a sense, this is what
happens when you set a target in one area and another area takes
up the slack; this is the slack.
169. Let's go to the other end of the examination,
the time to decision. It is 71 days in the case of the West of
Scotland; it is 11 days in the case of London. Does that mean
that London is doing an incompetent job in rushing it? Is the
percentage of appeals any different between the two areas? Do
the areas that take longer produce better quality results as reflected
in the rates of appeal?
(Ms Cleveland) Certainly in terms of the number of
cases going through to appeal there is no significant correlation.
Taking 71 days does not necessarily give you a better quality
decision. It is more about the resources that are put into the
170. But there must be an incredible disparity
between resources to have it taking six times as long in one area
as another just to reach the decision after receiving the medical
(Ms Cleveland) Or the priority that is put on that
work in that particular area.
171. The impression that comes overand
this comes back to you although I know you have inherited this
situationis that the centre seems to know relatively little
about what is going on in the regions. It has abysmally inadequate
information as reflected in the quality of the replies we have
had to put up with today to try to explain it.
(Ms Lomax) I would say two things in response to that.
One is that I do think we have accepted in the last two years
that we need to pay a lot more attention to this sort of data
and to get underneath it. Even though we have not got perfect
information, there is a lot of work that we could do to improve
performance by looking at this sort of data and getting behind
it. We have done that quite vigorously in Income Support and JSA
and we will be doing it in this area too. It is very much the
trend. Any large network organisation public service is doing
this. The other thing is I do not think we have paid enough attention
to this aspect of Incapacity Benefit. We have not set targets
for this and so that is why it is a neglected area.
Mr Williams: I am finished.
172. One last question which comes up here,
I am not quite sure whether it is to you, Ms Lomax, or to SEMA.
Has any assessment been made as to what extent people are less
punctual or less determined about turning up as a result of having
been turned down or as a result of the general belief that they
are going to be turned away if they turn up on time? The question
is is it a broken window? If you create an atmosphere in which
you do not expect to be seen if you turn up, then maybe you are
not so determined about turning up yourself.
(Mr Raja) There has not been any assessment in that
(Ms Lomax) They do need to turn up in order to get
their benefit validated. If they do not turn up without good cause
they can have their benefit stopped. So they do have an incentive
to turn up. You are running a risk if you decide not to turn up
because you might be sent home, quite a serious risk.
173. Therefore if one in three do not turn up
there must be some reason for that.
(Ms Lomax) You may think you might fail the test.
People fail to return these forms. People can get their benefit
stopped after they have come along to the examinations. These
are not examinations where there is a great deal to gain.
174. Is there a correlation between those who
do not turn up and their subsequent failure? That is the obvious
correlation from what you have just said.
(Ms Lomax) 10,000 people over the last quarter for
which we have data had their benefit stopped as a result of either
not sending a form back or as a result of failure to turn up without
good cause. It is a lot of people. It is more than we get in complaints
in a whole year.
175. The witness was saying that people do not
turn up because they might have benefits stopped. One of the incentives
is that they do not get it until they have turned up. There is
a huge incentive for them to turn up. Are we finding a higher
(Ms Lomax) I think there is a misunderstanding here.
As far as benefits where you have to have the medical before you
get the benefit, that is normally by domiciliary visits, home
176. All of them have to.
(Ms Lomax) Absolutely. What we are talking about,
the ones where people do not turn up and there is overbooking
and where people have to travel is Incapacity Benefit. People
have to turn up to be examined to see if they can continue on
benefit which is already in payment.
Chairman: I would be quite interested to know,
and it is very hard to put this in a clear question, whether there
is any correlation at which you could easily look. I do not want
to precipitate a massive hunt through manual data but if you have
it on a machine it would be interesting to see if there is any
correlation between subsequent failures and not turning up.
It just remains to thank you for coming. Nobody imagines what
you do is easy. I have to say listening to the evidence I am reminded
of what I was saying to you all yesterday about information systems,
resource passing and all the rest of it.
13 Note by Witness: Of these people who fail
to attend incapacity benefit examinations, the subsequent disallowance
rates are as follows:
|First failure to attend
|Second failure to attend
|Third failure to attend
|This compared with an overall disallowance rate of around 23%