Select Committee on Work and Pensions Seventh Report

2  DWP progress so far

Simplification: a "real priority"?

57. When Leigh Lewis, Permanent Secretary of the DWP, gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee in December 2005, he repeatedly stated that simplification was a key priority both for him and the Department as a whole:

"I have already made clear in a very brief time in the Department that I think we have to be more ambitious on this, so we have the Minister in charge of the Department and its Permanent Secretary both believing that we need to be more ambitious"[70]

"I do want to see that we give real priority to the simplification agenda"[71]

"I think we have a very clear simplification ambition. We have made some genuine headway in that and I can certainly say to you that I want to go further and deeper."[72]

58. This echoed comments by the then Secretary of State, the Rt Hon John Hutton MP, shortly after his appointment in November 2005:

"Am I content with the current situation? No. I do not think anyone is. I think we need to continue to explore ways of simplifying the benefit system but also, at the same time, not opening up other opportunities for abuse and misdirection of resources. They are two very difficult horses to ride."[73]

59. The Minister described simplification as "pretty central" to DWP priorities,[74] and told us that there was "continuous dialogue" between the Department and other interested bodies.[75]

60. But simplification, as the NAO report put it, "is not an easy option. Radical reform is a rare, costly, time-consuming, and potentially controversial act. Even when such reform is agreed, the process from consultation through to changes in primary legislation may take several years." It added "thus, simplification requires consideration of trade offs, including between:

  • anticipated increased administrative efficiency (which may not be delivered) and savings and increased programme expenditure (which is more predictable);
  • a simple, non-intrusive application process and the need to avoid increased susceptibility to fraud;
  • the needs and rights of benefit customers and the wider responsibilities to other taxpayers and considerations about the impact on the economy; and
  • tailoring the system to meet a wide range of circumstances and the desirability of a relatively simple set of rules." [76]

61. With these potential barriers and trade-offs, we were interested to see whether DWP's actions to date had kept pace with its ambitious objectives.

The Benefit Simplification Unit (BSU)


62. During the Public Accounts Committee evidence session, Leigh Lewis announced that he had decided to set up a dedicated Benefit Simplification Team within the Benefit Reform Division of the Department. This was to be "a counterweight to all of the tendencies which otherwise tend to drive increasing complexity".[77] The team was to report directly to the Director General for Work, Welfare and Equality and to a junior minister (in the event, it reports to the Parliamentary Under Secretary (Commons), James Plaskitt MP).

63. An answer to a Parliamentary question in June 2006 said that the Benefit Simplification Unit was to have five full-time staff, with additional input from senior officials. Gross costs for 2006-07 were estimated at £290,000.[78] The DWP confirmed to us that the Unit currently has a complement of four staff: one Senior Executive Officer and three Higher Executive Officers. It is supported by "some additional input" from a Senior Civil Servant and a Grade 7.[79] Responding to questions about the apparently small size of the Unit in February 2006, Leigh Lewis said: "If you have a very small team and you give them a very, very clear remit, a bit of scope and flexibility…then very small units can sometimes deliver you surprisingly large benefits."[80] Christine Dawes, a Pension Service Operational Manager, referred to it as a "catalyst".[81]

64. The DWP memorandum reported that, in its first year, the Unit produced a Simplification Guide to Best Practice and a Progress Report. New requirements have been placed on staff to refer:

"all submissions and scoping papers that recommend policy or operational changes to benefits … to the Unit before they are submitted to Ministers. Staff are required to include a specific section in all submissions detailing the impact of the change on benefit complexity and, if the proposal will lead to increased complexity, a clear explanation as to why this particular option is being recommended. Where the Unit believes that the explanation provides insufficient justification its view will be recorded. In addition all DWP projects must now show in their Strategic Outline Business Cases how they have maximised the opportunity for simplification."[82]

65. Initially submissions related to pensions were excluded,[83] but a revised version of the Guide produced in May 2007 announced a change in policy:

