Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-40)|
KARAMJIT SINGH AND PAULINE ADEY
20 NOVEMBER 2010
Welcome to you both. Thank you very much for agreeing to come
and give evidence to us, and also for the note that you prepared
for us, which we found very useful. We hope we won't keep you
too long, because we will then have a session with the officials
at DWP, who are responsible for administering the scheme. We couldn't
resist the opportunity of trying to pick your brains and hear
a little bit from your experience. I want to ask you a very broad
question to start: from where you sit in considering the appeals,
what do you think works well with the scheme and what do you think
doesn't work so well?
Thank you for the invitation. We must remember that the scheme
has now been operating for some 22 years since the inception of
the Social Fund. What works well is that it is very accessible.
We are talking here of a group of people who are among the poorest
and most vulnerable in our society. In terms of people's ability
to seek redress fairly quickly, it's something that this scheme
was intended to do. The other interesting thing about this scheme
is that, according to our figures, something like 85% of the applications
that come to us are from people who are representing themselves.
Only 15% or so are represented by third parties. I think that
is something that works well. Perhaps it would be invidious of
me to compare us with other grievance mechanisms, but it seems
to me that we are very effective, certainly in terms of cost and
our ability to turn cases around. If you look at other grievance
mechanisms, their unit costs and the time they take are probably
What doesn't work so well? I've come into this
and had just under a year here. One of the things that struck
me when going round and talking to people externally, is that
there are obviously issues about the extent to which there is
awareness of the process. To some extent, I think one can understand
that, when you're talking about a group here who clearly are not
comfortable with navigating bureaucratic processes. The question
is how you ensure you have systems and decision making, which
are very clear and understood, so that people are aware of their
rights. The other issue, if you think about the State of the
Nation report, which was published earlier this year, is multiple
disadvantages. If you look at the client group, which comes through
this process, they very often have one or more of those disadvantages.
That raises questions of what kind of assistance some of those
individuals could get from other quarters. In the past, for example,
I have chaired a mental health trust and worked in local government.
There are questions here, particularly as we operate in a wider
context of pressures on public finances. One has to think about
whether some of that assistance could come from elsewhere.
To pursue you on that issue, you're saying that this is one of
a number of pots of money for people who are on the edge and in
dire need, and that we could be more efficient if we tried to
draw them together.
I'm not sure about pots of money, because I'm not qualified to
comment on that aspect. I read some of the cases regularly myself,
and it seems to me that you see, for example, occupational therapists,
social workers, GPs sending in notes, and support workers from
voluntary groups who are involved with those practices. It seems
to me there is an issue about whether one can actually make sure
that that kind of assistance is available. The other question
that arises here is whether the assistance of local charitable
foundationsthere are somecan be utilised. There
may well be other pots of money available, but we have to remember
that the social fund is unique in the sense that we are talking
here about oneoff grants. We are not talking about ongoing
money. These are oneoff grants to meet an emergency situation.
Very often it might be a question of someone coming out of care
or wanting to remain in the community. It may well be a question,
for example, of someone going into a new tenancy and an unfurnished
flat. It requires a fairly rapid decision and response.
If it was in your power to say that you'd change three things
about the scheme, what would your top priorities be?
That's an interesting question, and I hope you don't mind if I
just expand a little bit on that. We mustn't forget that this
scheme has a legal framework behind it. Therefore, that means
you must go through a series of steps. You must look at issues
like eligibility. You must look at whether the Secretary of State's
directions are met. You then have to look at issues like prioritising
in terms of the need, and then the question of resources. I think
that that certainly comes out in the report, which you've been
considering, and in the reports that the Public Accounts Committee
and also the Work and Pensions Committee have considered in the
past. I think there are a number of issues, which I would rate
firstly around the question of: how does one ensure there is awareness
among the underrepresented?
Is this particularly pensioners?
Pensioners and minority ethnic communities are two that are picked
up. Clearly, this is an ongoing saga; it is not new. Effective
targeting is one issue. Secondly, one should recognise that decision
making in the context of the social fund has been in the context
of a very large Department, the DWPI'm coming in very much
as a newcomer, who's dealt with many areas of the public sector
in the past but certainly not this onewhere there are a
lot of benefits. Therefore, there are questions about the expertise
that people need to develop, and training. I have to say that
I think that the Department, quite rightly from what I can see,
certainly over the last few months, has focused on training as
a priority in trying to deal with raising the quality of the decision
making. I think that's very important in terms of sensitising
Just expand on that a bit: where it's poor, what's wrong?
