Limitations of masking and shielding
257. In America it was made very clear to us that
"masking" or "shielding" claimants from complexity,
whether through advice, new IT systems, or reworded letters, has
its limitations. One of the experts we spoke to explained "It's
the rules, stupid"; saying that if the system was very complex,
even if some of this complexity could be masked, there would still
be problems with IT and for staff.
258. Christine Dawes of the Pension Service echoed
this when she gave evidence in Leeds:
"As much as we would like to make it [the process
for claimants] streamlined sometimes that is not possible because
of the complexities of some of the items that we need to get through
to [claimants]." 
259. Similar points were made by Steve Devereux from
"The complexities we can shield the customer
from to some degree but customers have the right to transparency
in the claim and if there are complications then we need to be
able to explain those." 
260. Dr Paul Dornan from CPAG agreed, noting that
"back-room complexity, if it is totally unmanageable, undoubtedly
creates front-room problems for people and for families".
Citizens Advice summed up the arguments very well:
"It is possible to argue that the system could
be as complicated as it wanted to be, provided it was administered
correctly, and that people using the system were not expected
to understand the system, and experienced it as simple in terms
of the outcomes for, and communications with, them. This view
however ignores the important role of advice and awareness of
benefit entitlement, and the need for a system that is capable
of being successfully administered."
261. We asked the Minister about what he thoughts
the limits of masking were, and he replied:
"you need to unbundle that concept of complexity
and, as I say, I think a priority for us is to see it from our
customers' point of view, but also I have been at pains to say
that we have no interest in having a benefits system which is
so complex that our staff cannot administer it."
must put the claimant at the heart of the simplification process,
and it is clear that there is much potential for improving the
customer experience - and internal DWP processes - without changing
the rules. We welcome the work done by DWP to date on this, particularly
the Lean Pathfinders. However, it is not enough to rely on 'masking'
complexity; there is a need to go further and address the rules
of the different benefits and the structure of the system itself.
We explore this in the later sections of this report.