Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)
MS RACHEL LOMAX, MR JOHN CODLING AND MS ALEXIS CLEVELAND
MONDAY 4 FEBRUARY 2002
20. But you do not have a figure for that.
(Ms Cleveland) We could get a figure; I just do not have it immediately to hand.
21. But you could get it for us.
(Ms Cleveland) Yes, we could.
22. What is the current error rate?
(Ms Cleveland) On Income Support at the moment we are above 87 per cent accuracy across the piece.
23. I know that from the report. What I am asking is what it is.
(Ms Cleveland) The current rate in 2001-02 year to date is 93.5 per cent. We have changed the method of calculation slightly to get a better estimate of the overall figure and that would probably equate to 91.5 per cent on a comparable basis with the baseline.
24. You must be very pleased with that.
(Ms Cleveland) Yes, it is certainly a big step in the right direction.
25. What is the turnround time from completed documented claim to receipt of benefit?
(Ms Cleveland) We have a claims clearance target which is not quite the same as receipt of benefit.
26. It is not the same thing at all.
(Ms Cleveland) I do not have a figure which is from receipt of document, having collected all the evidence we need, to a pay day. Sometimes a pay day may be several days after the clearance date we have and in other case it may be before. We are running at about nine days in terms of average clearance time for cases of Income Support at the moment.
27. That is within the Audit Commission's best practice target of two weeks.
(Ms Cleveland) Yes; we have a target of 12 days.
28. What is the longest time lapse you have between completed application and receipt of benefit?
(Ms Cleveland) Some of the cases go on for a very long time if there is disputed evidence.
29. I am arguing about the point where you say you have all the documentation you need to take a decision.
(Ms Cleveland) We had a percentage clearance time where we were looking at 30 days as being the real cut-off point; we would expect all claims to be cleared within 30 days.
30. My question is: are they? What is actually the longest recorded time for clearance that you have. Obviously to each individual these claims are of enormous importance.
(Ms Cleveland) If you are going from the point at which all the evidence has been gathered, they can be cleared very quickly from that time; we are talking about 15 days. It is where there is confusion or disagreement about the evidence and collecting the evidence. For example, if we have to get evidence of earnings from an employer sometimes that can take a very long time and we may have to put either Social Fund payments or interim payments in place in the meantime. I do not think I am being very helpful here.
31. Do not worry, we shall get there. What I am trying to establish is once you are satisfied that you have all the documentation you needyou may have to go to the employer to get corroboration and so on but once you have done thatwhat is the worst case that you have of the delay from that point to the recipient receiving the benefit?
(Ms Cleveland) That is 15 days.
32. You are not telling me a standard time.
(Ms Cleveland) No.
33. That is the worst case.
(Ms Cleveland) That is from the figures we have. We do not have them exactly in the format you are putting the question but it would be of that order.
34. It would then depend on bank clearance. Is that what you are saying?
(Ms Cleveland) It should do or sending out through the post if people are paid by order book or Giro. We now have the figure for underpayments: it is £130 million.
35. Underpayments of £130 million.
(Ms Cleveland) Yes, that is right.
36. What steps are you taking to improve that figure? Clearly we are all concerned about an overpayment of £900 million and we appreciate that may come as a result of fraud, or it may come as a result of errors that your staff have made. I suspect though that the £130 million is of even greater concern because what that means is that people are not receiving the benefit to which they are entitled and for which they have supplied you with proper documentation.
(Ms Cleveland) We pick up this information from the various reviews we do; this estimate comes from those reviews. What we take from each of those are the lessons learned, the types of cases which are triggering this type of underpayment. I mentioned that we are doing some training programmes which roll out through the organisation. We are picking out errors, whether they are plus or minus and identifying what the issues are which cause this type of underpayment and put it into the training programme which is rolling out toward staff.
37. What are the most typical reasons why a claim might be underpaid?
(Ms Cleveland) Sometimes it is for some of the same reasons that claims are overpaid, that people have overdeclared their income, that people's circumstances have changed, maybe that they were claiming when they were in a couple household and their partners left and they had not reclaimed there. If it is a case where we are going out to review it, it is where someone has failed to tell us of a change of circumstance that may benefit them.
38. Often the reason for both under and overpayment is poor information, in effect garbage in, garbage out.
(Ms Cleveland) Indeed, yes. Sometimes my staff make mistakes as well which cause it.
39. Do you count as errors, errors in the information that you have received? When you quantify your error rate as now being reduced to 6.5 per cent93.5 per cent successesdoes that include only errors by your staff or does it include the sort of errors you have just alluded to of wrong information being provided?
(Ms Cleveland) That comes from a quarterly review which is really looking at official error in the accuracy rates. For accuracy it is almost all official error. The fraud and customer error come in the other part of the exercise.
1 Note by witness: No figures are kept on how long people have to wait for the payment. The estimate of 15 days relates to the potential wait of 13 days to the next payday for someone paid fortnightly plus two days for the postal delivery. Back
2 Note by witness: The figure of £130 million for underpayments was given in response to the earlier questions (Q16 and Q17) when Mr Gardiner asked whether the overpayments of £900 million reported by the NAO represented a net figure after any underpayments were offset; and what was the amount of the underpayments. The £900 million relates to Income Support losses. The £130 million quoted was the level of Income Support underpayments, stemming from official error rather than in total, and related to the previous year (1999-2000). The total underpayments of Income Support for 2000-01 are calculated as up to £180 million. Back