If you look at the Secretary of State's annual reports, and also
my annual report and that of my predecessors, there are what I
think are quite high proportions of cases, where the decision
is substituted at the internal review stage and then it's substituted
at the stage it comes to my office. In everyone's interest, we
would surely want the right decision first time in an ideal world,
while recognising that, if people have a grievance, clearly you
want to try to ensure that that is addressed as much as possible
internally, before it comes to us. You have an effective triage
system, if you like, with people thinking about eligibility.
The third area is somewhat sensitive, because it
has come up again in many reports and it's addressed in the most
recent NAO report. It is the question of the budgets. It seems
to me that one of the issues we have here is whether one continues
with a discretionary system of decision making, which is clearly
cash limited. This is the whole purpose behind the social fund.
If one is to continue with that, the question is whether it should
be reviewed at regular intervals in terms of looking at patterns
of applications from different parts of the country, for example?
I say "sensitive" because inevitably once you get into
that kind of process, some areas may gain and some may not be
beneficiaries. I certainly know that my predecessors have suggestedperhaps
it's a somewhat crude approach to start off withthat one
might want to look at the total amount of applications in any
given year, and divide the Community Care Grant sum by that, as
it were, so you have a fixed amount per application, and you allocate
that to each of the 23 budget areas that currently exist. That
has certainly been put forward. It seems to me that that might
be one way of at least trying to put a transparent formula on
There are two aspects that I want to very quickly
describe on this. We have held a series of seminars with external
groupswe are unable to do so at present, but we have done
so in the past. We have tried to ensure that welfare rights advisers
and other groups dealing with applicants actually understand how
the directions and the decisionmaking process work, so that
they can put in focused applications. That's what the purpose
of that is. It's quite interesting how, every time, the refrain
that seems to come up is that people assume or say, "Well,
if we were in a different part of the countrywe know this
because we talk to other welfare rights groupswe think
our opportunity of getting a successful application through would
be much greater." In a discretionary system, and in a system
whereby you have a process that is about the concept of each individual
case being unique, and therefore you must go through this thinking
process of looking at those needs, the need to promote confidence
in it is important and to ensure that people feel there is at
least some kind of process, which is responsive to what's going
That leads me to my final point. If the social fund
is to continueand of course there is a wider framework
of welfare reform and qualifying benefits; if they change, there
may be issues about the social fund, and we're not here to talk
about policyone of the key things is how one promotes confidence
in the social fund's operation, so that people feel there is equity
of treatment. I'm sorry it's been a long answer.
No, that's very interesting. Does Pauline Adey want to add anything
to those initial observations?
Pauline Adey: In
relation to the budget inequities that the Commissioner raised,
of course, we see the whole of England, Scotland and Wales from
our operation in Birmingham. At the moment, we have a situation
whereby seven budget areas can meet only the most compelling high
priorities at the lowest prices. We have three other areas that
can meet all high priorities at the lowest prices, another seven
areas that can meet all high priorities at lower prices, and six
further areas where all high priorities with no restrictions can
be met. Where you live can make a difference. The Decision Makers
in those areas have to have regard to that budget. They can't
say, "Well, my neighbour has more money so I can pay this
Do you get more appeals from areas that have less money?
Pauline Adey: We
get high activity from those areas, yes.
Could you actually correlate the level of appeals to the level
Pauline Adey: To
some extent, because more people in those areas where the money
is tight can be completely refused or limited in what they can
have, either in the number of items they can have, or the amounts
they can have for those items.
Q9 Chair: When
you consider an appeal, do you have to have regard to the budget
that is available in that area?
Pauline Adey: Exactly.
The appeals mechanism does too?
Pauline Adey: Yes.
Q11 Austin Mitchell:
Just to follow up on that, without going to your list, which I'd
like to do later. Your predecessor in 2008-09 mentioned the issue
of distribution of a grant budget. Now, presumably it's distributed
on the basis of historic need. I just wonder which areas need
more funding and, before you answer that, can I just tell you,
you spell Grimsby, G-r-i-m-s-b-y?
