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Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)

MS ALEXIS CLEVELAND, MR CHARLIE MACKINNON AND MR GEORGE MCCORKELL

WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002

  100. Some of them will be using the old technology, they will not have the new software then.
  (Mr McCorkell) They will be using the old technology; they will be using some of the new technology. For example, they will be using telephone technology at the front end in order to take the calls and route the calls to the agents. They will be using work technology to help us monitor the work within departments. They will not have the full customer relationship management system that Burnley has, which gives a different way of working and a different staff experience. They will have better technology than they currently have.

  101. Just to be a bit more prosaic, we talked before about what you might call peripatetic surgeries, or whatever, every third Thursday to a Methodist church in Kensington for example. How is the IT fitting in with that? When we went to Age Concern in Ashton-under-Lyne, they said that when Pension Service people came in, they more or less had to write it on the back of an envelope and then go and put it in the IT. No disrespect to the staff at all; they did not have the IT backup to take a laptop there, plug it in and whatever. Our understanding was that the reason that could not be done was lack of secure transmission, down to security stuff. I am not an IT person, but that appears to me to be a pretty basic thing. In my constituency office I can get parliamentary e-mails which are sent to me as an MP securely and it did not take very long to set that up.
  (Mr McCorkell) We shall be looking at supporting our local service staff with portable IT facilities. The degree to which we shall be able to link those to our full range of IT direct on a main link will depend on the speed with which we replace the back end systems, the old systems. Access to those old systems is where we have difficulties with the security links.

  102. When are they going to get laptops?
  (Mr McCorkell) The future service will allow remote access for local service staff.

  103. When?
  (Mr McCorkell) Full remote access for local service staff is likely to come after April 2004.

  104. The year 2100 comes after the year 2004. Could you be a bit more specific?
  (Mr McCorkell) I have not done the detailed planning of that roll-out and when we shall find those facilities. There is a huge IT replacement programme and we have to do detailed planning to look at which are the best things which affect the customer service that we can do in the best timescale. I cannot commit to any particular enhancement. I can tell you now that we have a vision of the service in 2006, where all of these things will be in place. We have not planned the detail of which bits we get in the phased introduction.

  105. You would expect that laptop facility to be available by 2006 at least.
  (Mr McCorkell) Certainly
  (Ms Cleveland) Absolutely.

  106. And for home visits as well.
  (Mr McCorkell) Yes; absolutely.
  (Ms Cleveland) Yes.

Mr Goodman

  107. May I ask you what your latest estimate is of the total number of pensioners who are eligible for the MIG but are not actually claiming it?
  (Ms Cleveland) It is always very difficult to come up with this, says she, ducking the issue. I do not have the latest figure with me because it is one which is provided by our statisticians. Having been a statistician myself in the past, it is estimated from the family expenditure surveys and such like; a figure of one million has been quoted before in terms of numbers. I have always thought that was slightly on the high side, but I do not have the latest estimate.

  108. When the Secretary of State came here, he gave a figure of between 300,000 and 750,000. That means no less than one fifth and maybe as many as over one third, 36 per cent, of some of the most vulnerable people in our society were not actually claiming this benefit which would raise their living standard substantially. You have just quoted a figure of one million. I cannot quite work out the percentage in my head but that would be nudging up to 37, 38, maybe as high as 40 per cent. May I ask you on what basis and how regularly your statisticians actually update these estimates? Do you publish them and will you not be able to give us a figure?
  (Ms Cleveland) I just do not have that information. I can certainly find out for you, but I do not know it off hand.

  109. Just so I am absolutely clear in my own mind, you do not actually know how regularly the statisticians work out these figures.
  (Ms Cleveland) I do not have that figure immediately to hand myself. I know from way back when I used to be involved in working that figure out, that we would do some for internal use on an annual basis, but I do not know whether that is still the case now.

  110. Could you let us know?[7]


  (Ms Cleveland) Yes; certainly.

  111. What targets have you set yourselves for levels of MIG take-up by, say, next April?
  (Ms Cleveland) We do not have a specific target for MIG take-up.

  112. Just to go back to what every member of this Committee would consider to be a very important vital point, you have the MIG, you have a potential take-up figure which could be over 36 per cent of pensioners who are not taking it up, but you actually have no target for trying to increase that?
  (Ms Cleveland) No.

