Memorandum submitted by

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (DM 17)



Submission to the Work and Pensions Select Committee's inquiry into "Decision making and appeals in the benefits system"


I am writing in response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee's inquiry into "Decision making and appeals in the benefit system".


As you will know, as Parliamentary Ombudsman I provide a service to the public by undertaking independent investigations into complaints that a wide range of public service bodies, including DWP and its agencies, have not acted properly or fairly, or have provided a poor service. I therefore welcome the opportunity to contribute to your inquiry.


My office has been investigating complaints about the benefit system for over 40 years and I base my submission on our experience of these complaints. In my submission I do not address directly the individual issues raised in the terms of reference of your inquiry. Instead I would like to bring to your attention two recent publications which provide an overview of my Office's engagement with DWP and its agencies and the lessons to be learnt from that work.


Every complaint matters, my Office's Annual Report for 2008-09, outlines key statistics on the number of complaints we receive and accept about DWP and its agencies. With 2,692 new complaints in 2008-09, equivalent to 34 per cent of the total number of new complaints received (excluding complaints about NHS bodies), DWP and its agencies are the biggest originator of complaints to my Office. This is not surprising given the size and nature of DWP's business.


It is due to this large number of complaints about DWP and its agencies that we decided to publish a case digest in March this year. Putting things right: complaints and learning from DWP outlines cases that have been selected because they illustrate the wide variety of complaints and complainants, and the often serious results, when DWP and its agencies get things wrong. The case digest outlines five themes flowing from these cases:


(1) poor information provision;

(2) delay;

(3) poor record keeping;

(4) falling between the gaps; and

(5) poor complaint handling.

One of the key conclusions of the digest is that many of the complaints my Office received could have been resolved much sooner and by DWP themselves, if the complaint handling had been more customer focused.


The digest includes a number of cases which I would like to bring to your attention. The cases of Mrs U, Mr G, Mr L and Miss F seem particularly relevant to your inquiry, although others may well speak to the issues with which the inquiry is concerned.


I hope you find my comments and the enclosed publications useful. If I can assist you further either in connection with this particular inquiry or more generally in connection with the work of the Committee, please do let me know.


Ann Abraham

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman


10 September 2009




Every complaint matters: Annual Report 2008-09


Putting things right: complaints and learning from DWP


(Not printed)