When I talked a little bit about sensitivities, I think one of
the issues, inevitably, is that, if I may say so, you and your
colleagues quite naturally will be concerned about the local communities
that you represent. That's clearly a very important factor.
However, if you have a cashlimited scheme, should the process
of allocating the different budgets be done transparently, so
that people understand the criterianot only the people
administering the system and people like yourselves, who may well
be interested because of your constituents, but also the people
who are likely to apply and the people who may actually represent
them? I hope that the answer to that is yes. On historic need,
the context surely isto bring it back to the wider contextthat
we are in a changing society. Let me give you one example.
From some of the cases I read, one sees people who
are refugees and asylum seekers receiving the right to remain.
You see applications from support workers trying to move them
on into the context of supported accommodation. You might take
the view that that is clearly an aspect of our changing society,
certainly over the last few years. The question is that, if they
meet the eligibility criteriaand I'm assuming they meet
the eligibility criteria and then the qualification criteria,
i.e. Direction 4 of the Secretary of State's directionsthere
may be particular communities where that change is occurring.
In the same way, if we think of pensioners, the demography of
certain communities surely changes over time.
Q12 Austin Mitchell:
It could be that this recession has a different impact and in
different areas to the last. There's a need to keep constantly
revising these allocations.
May I come back on that? I had thought about that. It's interesting
that, if we look at the last three years, there were 543,000 applications
in 200708 for Community Care Grants. There were 588,000
the year after, and 640,000 in the year after that, in 2010.
That reflects through, both in terms of those going through the
internal review processthe increases are thereand
also in terms of the numbers coming to us. They've gone from
17,000 in 200708, up to 29,500. Why is that happening?
That's against a context of no increase in the funding during
that period. Clearly, an increased number of people are on the
qualifying benefits. That may well be linked to the recession.
The increased numbers coming through the system surely must raise
the question of whether one ought to have a mechanism that looks
at redistribution, perhaps on a more regular basis.
Were you saying that you thought it was wrong that asylum seekers
should access this money?
I'm sorry, no, I wasn't saying that at all. What I was saying
was that we have people who apply for that funding, but they can
apply only once they have status to remain in the country. The
point I'm making is that here is a relatively new group of claimants
who are emerging. I gave that as an example in terms of changing
Q14 Nick Smith:
Mr Singh, to answer the point you make, this Committee and the
NAO love data. If you have any further information about regional
breakdowns, criteria for decision making and different client
groups, we'd love to see it, because it would help our reports
and consideration of them. Please give us more information.
I did try to see where the money was distributed across the country
by region, but I couldn't see it in the NAO report. If you have
that information for the future, it would be good to see which
money goes where, to which different client groups, please.
I was going to come back to your point, however,
about some groups that you say don't get a fair deal and don't
get a reasonable share of the money you disburse. You talked
in particular about pensioners and sometimes BME groups. It occurred
to me that pensioners might not come to you for this sort of grant,
if it's primarily distributed through Jobcentres. There's a whole
thing about client groups and access to Decision Makers, which
perhaps needs to be borne in mind for the future. I'm less sure
about BME groups but, if we had information about need, perhaps
that would allow us to think about the structures for distributing
I think the broader point I was making there was that, when you
have something like the social fund, which is there clearly to
assist poor and vulnerable communitiesI remember reading
one report that talked about one in four households having no
savings and about one in five having very low levels of income;
I'm assuming, therefore, that there are groups, such as pensioners
and BME communities, which may be overrepresentedit seems
to me that you have to look beyond the statistics and really ask
yourself why people are not applying. The current figures, in
the Secretary of State's report, seem to be that about 9% to 10%
of the applicants tend to be pensioners.
There are two very interesting pieces of work. There
was a piece of work undertaken in Gateshead in 2007, before I
was appointed, where we did a collaborative partnership with the
DWP, Jobcentre Plus and local community groups, which really tried
to focus on raising knowledge and awareness of the social fund.
It actually increased the number of applications, but one of
the things it did raise, therefore, was how people learn about
this. Clearly there is the question: if you're receiving a pension,
why would you think of going to a Jobcentre in order to find out
about the social fund? There are issues of how one makes groups
like that aware. There was also a very interesting piece of research
that Bristol University did some years ago, where they asked pensioners
about their views on applying for the social fund, and issues
arose such as their reluctancetheir perception, for example,
that they're entitled to a pension but didn't feel that they ought
to apply for these one-off grants. There was this concern that
there were also psychological inhibitions around people's perceptions
of applying for the social fund.