"We have […] decided to extend [these requirements] to include submissions proposing changes to State Pension and State Pension Credit. Including these benefits in the vetting procedures will allow us to share experience of simplifying and spread good practice across the Department."[84]

66. We welcome this development, as we received a submission from Housing 21 criticising the lack of focus to date on older people,[85] and a memorandum from Help the Aged emphasising the impact of complexity on older people.[86]

67. A number of 'simplification measures' were announced in the 2007 Budget, mainly relating to the "alignment" of different benefits, seeking to ensure that different benefits have consistent administrative requirements. The specific measures included: changing the treatment of earnings paid on the termination of employment; paying all Jobcentre Plus working age benefits a minimum of two weekly in arrears on a common pay day; removing the double dating provision for Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance; and aligning the treatment of income from sub-tenants across the benefits system by introducing a flat rate £20 disregard from April 2008 to mirror the disregard in State Pension Credit and pension age Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.[87]

68. The DWP's memorandum described these measures as a "very major set of simplification changes" and referred to them as an example of the "real results" of the fact that "simplification is now receiving greater prominence in all DWP policy and delivery decisions and the Department is devoting more resource and attention to this issue than for many years."[88]

69. Sue Royston from Citizens Advice, who was seconded to the Unit for nine months to write a report on the complexity of the benefits system from the claimant's perspective, commented on the work done so far: "I think that there is enormous progress being made on simplification in some ways … [in particular] the change in capital rules on Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance".[89] However, she expressed concern about other elements of the Budget package, namely moving to fortnightly paydays (because of the impact on claimants' budgeting arrangements) and the changes to Attendance Allowance and Disability Allowance backdating.[90] Steve Devereux of Jobcentre Plus, and Jobcentre Plus staff we met in Doncaster, particularly welcomed the final earnings measure.[91]


70. Following on from her comment about "enormous progress", Sue Royston added:

"If you are looking at the mountain they have to climb, then they have not got up the mountain by any means! I do think that alignment is important; but, in terms of the overall system, I do not think that they are anywhere near there yet." [92]

71. Fran Bennett, of the University of Oxford, questioned the ability of the BSU to have significant influence, commenting that "policy simplification probably has to be done at a different level from the Simplification Unit."[93] This was echoed by Anna Pearson from Help the Aged:

"I think it is profoundly disappointing actually. It has been nibbling at the edges. The Unit has no teeth and because it was not allowed to look at things properly and actually tasked with looking at, say, the Disability and Carers Service, doing recommendations, it has had limited strength". [94]

And Janet Allbeson from One Parent Families:

"I think the Simplification Unit has barely scratched the surface, to really bear down on an analysis of the system from the claimant's perspective and to then feed that back into what would work, what changes are needed, and a more incremental process." [95]


72. The DWP's memorandum concedes that "we know that more needs to be done in the medium and long term."[96] Sue Royston described the fact that the Department operated in silos as making the process of simplification much more difficult:

"the expertise in the Department is very much in the separate benefits and, if they are going to simplify the system, there needs to be more expertise that is spread across the system."[97]

She added that the Unit was "hidebound by the fact that they are working with people who are working in individual benefits,"[98] and continued that this lack of holistic thinking also existed across government departments:

"There are even fewer people who are aware of all the benefits the customer is looking at - Tax Credits, health costs, free school meals etc. Once you get cross-departments, there is even less expertise within DWP about those separate units." [99]

73. These points about co-ordination were echoed by Paul Treloar of Disability Alliance, who spoke about the "absence of any high-level strategy"[100], PCS, who argued for a "root and branch review"[101] and Janet Allbeson of One Parent Families, who described the challenge facing the Government:

"One of the things that is very rarely done is to think really comprehensively both on a policy level right through to implementation level about the interactions between all of this. … It is very complicated; it is like three-dimensional chess and at the moment just within the Department. But it is not just the Department; it is HMRC as well, and Child Support - where big IT systems are being developed, lots of people are developing very grand ideas, but there is no attempt to really engage with this very complex bit. It is the policy level, but it is also right down to delivery."[102]

