Select Committee on Public Accounts Twentieth Report

1 The Agency's performance in dealing with claims for war pensions

1. The Veterans Agency was established in April 2002.[3] It delivers services to people who are disabled or bereaved as a result of military service and who may be entitled to a war pension or other awards. Any condition causing disablement which results from military service may qualify for consideration for a war pension, not just injuries or death arising from enemy action. Claims can therefore arise many years after service has ceased, for example for arthritis, and range from injuries received during conflict, training or organised sports and for illnesses that were caused, or made worse, by service.

2. The number of claims received by the Agency has reduced significantly over the last ten years with the trend set to continue. In 1992-93 the Agency received 202,828 claims. This had fallen to 133,452 in 1994-95 and by 2001-02 the figure had reduced further to 48,950 (a decrease of 153,878 over the nine years). The number of claims received is expected to fall further[4] (Figure 2).Figure 2: The total number of claims received by the Agency has decreased

Source: Veterans Agency and Defence Analytical Services Agency (C&AG's Report, Figure 8, p17)

The time it takes to clear claims

3. In 2001-02, it took the Agency on average 131 days to clear a first claim for a war disablement pension, although the average clearance time for all claims was 73 working days.[5] Much of this time was spent assembling the evidence needed to enable the Agency to make a decision on a claim, for instance securing evidence from General Practitioners, hospital case notes or commissioning of medical examinations, and establishing details of military service by obtaining service records from the Ministry of Defence.

4. The Agency has an agreement with the Department of Health for hospital case notes to be supplied within ten working days. The Agency waits, however, an average of 24 working days for hospital case notes and 38 working days for reports from General Practitioners.[6] The Agency put delays in getting records promptly down to a lack of resources in hospital records department who faced continual demands for records for immediate clinical purposes against which the Agency had to compete. Many hospitals achieved the ten day turnaround target and the Agency reminded those that did not of their responsibilities by writing to hospitals and Chief Executives of NHS trusts.[7]

5. The Agency has an agreement with the Ministry to obtain service records within 20 working days; and yet in 2001-02 over a quarter were not provided within 25 working days.[8] Since its transfer to the Ministry the Agency had increased the level of liaison with those responsible for service records and held regular meetings with them to make sure it was providing accurate information to enable its requests for records to be met, and to identify any particular problem areas relating to services. The Agency could not, however, say definitely when the 20 day agreed turnaround time would be met.[9]

The Agency's targets

6. The Agency cleared claims in an average of 73 working days in 2001-02, comfortably outperforming its target of 90 working days. In 2002-03 this figure was reduced to 82 working days[10]—a target that had therefore already been met and indeed exceeded the previous year. Similarly the Agency achieved 135 working days in 2001-02 for stage 1 of the appeals process[11] against a target of 195 working days—and yet its target for the following year was to clear appeals in an average of 175 working days.[12] While targets could have been more demanding and had been easily achieved, the Agency continued to strive to operate as quickly as possible irrespective of meeting its targets. The Agency was also concerned with other measures of quality in addition to clearance times, such as improving the quality of the Agency's communication with its customers.[13]


7. The main costs involved in processing claims and appeals relate to staff and overheads (such as utilities, IT and maintenance). The Agency does not, however, specifically monitor the cost of processing a claim or the productivity of staff in dealing with them,[14] although we recommended in an earlier report that these should be monitored.[15]

8. Although it faced difficulties in separating out costs for different types of claims, the Agency had now begun to generate unit costings covering the main areas of its business such as disablement claims or claims for war widows pensions. It recognised that it needed to develop further its management information to be in a position to identify improvements in efficiency and to better deploy its resources in dealing with different types of claims.[16]

3   The War Pensions Agency was established as an Executive Agency of the Department of Social Security in April 1994. It was transferred to the Ministry of Defence in June 2001 and was renamed the Veterans Agency in April 2002. Back

4   C&AG's Report, paras 15, 1.13 Back

5   ibid, para 2.3  Back

6   C&AG's Report, para 2.7; Q 53 Back

7   Qq 54-55 Back

8   C&AG's Report, para 2.6 Back

9   Qq 71-74 Back

10   C&AG's Report, para 2.2 Back

11   Stage 1 of the appeals process is the time the case is with the Agency before referral to the Court Service. Back

12   C&AG's Report, paras 2.26, 2.28 Back

13   Q 9 Back

14   C&AG's Report, para 2.11 Back

15   27th Report from the Committee of Public Accounts, Quality of Service: War Pensions, Mobility Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Invalid Care Allowance (HC 339, Session 1992-93) Back

16   Q 15 Back

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