  113. Why is that?
  (Ms Cleveland) We have a requirement to see whether we can actually increase MIG take-up and we are taking a lot of steps. We have been reviewing cases, we have set up new triggers on the system linked to life events which would actually prompt us to send somebody a MIG claim form. The number of MIG claims has been going up over the years, but we do not have a specific target to hit a certain number by a certain date.

  114. Did I hear you say the number of MIG claims has been going up over the years?
  (Ms Cleveland) Yes.

  115. How do you know that if you do not know the numbers?
  (Ms Cleveland) We know the number of claims. It is the population which has not claimed, who would have an entitlement, that is always very difficult to measure other than through survey type information, which always has the sort of margin of error associated with the estimates you have been given.

  116. Based on your research of what methods work, what new ideas do you have to increase take-up?
  (Ms Cleveland) A lot of it comes down from having this single view of the customer in there, so we can look at their full entitlement and we have staff who are trained to understand all the components which might go into an entitlement and how they interact together. At the moment, because we have people focussing on individual products, they do not always know and the evidence which is quoted from Senior Line shows people do not always know how those things interact as well as we would want. By providing that sort of IT support at the front end, to people to look at the case in the whole, then we ought to be. We are setting ourselves an internal target that really we ought to be getting 100 per cent take-up of Minimum Income Guarantee for people who are contacting us. Certainly I am quite confident, with the sorts of things we can do for new claims for pensioners, that we can do it. Where we still have a lot more to do is around how you identify those people who are already pensioners, whose incomes fall over a period or whose personal circumstances change, particularly as people get older linked to disability, and who therefore might have entitlement, who are under-claiming Attendance Allowance. It is the under-claiming of the Attendance Allowance which also knocks onto MIG, because if you are getting a benefit like that you may have entitlement to a higher MIG level and that is the part people have not claimed as well.

  117. You claim to make greater use of Housing Benefit records in trying to boost take-up, given that there is such a high correlation between those claiming Housing Benefit and those eligible for the MIG.
  (Ms Cleveland) That is part of pulling the picture of a whole customer together. We have a target to try, yes, not a set target by anyone externally, but my objective is to make sure everyone gets their full entitlement. We shall look at whatever sources we can get.

  118. How closely are you looking at best practice? For example, in Tameside a system has been developed where you can punch in your council tax number or your national insurance number and you can find out very quickly whether or not you are likely to be eligible for the MIG. How closely are you looking at that?
  (Ms Cleveland) That is exactly the sort of thing we want to be able to do, focusing also on Pension Credit, of being able to put your circumstances in and be able to get out an assessment of what your likely MIG entitlement would be or whether you would have one or not. That is certainly something we want to put into the public domain as well when it comes to Pension Credit.

Mr Stewart

  119. My questions will focus on the Pension Credit. As you will know, in our recent Report into the Pension Credit we expressed some concerns about the ability of The Pension Service to cope with the administration of the Pension Credit. Do you agree?
  (Ms Cleveland) It is going to be a real challenge for us to take on the number of claims which we might anticipate over a period. We are going to face a surge of claims from October 2003 and then probably another surge in October 2004, when the 12-month backdating comes through. That is why we have to try to manage this. The big danger is that we lose control of the process. What we are looking to do is to put in place steps which will help us manage that. For example, we know we have 1.8 million people currently receiving Minimum Income Guarantee who have an entitlement to Pension Credit. We shall transfer those cases across. We shall write to people. We shall prompt the claims from them and we shall manage them through that process and we shall start doing that from April next year so no action is required by those people other than to respond to any questions or whatever we need to ask them to establish their Pension Credit entitlement. We want to write to other pensioners to make sure they are aware of Pension Credit. We need to give guidelines as to who might be entitled because we really need to minimise the number of nugatory claims which come through. We shall look to do that on a phase basis across this period as well. It is fair to say that there is no way we could cope with 11 million pensioners all claiming from us on 1 October next year. As well as looking at how to manage those claims and that process through, we are also looking at how we manage that through our Service and what contingency arrangements we need to make. We do have experience of areas where problems have gone wrong and DLA is the one which is most on my mind, where we ended up with very large numbers of claims, many of them nugatory claims, but the organisation was not geared up to cope with those. It goes into a spiral of decline because your workloads go up with people constantly chasing what has happened to their claim.

 


7   Please refer to the supplementary memorandum submitted by the Pension Service (PS02), para 6, Ev 22. Back

 
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