74. One Parent Families urged the Department "to 'map' on an ongoing basis the problems to which complexities give rise and why they occur."[103]

75. We were also interested to note that while the Simplification Guide does mention holding regular "spring cleans .. if particular policy rules or business processes no longer make sense, get rid of them" this is only to be done "if resources permit" - the only time this caveat is applied.[104] Community Links picked up this point, commenting that the BSU had:

"a remit for only looking at simplifying current or future benefits legislation, rather than the mountain of rules and regulations which have built up over the previous 60 years and cause the bulk of complexity."[105]

76. The Minister defended what the Unit had achieved, rejecting the notion that it had no teeth.[106] He described many of the recent incremental changes as being due to "the outcome, the consequence, of having the Simplification Unit in the Department",[107] and drew attention to the fact that it had blocked over 30 measures which would have introduced additional complexity.[108] He added:

"I would not describe what we are doing as 'tinkering' and I would not say that we are without an overall vision … We are retooling the merry-go-round while it is going round and round and we cannot stop it, and we should not, because that would not help our customers … I think, if you track back and say, 'Well, how are we getting on?' and you look back five, ten, 15 years in the system, it is transformed radically from where it was, all that length of time ago." [109]

77. He outlined the objective of achieving a "coherent family of benefits".[110] When asked for an overall goal, or an over-arching strategy or vision, he replied "I am not sure that we are going to reach the end of the journey because I think it is ongoing."[111] And when asked for a sketch of where the DWP was heading he said "I think we have done that."[112] He concluded:

"I am not saying anything which has not been said before by Ministers in the Department and I think it has been said repeatedly. We said things like this when we issued the Welfare Reform Green Paper; two years ago now, I think, we said this. We will be following that up in our response to the Freud review shortly; we will be building on what we said in the Green Paper in that respect. We have said these things, I have said them, we publish them, and I think, if you look at all of them together, you can see a view of what we think constitutes achieving more simplification and less complexity in this benefits system." [113]

78. We, however, saw evidence of a lack of joined-up thinking across DWP in the fact that different DWP Ministers were responsible for the intertwined aspects of better regulation, benefits simplification and welfare reform. When we raised this specific point with the Minister he told us that "all of us are simplification Ministers, in that sense, and we are all committed to trying to achieve simplification."[114]

79. We conclude that there is a lack of vision and drive within DWP and across Government to simplify the benefits system, and we share the reservations of a number of witnesses about what the Benefit Simplification Unit can achieve under its current structure. We commend the role it is playing preventing further complexity being introduced into the system, but this is a very long way from having a plan to systematically introduce simplification, and from the DWP Permanent Secretary's "very clear simplification ambition." The fact that the BSU's Simplification Guide imposes a unique condition, "if resources permit", on "spring cleans" of particular rules or processes is disappointing, but indicative.

80. Our predecessor Committee recommended in 2004 that "the Department establishes a high level working group chaired by Ministers, comprising IT suppliers, social policy experts and other relevant parties, including representatives of client groups and front-line staff, to make recommendations on how policies can be simplified." We believe that this recommendation retains considerable merit.


81. We also have concerns, which we raised with the Minister, about the fact that the BSU's activity seems to be squarely targeted at policy staff. The latest version of the Simplification Guide, for example, states:

"This guide is intended for anyone responsible for designing or implementing a change to the benefits system. It sets out the ways in which complexity can occur and provides advice on how to avoid them. Staff should refer to this guide as their first point of reference when considering any benefit changes and confirm that its advice has been followed when submitting a recommendation for change to Ministers." [115]

82. There is, therefore, something of a 'gap' between the Unit and operational staff. During the Committee's evidence session in Leeds, the Committee asked Steve Devereux, Manager of a Jobcentre Plus Benefits Delivery Centre, how much he knew about the work of the BSU. He replied "You asked me how aware I am. I am aware that they have a website. I have read their guide which was produced last year, the latest version of it, and from within my own Benefit Delivery Centre we have made a submission and one of the areas that the submission contained was around final wages, which was announced in the Budget as a change".[116]

83. However, when asked about the potential to influence changes aimed at simplification on a day to day basis, while Mr Devereux commended his Director as "very accommodating and … actively looking for areas we should be challenging"[117] he was generally less optimistic:

"John Penrose: And when you escalate something how difficult is it to get an approval [on making operational changes to aid simplification] either within a short amount of time or ever?