Q15 Mrs McGuire:
I think that the phrase that you used was, "There was an
assumption about pensioners." Can I ask why you think that
pensioners actually need to have more access to the social fund
than other groups in society, given that the last statistic that
I saw indicated that pensioners were no more likely to be poor
than other groups in society? I'm interested in why we focus
on pensioners, when that may not actually be the reality. I'm
being a bit of a devil's advocate here, because I don't want all
the pensioners' groups to write to me, but I just think I need
to unpick that a wee bit.
Can I make two points on that? One of the reasons why I focused
on pensioners in this session is because the NAO report talks
about it. My understanding was that you were interested in the
themes arising in the report and that's why I focused on it.
Also, when I started doing some research on it, it seemed to be
a recurrent theme. That's one of the reasons why I've raised
Mrs McGuire: I will ask
the NAO people afterwards, then.
One of the other issues is that there are also obviously other
groups. You're right; there are other groups. I think the State
of the Nation report makes it clear, for example, that lone parents
with children also have a very high association with various degrees
of disadvantage. We can see that in terms of the applications
that come through to us through the review process. I certainly
wouldn't want to give you the impression, and I apologise if I
have, that actually I'm singling out just this group and excluding
others, but I'm just giving that as an example.
The other issue is we have to think in terms of the
demographics. We are an ageing society. I don't have the economic
data to hand, and it may well be that pensioners as a group are
perhaps relatively more affluent than the population as a whole.
I don't have that information to hand. I think one of the issues,
which the Gateshead work shows, is that there appears to be certainly
a gap there.
There are two broader questions that come out of
this, and they come of any casework allocation process. The first
is: are all the people who are eligible applying? Quite rightly,
that's one of the issues that's raised in the NAO report because,
if you're talking about value for money and making that money
most effective, that's important. The other question is the triage
issue, which is perhaps more of a process question. The question
is: do you actually have applications coming through the process
that really stand very little chance? If I may whet your appetite
with another statistic, if you look at the Secretary of State's
last report, it tells you that 68% of the pensioners who applied
to the social fund were excluded because they did not meet the
direction. Interestingly, it also tells you that, if you look
at the unemployed who applied, 92% of them were excluded because
they did not meet the Secretary of State's direction. There are
issues here about the applications that are being made and the
extent of information or lack of it that people have about the
criteria in the social fund.
Q16 Mrs McGuire:
There is obviously an interest in raising awareness, but do you
have any feel for how many of the applicants who are currently
turned down meet the eligibility criteria, and are really being
refused on the basis of a judgment by a Decision Maker? In other
words, when you go through the objective assessment, they tick
all the boxes, but those who meet the criteria still have to be
judged by an individual person making a judgment. Do you have
any feel for how many? The reason I'm asking the question is
I'm wondering whether we will create a demand that we cannot meet
by raising awareness, which I think most of us would like to see
May I come back at it on the basis of our casework experience,
and how we are required to operate? We are required to operate
a process that looks at, first, whether individuals have a qualifying
benefit. Then it looks at eligibility and the qualifying process,
which is really a question of: assuming people have the appropriate
benefit, do they meet what is basically set out in Direction 4?
In other words, is this an application from someone who is in
care, is this an application from someone who is committing
I think Anne is asking a pretty simple question. If we raise
awareness, are we going to run out of money?
Mrs McGuire: Are we going
to run out of money sooner than we run out of money at the moment?
A significant number of the hundreds of thousands who do not
receive any help from the fund must qualify in that objective-assessment,
boxticking exercise, as you've already indicated, but there
comes a point when an individual Decision Maker has to balance
a budget with the number of priority cases he or she has in front
Forgive me. One of the reasons why I was trying to go through
the process was, first, to say that this has to be an objective
process. It is governed by legal principles. If people apply
because they become more aware of it, the question, it seems to
me, that one might want to look at, is about the eligibility criteria
that are used. That's one issue. The other issue that one might
want to look at is the redistribution of the budget.
Around the country?
Pauline, would you like to add anything to that?
