Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 176)



  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 information—we will come back to that in a moment—for 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 should.

  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.

  167. Pardon?
  (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 work.

  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 result.
  (Ms Cleveland) Or the priority that is put on that work in that particular area.

  171. The impression that comes over—and this comes back to you although I know you have inherited this situation—is 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 area.
  (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.

Mr Rendel

  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 non-attendance rate.
  (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 visits.

  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[13]. 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
38% disallowed
Second failure to attend
37% disallowed
Third failure to attend
70% disallowed
This compared with an overall disallowance rate of around 23%


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