Mr Devereux: I think we are probably talking here about ever rather than a short amount of time."[118]

84. We questioned the Minister and Brendan O'Gorman, Director of the Benefit Reform Division, DWP, and Head of the BSU about this, and the Minister was confident that staff did "have the opportunity to input".[119] He added:

"there is an intranet, which any member of staff in the Department can access. It takes about 2,000 hits a month from staff, which suggests that there is pretty wide awareness of it, and at certain points, I think when we issued the Simplification Guide, which got substantial publicity within the Department, the number of hits in that month rocketed, way up." [120]

85. When asked how many ideas had come from staff, Brendan O'Gorman replied "You will appreciate that sometimes the same idea comes forward from a number of people, that the same area is touched on, but I would think that currently we are logging over 300 ideas areas which have potential for simplification."[121] He added:

"I am not too worried that not every member of staff in the huge organisations that we have knows about the Benefit Simplification Unit … I am confident that all the agencies which operate on benefits know us very well, I am confident that we work very closely with them and also we get out and about and talk to staff in the field. If we organise a workshop for 40 people, drawn from various regions and Jobcentre Plus, perhaps some of those 40 people have friends who know about this, they are representative, they will give us the daily problems and ideas which they are encountering, and I am pretty confident that we are getting quite a good feel from the field of where the shoe is pinching." [122]

86. Engaging the expertise of front-line staff should be a high priority for the Benefit Simplification Unit. There needs to be a proactive policy of gathering ideas and then acting on them to change processes.


87. The DWP's memorandum explained that three pilot projects to investigate ways in which the processes for applying for and receiving benefits could be improved were underway, known as the 'Lean Pathfinders':

"Three Pathfinders have been identified to test out a continuous improvement approach. The three Pathfinders, in order of implementation are:

  Carers Allowance Unit in Disability and Carers Service

  Jobcentre Plus North East, focusing on the Jobseeker's Allowance New Claims process

  Jobcentre Plus and Disability and Carers Service focusing on Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance claims."[123]

88. The Jobseeker's Allowance and Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance Pathfinders were expected to last up to 10 weeks and the Pathfinder phase for all three ended around April 2007.[124]

89. The DWP continued that "All three pathfinders have adopted a Lean approach and have used some of the Lean Tools. Lean is a management system used for years in manufacturing companies and also more recently in service companies and Government. It has three main components: lean processes, which are efficient and very customer focussed; a culture that puts customers first and encourages everyone to work continually to improve how we operate; and a management infrastructure that supports the Lean culture and processes."[125]

90. We were particularly interested in these projects and during our visit to Leeds we met with staff involved in all three Pathfinders, as well as those overseeing the programmes. DWP staff told us that as a result of the pilots improvements had been introduced which had cut processing times and made the flow of information more efficient. The evaluation report for the pathfinders for Carers Allowance, Jobseeker's Allowance and Incapacity Benefit/ Disability Living Allowance is due to be produced in July.[126]

91. We are impressed with what we heard in Leeds, and asked the Minister and Brendan O'Gorman how the lessons learned were being shared, and whether the projects would be extended nationwide. The Minister confirmed that the DWP was "looking to extend those principles … I think there is a lot of potential to deploy those techniques more widely across the system." [127] He added:

"the whole Lean process is designed to respond very much to what we get from customer feedback and from staff feedback and is designed to produce a process which is simpler to administer as well as easier for customers who are making the claims"..[128]

92. A supplementary memorandum from DWP gave further detail on the next stages of the Lean programme:[129]

"The next tranche of Continuous Improvement using Lean techniques are due to commence from July onwards and will cover the following subject areas and locations:

Social Fund - Chesterfield Benefit Delivery Centre

Change of Circumstances and Reviews and Triggers including links to Debt Management - Wrexham Benefit Delivery Centre

