Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 78 - 79)




  78. I think we can move into the second half of our session. Could I extend a welcome to Alexis Cleveland, who is Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency. We have seen a few Chief Executives come and go through our hands over the years and it is very nice to have you here. It is very good of you to come. I am going to ask Michael first just to give us his view of your area of activity.

  (Mr Buckley) In view of the present time I would like to be brief. We have, I think, fewer specific points to raise for the Benefits Agency, but it is a fact that, for example, in 1999/2000, the Benefits Agency accounted for the greatest number of complaints against any single body that I received, though it is only fair to point out that in about 50 per cent of the complaints we were not able to investigate, or decided not to investigate. Secondly, of course, the Benefits Agency has a very large number of dealings with members of the public. Of the complaints which we investigated, about a third were resolved without the issue of a statutory investigation report. That pattern has been maintained in the year just past. My office received some 447 complaints—which is over 25 per cent of the total—against the Agency, and again over a third were resolved without a statutory report. I do welcome the readiness of the Agency to apologise for mistakes at an early stage, and to offer redress and consolatory payments where this is appropriate. I also recognise the complexity of the legislation which the Agency have to operate, but I drew attention in my last report to the need to ensure that changes to legislation are not used as an excuse for administrative shortcomings. It is essential that such changes are implemented properly to avoid disadvantaging those who had protected rights granted under earlier legislation. Those issues featured in a case which I published in the selection of completed investigations between October 1999 and March 2000, C.463/99. Another matter that might be helpful for the Committee to explore is that over the last year or so, my office has been receiving an increasing number of complaints about the conduct of medical examinations by doctors employed by the SEMA group on behalf of BA to assess disability in the context of entitlement to certain benefits. A report by the Select Committee on Social Security, which was published in April 2000, noted that SEMA were undertaking a review of their complaint handling system and it would be interesting to know far that review has got. I think that is all I would like to say at this stage.

  79. Thank you very much. Would the witness like to say anything?
  (Ms Cleveland) I think just again to give you the opportunity to ask the questions rather than that. The only point I would make is, given that we actually deal with over 20 million customers every year, actually this is a very small proportion that come through to the Ombudsman, but I think we will continue to be your largest supplier of clients for some time to come.

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