Select Committee on Public Accounts Twentieth Report

3 Reaching veterans entitled to use the Agency's services

14. The definition of entitlement to an award under the War Pensions Scheme is very wide.[31] Awards are made for disablement arising from, or made worse by, injury or illness due to factors of service, whether in peacetime or war. These include injuries or illnesses that can arise many years after service has ended, such as arthritis.[32] The Agency does not, however, collate data which separates out how many claims have arisen from conflicts, training or other activities.[33] Under the standard of proof in the War Pensions Scheme, if a veteran makes a claim within seven years of termination of service, the Agency has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that there is no link between his claimed condition and service by assembling evidence. For later claims, the onus is on the claimant to raise a reasonable doubt. Once reasonable doubt is raised, the benefit of that doubt is given to the claimant.[34] 70% of claims for disablement pensions are made at least three years after personnel have left the services, and the bulk of first claims are made after 27 years, and relate to World War Two veterans.[35]

Distribution of awards

15. The Agency has estimated that the total number of veterans and dependants is between four and five million, of whom some 271,000 are current beneficiaries of the War Pensions Scheme.[36] Each year, the Agency writes to all existing customers to remind them of the services available.[37] The Agency however, was less able to raise awareness amongst veterans who did not retain any kind of service link, for example through ex-service organisations such as the Royal British Legion.

16. The Agency relies mainly on the efforts of ex-service organisations such as the Royal British Legion to raise awareness about the services that it provides, and the entitlement to awards under the War Pensions Scheme. For example in its magazine the Royal British Legion sent out 600,000 copies of a leaflet detailing services available to veterans through the Agency's helpline,[38] and the Agency tracked how many people subsequently contacted it as a result of this mailshot.

17. The Agency can only assess entitlement to an award under the scheme once a claim has been received.[39] It does not, however, compile information on how claimants initially find out about the Agency. The Agency did not compile information on the breakdown of claims and awards between officers and other ranks, the distribution of awards across services and units, and how the geographical pattern of take up of awards matched the geographical pattern of recruitment.[40] Its computer system did, however, hold information on which services and units people had served in although the Agency did not extract these data and use them to monitor the incidence of claims from different services.[41] The Agency said that such information was not relevant to resolving a claim, although it would be concerned if data suggested it was not getting its message across in respect of veterans from some services or in some parts of the country.[42] Without such information the Agency is not in a position to determine whether it is administering the distribution of awards fairly and evenly as it does not know how those receiving awards compares with those who might be eligible.[43] It may, for instance, be receiving a disproportionately high number of claims from one part of the services compared to another or claimants from some parts of the country may be under-represented compared to the level of recruitment.[44]

18. In a subsequent note the Agency set out the steps it has taken to raise awareness of the availability of war pensions and how its activities in this respect compared with other organisations internationally.[45] The note also detailed the action that it proposed to take to establish the awareness of veterans benefits amongst the public at large and to determine if there are particular groups or geographical locations which require specific targeting to assess whether there is a disproportionate lack of awareness of benefit entitlement in some areas. The note did not, however, offer any analysis of the make-up of the existing group of 271,000 beneficiaries, for example, the proportion of officers compared with other ranks, and how representative or otherwise existing claimants are compared with the wider body of ex-service personnel.[46]

Treatment of non-United Kingdom nationals

19. The Agency did not know about the eligibility for war pensions of those who had served alongside British Forces or enlisted in the British Army. A subsequent submission[47] set out that the provisions of the War Pensions Scheme apply only to members of the military forces who had served in units which are based in the United Kingdom, excluding for example the Free French Forces. The Scheme does not include Nepalese citizens serving in the Brigade of Gurkhas as they were regarded as being recruited and serving overseas. Consideration is currently being given to whether the move of the Brigade of Gurkhas home base from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom in 1997 has altered the position regarding the eligibility of Gurkhas under the War Pension Scheme.

Gulf War Syndrome

20. The Agency assesses claims on the basis of conditions recognised in the World Health Organisation's classification of diseases which had as yet not identified a condition described as Gulf War Syndrome.[48] Some claimants may use the term—and 138 had done so on their claim papers up to August 2003[49]—and these claims are processed by the Agency in the same manner as any other claim.[50] All claims for disablement due to service can be assessed under the War Pensions Scheme,[51] and around 90% of those who had applied for war pensions on the basis of a condition described as Gulf War Syndrome were in receipt of a war pension on the basis of other diagnostic classifications. A recent decision reached by a Pensions Appeal Tribunal had allowed the term "Gulf War Syndrome" to describe an individual's accepted disablement, but the decision was related only to the labelling of that case.[52]

21. The Agency told us that although the implications of the judgement were still under consideration,[53] if such a definition were to be introduced it would not have any effect on the disablement claims that were paid under the War Pensions Scheme[54] as awards under the Scheme are not paid according to diagnostic labels but on an assessed overall level of disablement.[55] The Agency could not say what the wider implications of the ruling were for compensation claims or civil cases of negligence, as its remit is limited to the War Pensions Scheme.[56]

31   Q 36 Back

32   C&AG's Report, para 1 Executive Summary Back

33   Q 35 Back

34   Q 89 Back

35   C&AG's Report, Figure 34; Q 21 Back

36   C&AG's Report, para 2.42 Back

37   Q 151 Back

38   Q 37 Back

39   C&AG's Report, para 2.43 Back

40   Qq 134-135 Back

41   Qq 145-147 Back

42   Qq 134, 137 Back

43   Q 136 Back

44   Q 137 Back

45   Q 213; Ev 23-24 (ref. Q 186) Back

46   Qq 150, 157 Back

47   Qq 176, 186; Ev 22-23 (ref. Q 176) Back

48   Q 18 Back

49   Ev 22 (ref. Q 164) Back

50   Q 170 Back

51   C&AG's Report, para 1.21 Back

52   Q 20 Back

53   Q 162 Back

54   Q 167 Back

55   Ev 22 (ref. Q 164) Back

56   Qq 167-170 Back

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