New Claims. A review of the end-to-end process for all new Jobseeker's Allowance, Incapacity Benefit and Income Support claims building on the Jobseeker's Allowance pathfinder experience in Newcastle

Work Focused Interviews/Fortnightly Job Reviews: London

Disability and Carers Service: Disability Living Allowance/Attendance Allowance Customer Acquisition - Cardiff Disability Benefit Centre

Disability and Carers Service: Disability Living Allowance/Attendance Allowance Managing through to outcomes - Disability Carers Processing Unit at Warbreck Hill, Blackpool."

93. However, when we asked to what extent Lean involved customers, we received an ambiguous answer:

"Customers are absolutely central to what the Department is doing. The Department has drawn on its extensive Customer Insight in developing its commitment to improving customer experience. The Department is putting its customers' needs at the very centre of what it does by using the experiences of customers and delivery staff to identify and test solutions and improvements."[130]

94. We welcome the DWP's decision to roll out the Lean Pathfinders more widely. We ask DWP to report progress to us, including how the emerging best practice from these Pathfinders will be rolled out nationwide, and how lessons will be learned across different benefits. We also ask DWP to consider greater formal claimant participation in these projects, for example through the work of Jobcentre Plus External Relations Managers and local liaison groups.


95. In its inquiry into Tackling the complexity of the benefits system, the Public Accounts Committee recommended that the Department developed a means of measuring levels of complexity:

"The Department is committed to reporting annually on progress in tackling complexity, but there are no ways of measuring it objectively […] The measure of complexity needs to be easy to understand, and it might take account of the length of regulations, and the extent to which regulation is connected to others." [131]

96. The Government's response was that "because of the difficulties with developing such a measure, the Department cannot commit at this stage to producing one by 2007, but undertakes to keep the Committee informed of developments with regard to this recommendation."[132]

97. Fran Bennett, University of Oxford, and Mike Brewer, Institute for Fiscal Studies, suggested that complexity and measures to simplify the benefit system should be assessed in terms of the 'costs of compliance' for claimants. While Fran Bennett conceded that "I am not suggesting that it is easy" she drew comparisons with the Regulatory Impact Assessments prepared for business, saying "the Government should have as much commitment towards doing that kind of calculation [as it does to doing RIAs]."[133]

98. When asked whether the Department was any closer to establishing a measure of complexity, the Minister replied "No",[134] continuing:[135]

"standing back and trying to do almost a sort of abstract definition of what complexity is, in itself is very, very complex and might not contribute anything to the process of achieving simplification."

99. However, a memorandum submitted by DWP stated that one of the Benefit Simplification Unit's priorities over the next year will be "to conclude the study of the scope for producing a complexity index."[136]

100. We ask the DWP to clarify whether it is planning to conclude its study of the scope for producing a complexity index. If so, the suggestions on measuring 'costs of compliance' made by Fran Bennett (University of Oxford) and Mike Brewer (Institute for Fiscal Studies) should be part of that study, if not, DWP should explain why. Our view is that, given the high levels of complexity and the limited progress made so far, running programmes to reduce complexity should be a higher priority for Government.


101. Although the Unit has produced two editions of its Simplification Guide (which is available on the DWP website) not all of its work is in the public domain.

102. Firstly, the DWP made the decision not to publish the report prepared by Sue Royston following her secondment to the BSU, although we received a copy of it for our use. Citizens Advice had told us that it looked "forward to the publication by DWP of this report and details of how the proposals contained in it are to be taken forward."[137]

103. The key recommendations of the Royston report included:

"A full benefit check to be offered to all customers when they apply for a benefit

"An improved application process putting people trained in benefits at the front of the process and combining the benefit check with the taking of the primary claims and the sharing of information with departments responsible for other identified claims

"An entitlement record for all customers … this would show all the benefits the customer has been awarded and the information … on which the awards are based

"A new application process for disability benefits for children to give greater clarity about entitlement