Pauline Adey: There
are a couple of questions I'd like to pick up on. One of the
reasons why the concern about pensioners arose in the first place
was that the Community Care Grant rules, the directions and the
delegated legislation, are about care in the community. Two key
elements of that are helping people come out of care, such as
hospitals, and helping them not to go into care, such as residential
care homes. It's about disabled, sick, frail and fragile people.
One can see that, as people age, that is a likely situation that
they will face. As a consequence, it seemed incongruous that only
9% of the money went to pensioners, when let's say almost 50%
went to families under exceptional pressure.
What would happen, if you raised awareness with pensioners
and made them have an informed awarenessnot just, "Look,
everyone can apply for this," but an informed awarenessis
that the money would be redistributed. That is true. Our experience
of pensioner cases is that a small amount of money can actually
make quite a big difference. To give you a very graphic example
of that, let us imagine someone elderly who has mobility problems
and has a threadbare carpet. You can replace it now and they
will be fine or you can wait until they break their hip and go
into hospital. For a few hundred pounds you can make quite a
lot of difference. Many of the young families, when they come
to the fund, tend to have bigger awards. In a high proportion
of the cases we see, young families are looking to furnish a whole
house. A lot of money might go in furnishing a whole house; a
relatively small amount might help an elderly person to stay in
their home, even perhaps for a few months, but the overall cost
to the public purse is reduced, potentially, because of that.
This is where the concern came from initially.
Mrs McGuire: Thank you,
that was a very helpful full explanation.
Q20 Jackie Doyle-Price:
The NAO report suggests that, by shifting provision away from
cash grants to providing the goods directly against agreed lists,
we'd get the money to go further. What would be your attitude
Our view, and I made these comments earlier this year in my response
the Social Fund Reform Green Paper, is that we would support that.
It is about making the money go further. The other interesting
thing for us is that we have the feedback from voluntary sector
organisations and organisations that do casework, saying to us
that, yes, they think this is the way forward. Let's think about
individuals here. The point we are making is that, for some individuals,
there is the possibility that, if you give them a cash payment,
they will quite naturally want to make it go further. People
may have received a grant for a brand new item but they might,
for example, buy a secondhand item. We support the proposal
and we certainly know there are voluntary organisations out there
You don't want to go back to the old voucher system. This is
more the family fund scheme.
Q22 Joseph Johnson:
I just wanted to look at how you ration the resources in this
cashlimited scheme. I was very struck, looking at the pattern
of annual applications, that it doesn't seem to zoom up during
what was the worst recession in 70 years, nor does the number
of awards that you made after review. I wondered what the explanation
was for that, because I would expect more people to be seeking
these emergency payouts in such circumstances. Does that suggest
that there is rather a large number of people, a core group of
users of this scheme, who know how to work the system?
Can I take that last point first? If you look at page 16
of the NAO report, there is a graph that shows the number of applications
people make. One of the striking issues isthat was looking
at it over an eightyear periodthat it seemed to show
me that out of something like £800 million over a year,
off the top of my head, about 8% went to people who had applied
more than six or seven times. I'm not sure that that data there
actually support that particular point. I think the very important
point that you're raising is how we make these resources go much
further. Clearly there are issues here about the point that's
just been raised, in terms of using procurement processes that
can do that. On your point about linking it to the recession,
I said that applications over three years had gone from 543,000
to 640,000. That to me seemed a significant increase.
Q23 Joseph Johnson:
I was looking at the data of Community Care Grants awards. I
may have looked at the wrong figure. The peak of the boom, you
might say, was 200607, and figure 2 shows 312,000 grants
made after review, down to 293,000 in 200809. Maybe there's
some data I'm not looking at.
Phil Gibby: Can
I just chip in on that? I think that the Commissioner is actually
referring to the 200910 data, which are just now available.
If you look at the number of applications processed, we talk
about 582,000 in 200809. It's gone up to 640,000 for 200910.
There is an important thing that I think Jo is saying. If you
look at figure 4, on page 16, two thirds of people who make
only one application get only 41% of the money.
The point that you've raised is that there clearly are differences
in people's levels of awareness. One cannot discount word of
mouth; one cannot discount the fact that people don't understand
that this is a discretionary scheme, which is tailored to individual
circumstances. One can't discount the fact that people may well
be talking to each other and saying, "Well, I've applied
and I've got this grant," and someone's thinking, "Well,
this is the case." How do we know that? We know from some
of the discussions we've had with voluntary sector organisation
representatives, because some of them come along with some perceptions,
which are not clear, about how this scheme works.
