Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2001
120. Good try. Try again.
(Mr Edge) You are absolutely right. I think this is
part of the new DMA process bedding in. Later figures are showing
that we are improving those areas. We have got a long way to go.
121. You have got later figures which show improvements?
(Mr Edge) I think I have. I did have.
122. Can we see those?
(Mr Edge) I think they are probably in the figures.
From going live in April 1999 to DMA going live, I think
123. Send them in.
I am genuinely not trying to be clever here. All I am saying to
you is in the Annual Report there is a level of incorrectness
there which worries us. If you are saying "Okay, this is
part of the transition process" that is fine. We will want
to watch that carefully.
(Mr Edge) It worries me as well.
124. 57 per cent, DLA is a difficult benefit.
We have explained reasons why that is true. Joan is right, we
had a very encouraging visit to Mr Sumner's organisation and the
staff there were, I think, excellent and doing a good job. I think
that is something we will want to look into.
(Mr Edge) Can I just say that I sit on the Standards
Committee and so does Archie here. Some of the outputs from that
have been (a) instructions from me about DMA and the process but
(b) us putting into play this training which will actually start
this year to take that forward and improve the process.
125. That is the training you were talking about,
(Mr Roy) Yes. In fact there are a number of strands
to training. One is the general training for DMA for decision
makers throughout the organisation. There is also a need for us
to look at some more specific training to handle, for example,
things like complex cases. We are in consultation with the Appeals
Service in terms of looking at the improvement and training for
presenting officers and for listing appeals. Probably in terms
of the submissions it is improvement in the writing of appeals,
drawing that information together, where this training is particularly
126. So you think that you can deal with that
a bit better in the future?
(Mr Roy) Yes.
(Mr Sumner) May I just make an observation about DLA.
Since your visit in February we are now rolling out the new IT
to all our appeals writers in the Directorate, so by July everybody
will have a standard new PC with interactive IT where they will
be able to write submissions. From our point of view this is a
very significant piece of progress.
127. Does this mean that there will be no screens
in your office that are black and green?
(Mr Sumner) No.
128. That is too optimistic.
(Mr Sumner) I am afraid that is a little bit too optimistic.
129. Some of them are still 1986.
(Mr Sumner) Yes, but it does mean that all appeals
writers will actually have modern IT with which to write submissions
which will give us a look and feel which is standardised across
the Directorate and hopefully, by virtue of the way this IT is
organised, it will aid decision makers in ensuring that when they
write the appeals they include everything they should include.
130. That is encouraging.
(Mr Sumner) The other point I wanted to make in relation
to the 57 per cent is that we are in the process of introducing
new checking regimes so that we will be looking at appeal decisions
and first tier decisions on a more regular basis, so we are hoping
to improve quality by that as well.
131. There is a problem here that we perceive
perhaps in terms of the evidence the Appeals Service gave to the
Leggatt Committee about the low presenting officer turn-outs at
some of these tribunals. It is a bit disappointing. Thirty per
cent is the figure that springs to mind as the number of times
that the Benefits Agency was represented. They are invariably
parties to the bulk of these hearings and it is a bit disappointing
prima facie if you can only get staff there for 30 per
cent of the time. What is going on here?
(Mr Edge) I will make two points on that, if I may.
First of all, the people who write appeals are generally the same
people who present appeals, that is generally the case, although
sometimes we do split them up. We had to make a decision about
getting the arrears down to some extent. Especially through the
last year or so we had high levels of appeals and, as we said
earlier, we were concerned about the time that the customers were
having to wait to get their appeals heard and sorted. So we put
most of our effort into writing the appeals. Writing the appeals
is a considerable job because we are getting the evidence together,
etc. That what was what we did. We put an SLA
132. What is an SLA?
(Mr Edge) Service Level Agreement, I apologise. With
the Appeals Service where we have agreed what sort of cases we
will present. There are some issues about some of those definitions
as complex cases and no doubt the Appeals Service and ourselves
will have a view on that, which we are working on. There are a
number of things we are doing in our committee to try to make
sure that we represent the right cases.
133. Are you saying to me that this figure will
improve now that you have cracked the backlog? It is a management
decision for you, and you may well be right, but are you saying
now that is all dealt with you will get better attendance by presenting
officers at tribunals?
(Mr Edge) What I am saying is there is an agreement
with the Appeals Tribunal about which cases we should attend.
What we need to do is to make sure that we hold to that agreement
properly. There is an issue, of course, about resources. We are
not resourced to attend every tribunal and there is an issue about
that. If, in fact, that was seen to be necessary then we would
need to be resourced to do that. We may be half way resourced
to attend all tribunals.
134. So you think that you should be more than
30 per cent but not 80 per cent?
(Mr Edge) Absolutely, on the current agreement we
135. I would have thought it is actually quite
important in terms of the judicial standards to have a representative
of the Agency there most of the time.
(Mr Edge) Legal advice is that it is not required.
Chairman: That interests me.
136. Are there not some instances where if there
is not a presenting officer there you get an adjournment from
the tribunal? I have people in my surgery saying that.
(Mr Edge) We are supposed to attend on complex cases.
137. If somebody is not there to present the
(Mr Edge) That could be the case.
138. Who chooses these complex cases? Is this
some agreement with the Appeals Service?
(Mr Edge) Yes.
139. Where is the claimant in that? Is there
an appellant's opportunity to make a submission to that question?
(Mr Edge) No.
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