"Addressing the problems of "making work pay", including having one department responsible for helping with childcare costs; and ensuring that customers only have to report to one department regarding changes in circumstances

"Address problems caused to customers by interaction between benefits

"Align benefits where possible and implement other rule changes where complexity can't be masked."[138]

104. The Minister told us that the reason the paper had not been published was that it was an "internal document".[139] However, he stressed that he had "very much welcomed"[140] the report and added:

"A very large proportion of those recommendations I think you will find we will be taking up; work is in progress on some, and already some are relatively short-term things I think we can do, some are much longer term." [141]

105. We are surprised by the decision of DWP not to publish the report prepared by Sue Royston, who was seconded from Citizens Advice to the BSU for nine months, or even to place the report on its website, as this was an extensive piece of work which drew contributions from external organisations, involved liaison and the involvement of claimants and their advocates, and is likely to result, from the comments of the Minister, in some significant changes to the system. We ask DWP to reconsider this decision.

106. Secondly, the DWP's senior management team receive quarterly reports on changes to the benefits system and their effect on complexity.[142] We asked for an example of one of these, as we thought that it was important to see the level of detail they contained. We were told:

"These are internal reports which include details of work in progress and discussion of various options that would lead to advice to Ministers on the way forward. As such it would not be appropriate to share this with the Committee."[143]

107. Thirdly, John Robertshaw of Housing 21 noted that the Benefit Simplification Unit progress report was not widely available to all with an interest:

"Even though this report was released on 24 January 2007 it has only been deposited in the House of Commons Library and this means it is not available online and as the Library is not open to the public it is difficult and frustrating for the general public and advisers to ascertain exactly what progress has been made."[144]

We have published the progress report with the evidence we received for this inquiry.[145]

108. We were refused access to the quarterly reports on complexity that are given to the DWP management team. We are disappointed at the DWP's decision, and press again for these documents to be submitted to us for scrutiny, if necessary on a confidential basis. We also press the DWP to ensure that BSU progress reports are placed on its website, in order to give the Unit a higher external profile.


109. The DWP memorandum set out the changes it has been making to its business processes in the context of the efficiency savings programme:

"The Pensions Transformation Programme has fundamentally changed the claims process for State Pension and State Pension Credit. Applications for State Pension and State Pension Credit are much quicker and more straightforward, and as they can be made over the telephone, there is no need to sign a form; and for straightforward applications, customers are given their provisional State Pension and State Pension Credit entitlement at the end of the call … In addition, The Pension Service now has an integrated claims process for State Pension Credit, State Pension and Housing and Council Tax Benefit.[146]

"In September 2004 [Jobcentre Plus] benefit processing took place in approximately 650 sites. Since then the number of sites processing claims has reduced steadily as part of the rationalisation of our overall business and estate. By March 2008, benefit processing activities will have been centralised into 77 sites. The latest position is that over half the Benefit Delivery Centres [BDCs] will have gone-live by the end of April 2007. Jobcentre Plus business processes have been simplified with a single 0800 number to claim Jobseeker's Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Income Support. Customers will be able to make their benefit claim in a single telephone call rather than in two calls previously.[147]

"Disability and Carers Service continues to meet all of its benefit targets; there is a greater consistency in decision making, fewer cases are going to appeal and fewer are being overturned. It is investing in its staff through the Professionalism in Decision Making and Appeals programme. This programme of learning and development for decision makers is enhancing skills with the result being accreditation for decision makers by an external academic body. This is a trailblazing project within government and is attracting interest across Whitehall."[148]

110. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) stated that it "welcomes any new policy that will improve the service that our members are able to provide for benefit claimants. Simplifying the benefit system should be one such policy. However, we are concerned that the motive behind this initiative may be finding financial savings in both benefit expenditure and administration, rather than improving the benefits system for citizens."[149]

111. It suggested that the DWP's approach to simplification had had negative consequences in terms of the delivery of accessible customer services, particularly in rural areas, again linking this clearly to the efficiency agenda:

"The consequences of this drive to reduce staff, estate and costs in DWP are affecting DWP customers too. The closure of rural Jobcentres may make for a simpler and cheaper system but it ignores the extra cost for the customer forced to travel further to sign on and meet their advisers." [150]

112. Concerns about the efficiency savings programme were also raised by the Child Poverty Action Group.[151]

113. When we questioned the Minister about whether the efficiency programme had affected error rates he said that he did "not accept the premise of what has been put to you and I do not think the evidence bears it out either."[152]

114. As part of our wider scrutiny work we examine the performance of DWP and its Agencies, for example we have produced reports on The Efficiency Savings Programme in Jobcentre Plus[153] and the Social Fund[154] (which included consideration of the new Jobcentre Plus Standard Operating Model). We took evidence from the Chief Executive of the Pension Service in June[155] and will be taking evidence from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the Departmental Annual Report in July. We do not, therefore, intend to go into these issues separately here, apart from one general point, which is that we agree with Fran Bennett's comment:

"one thing we have not perhaps focused enough on in that area of incremental changes is just bad administration. In fact that sometimes it is not so much complexity as actually bad administration and mistakes in administration." [156]

115. We heard from a number of claimants that they were finding it difficult to contact the new Jobcentre Plus Benefit Delivery Centres, as described by Sue Royston:

"I saw a client. We had identified that she had not got a Sure Start maternity grant, and you only have three months after the birth to get the application in and she was only left with 10 days. She completed the form for the health visitor, she sent it into the Jobcentre, the Jobcentre then sent it off. She contacted the Jobcentre, the Jobcentre could not trace it and could not get in touch with, they had no way of getting through to, the Social Fund. They must have had a phone line, but they could not get through. In the end, I contacted them. They got in touch with somebody else in a different office. They tried to get through, could not get through and when they did couldn't locate the form. The advice in the end from Jobcentre Plus was for her to complete a new form in case it had got lost. So she had to go back to the health visitor and get it signed all over again, she had to complete the whole form again. Jobcentre Plus gave me a fax number and advised 'Fax it off and ask them to e-mail you back and tell you that they have received it.' Again, they did not. Eventually, the client just rang me and said, 'Well, it has come', but it seemed that nobody within the system could talk to the Social Fund either. It was not just that the claimant could not; it was not just that we could not; they did not seem to be able to talk them either." [157]

116. And Gary Vaux from the Hertfordshire County Council Money Advice Unit:

"Client, on income-based JSA, looking for work when his elderly mother's health deteriorated to the extent that he had full time caring responsibilities. He was advised to claim Income Support and Carers Allowance via the Jobcentre Plus contact centre. Once he did this, his JSA immediately stopped. Client was left without money for two months due to backlog at processing centre and was extremely frustrated due to difficulties trying to get through to the Benefit Delivery Centre (BDC) to find out what had gone wrong. Situation only finally resolved with assistance from a welfare rights adviser with direct access to BDC and knowledge of the need to liaise between three benefit departments."[158]

117. Brendan O'Gorman conceded that there had been some "teething problems" with the new BDCs but added:

"Jobcentre Plus is aware that we need to do better in terms of allowing people to get in touch with the folk who are actually taking decisions on their benefit, and that is an aspect which is being looked at and will be improved." [159]

118. As part of this inquiry we met a series of claimants and even Jobcentre Plus staff who found it impossible to get through to the new Jobcentre Plus Benefit Delivery Centres. Unlike calls to Contact Centres these calls are charged at 0845 rates and are not free. Coupled with delays in the system, this has resulted in hardship and distress for many vulnerable people. DWP should take action to resolve these problems immediately.