Q25 Joseph Johnson:
You'd also know, presumably, from a geographical distribution
of where the claims are coming from.
Yes, certainly we're aware of those applicationsor the
DWP or the Jobcentre are. What we receive is the requests that
come through for an external review by us.
There are some concerns in the report about administrative error,
which is quantified, and fraud, which is not. Pauline, from your
day-to-day dealings, what are your views about all that and what
do you think could be done to improve that loss?
Pauline Adey: The
Inspector's review has two stages. The first stage is to see
whether the early decision was reached correctly in law. If it
isn't, an error is raised. That error isn't a nitpicking error;
it's a substantial error. A substantial number of the cases that
we see contain errors. That doesn't mean that every one of the
cases that we don't see has an error, because we see only the
ones that have come through two stages of review.
What proportion of errors?
Pauline Adey: It
does rather depend. The overall error rate is around 50% in the
Community Care Grants.
Fifty per cent.? Actual error, so their mistake about how they've
read this 32page document, is that right?
Pauline Adey: It's
not necessarily an error in how they've read the document and
the application form. It could be an error in interpreting the
law incorrectly. More commonly, the error is around not asking
the right questions of the applicant. That can mean that a genuine
need has gone unmet, or it could mean a potentially fraudulent
or chancy claim has not been addressed. It can fall both sides.
If someone makes a statement and it's not challenged and it should
have been, an award could possibly be made to someone who didn't,
based on the law, deserve that award. Equally, it could be that
a very needy case has been swept aside and refused. We're talking
about substantial errors. To put that in context, the Department
for Work and Pensions has put in place a Quality Assurance Framework,
which we assisted them with, which is very rigorous. Actually,
they are attempting to improve the standards of decision making,
but the two biggest errors we see are failure to ask the right
questions and papers that are missing. When the case comes to
us, and someone says, "I want a review," we can't get
all the papers, particularly the applicants' papers, from Jobcentre
Plus. Again, Jobcentre Plus is putting methods in place to improve
that, and I'm sure you will speak to them about it but, at the
current time, that is still a problem and has been a problem for
Pauline Adey: Our
approach on fraud is that, if one looks at the evidence and makes
sure that all the gaps are filled and that evidence is evaluated
correctly, it flushes out those cases that are overstated and
those that potentially have been understated. The National Audit
Office refers to some research done some years ago, when visits
were used. It found that some people had overstated their claims.
Chair: It found that 70%
Pauline Adey: It
also found that some people had understated.
Chair: Seven out of 10
Pauline Adey: We
think a lot of that is about getting the right evidence, asking
the right questions, probing when there's a probe to be made and
making sure that the facts are found correctly.
What would you change?
Pauline Adey: I
would say that it has to be a learning process and it isn't a
Q31 Mr Bacon:
How much do you think this is down to the judgment of the Decision
Maker, as to the bona fides of the person in front of them? How
much of it is stuff you can't easily put down in a rule book,
but is just in the tips of your fingers or in your nostrils?
You sometimes see in one's constituency surgery people who are
desperate and people who are trying it on. We're all familiar
with that. How much of all this is down to the Decision Maker's
feel for the job?
Pauline Adey: The
Decision Makers tend not to see the customer, so they're not looking
at the whites of their eyes, saying, "Are you telling the
truth?" They're going on paper, and generally on telephone
calls and written correspondence.
Q32 Mr Bacon:
The interlocutor who sees the customer is just a person in the
Jobcentre. Somebody sees them at some point?
Pauline Adey: No,
Mr Bacon: Not at all?
It's purely paperbased? There's no facetoface
Pauline Adey: I
wouldn't say there is no face-to-face, but there is very little
Can I just come back on that? The essence of this process is
that it's fundamentally, in terms of its conception, trying to
ensure you have a decisionmaking process which is very quickly
trying to deal with issues that have been raised in a way that's
proportionate to the resources that people are seeking. We receive
very few complaints about the application form, so that clearly
is a very good basis for the information that applicants can provide.
We also have to recognise that there are issues such as literacy,
skills, etc, in terms of people's ability to write things down.