70   Committee of Public Accounts, Thirty-sixth Report of Session 2005-06, Tackling the complexity of the benefits system HC 765, Q 18 Back

71   As above, Q 30 Back

72   As above, Q 112 Back

73   Oral Evidence taken by the Work and Pensions Committee on 23 November 2005, HC 615, Q 5 Back

74   Q 286 Back

75   Q 327 Back

76   National Audit Office, DWP: Dealing with the complexity of the benefits system, HC (2005-06) 592, Executive Summary, para 5 Back

77   Committee of Public Accounts, Thirty-sixth Report of Session 2005-06, Tackling the complexity of the benefits system, HC 765, Q 5 Back

78   HC Deb, 5 June 2006, col 1W Back

79   Ev 239. The memorandum adds "The five staff mentioned in the June 2006 PQ included the secondee from Citizens Advice." Back

80   Oral Evidence taken by the Work and Pensions Committee, The Department's Autumn Performance Report 2005, HC 895, Q 54 Back

81   Q 265 Back

82   Ev 111, para 4.3 Back

83   Ev 111, para 4.3 Back

84   DWP, Simplification Guide to Best practice, Benefit Simplification Unit, Revised Edition, May 2007, foreword Back

85   Ev 160, para 3.1.3 Back

86   Ev 169, para 2 Back

87   Ev 124 Back

88   Ev 108, paras 5 and 6 Back

89   Q 9 Back

90   Q 17 Back

91   Q 232 Back

92   Q 17 Back

93   Q 13 Back

94   Q 109 Back

95   Q 138 Back

96   Ev 108, para 7 Back

97   Q 9 Back

98   Q 13 Back

99   Q 12 Back

100   Q 107 Back

101   Q 270 Back

102   Q 137 Back

103   Ev 142, para 24 Back

104   DWP, Simplification Guide to Best practice, Benefit Simplification Unit, Revised Edition, May 2007, p 9 Back

105   Ev 201, para 3 Back

106   Q 288 Back

107   Q 289 Back

108   Q 288 Back

109   Q 371 Back

110   Q 306 Back

111   Q 304 Back

112   Q 305 Back

113   Q 308 Back

114   Q 302 Back

115   DWP, Simplification Guide to Best practice, Benefit Simplification Unit, Revised Edition, May 2007, p 3 Back

116   Q 232 Back

117   Q 231 Back

118   Q 256 Back

119   Q 290 Back

120   Q 290 Back

121   Q 292 Back

122   Q 292 Back

123   Ev 118, para 4.56 Back

124   Ev 118, para 4.56 Back

125   Ev 118, para 4.57 Back

126   Ev 232 Back

127   Q 365 Back

128   Q 366 Back

129   Ev 232 Back

130   Ev 232 Back

131   Committee of Public Accounts, Thirty-Sixth Report of Session 2005-06, Tackling the complexity of the benefits system, HC 765, recommendation 7 Back

132   HM Treasury, Treasury Minutes on the Thirty-fourth and Thirty-sixth to Thirty-ninth Reports from the Committee of Public Accounts 2005-06, June 2006, Cm 6863, para 17 Back

133   Q 4 Back

134   Q 298 Back

135   Q 299 Back

136   Ev 133 Back

137   Ev 211, para 6 Back

138   Note by DWP: Extract from an internal paper on benefit simplification and the customer written by Sue Royston who was seconded to the Department's benefit simplification unit from the Citizens' Advice Bureaux (June 2006 to March 2007) to help give the Department a better perception of what the system feels like to customers at the front end. Sue was given a wide remit to consider all aspects of the system and put forward views. Back

139   Q 296 Back

140   Q 297 Back

141   Q 297 Back

142   Royston (2007) Benefits Simplification and the Customer, Independent report to DWP Back

143   Ev 134 Back

144   Ev 160, para 3.11 Back

145   Ev 126 Back

146   Ev 114, paras 4.24-4.25 Back

147   Ev 115, paras 4.35-4.36 Back

148   Ev 116, para 4.41 Back

149   Ev 166, para 3 Back

150   Ev 168, para 21 Back

151   Ev 199, para 59 Back

152   Q 352 Back

153   Second Report of Session 2005-06, HC 834 Back

154   Sixth Report of Session 2006-07, HC 464 Back

155   Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence taken before the Work and Pensions Committee on 27 June 2007, HC (2006-07) 799 Back

156   Q 59 Back

157   Q 49 Back

158   Ev 105, para 5.1 Back

159   Q 356 Back

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