Even though staff in the Jobcentre and, indeed, our inspectors,
can't see these people facetoface, they can clearly
pick the phone up, they can obviously contact individuals. The
point that Mrs Adey was making was that, assuming the correct
inquisitorial nonjudgmental approach is applied, there is
no reason why they shouldn't have sufficient information to make
an informed decision.
Q33 Mr Bacon:
Can you just clarify something, because I'm obviously missing
part of this? I understand that the Decision Makercapital
D, capital Mis operating a paperbased process. At
some point, referring to what Pauline Adey was saying earlier
about "failure to ask the right questions", there must
be somebody asking or failing to ask those questions. Who is
Pauline Adey: The
Mr Bacon: That is also
Pauline Adey: Yes.
Q34 Mr Bacon:
This accounts for it. This type of bottomend rockface
social security is absolutely essential and probably everybody
would approve of it as critical, but I can't understand why it
costs so much money. The thing that hit me between the eyes,
when I read this report, was £19 million out of £141
million. It does say it's only £33 per claim. To put it
another way, it's £57,000 per Decision Maker, which is a
lot of money. Any charity that was raising £141 million
and was spending £19 million of it on admin would be
taken to the cleaners and excoriated in the media and in Parliament.
Those costs, that £19 million, doesn't even include,
as it says in paragraph 11, the cost of processing payments.
It doesn't include the amortised IT costs; it doesn't include
all the overheads, such as senior management oversight. I would
be interested to know from the NAO, do you have a comprehensive
figure of the costs? If the £19 million isn't a comprehensive
figure, what is?
Phil Gibby: The
£19 million is based on the standard chargeout
rate plus an element for overheads of that grade or the different
grades of the staff involved. You multiply that to get to the
£19 million. On that basis, it has to be an approximation.
Q35 Mr Bacon:
Your basic problem, according to the report, is that you don't
knowyou don't monitorwhether you're targeting it
sufficiently. Your budget distribution process generates inequalities,
which you've referred to. There's very high admin error cost,
which you've referred to, and the grant funds awarded for frequentlyrequested
items are not consistent with the lowest prices. Your response
to all that is to say that it's in the nature of the discretionary
scheme that there'll be variations in the way judgments will be
exercised, of course, and that the alternative is to operate a
scheme on a rigid, uniform basis. Have you considered the possibility
that the alternative is to have much more discretion? It's in
the nature of a discretionary scheme, as you say, that it's going
to be like this. All administrative law works on the basis of
the polarities of rules and discretion. This is very much at
the discretion end of things. It's a drop in the ocean compared
with the total social security budget. Shouldn't you perhaps
be going on a much more discretionary basis, and having much greater
variation and being more flexible in how you do things, going
down a procurement route and getting more of the available money
to those who need it, rather than this enormous chunk of 20 million
quid that is being spent running what is really a very small scheme?
There are two issues there. I think you're talking about the
Jobcentre Plus cost, and I'm sure that those questions perhaps
ought to be directed elsewhere. I'm very happy to talk about
the costs of my organisation, which is an independent organisation.
Chair: That's not covered
by our session.
Right. Thank you.
Mr Bacon: I'm asking for
your opinions about that ratio, because it hits you between the
eyes as a problem.
I think it would be appropriate for me to speak about my costs,
rather than the Jobcentre Plus costs.
Chair: We'll have Austin
You did raise, if I may, an issue about discretion.
Chair: We are just running
a bit late, but go on.
Very quickly, in theory, I think the point you make is that the
Secretary of State has the power to vary the directions and the
guidance if he wishes. Therefore, if he wished to bring in a
new eligibility system, he could do so.
Q36 Austin Mitchell:
I see that, just following this point about the costs, in 200910,
you reviewed 25% of Community Care Grants compared with 17.5%
the year before, and identified important errors in 47% of the
Jobcentre Plus decisions. That's an incredible proportion, isn't
it? What's going on? Is the Jobcentre becoming more lax? Is
it making more mistakes? Are you becoming more vigilant? What's
First, a consistent theme has always been that, with a discretionary
based process, there is always this questionsome of you
already alluded to thisabout the quality of the decision
Austin Mitchell: I've
got discretion, but I don't make that many mistakes.
We've already alluded to the fact that a key factor is how you
use your inquisitorial approach. I'm very conscious that Jobcentre
Plus is bringing in a major change programme. I've had a series
of discussions. It's very clear to me that they have tried to
and they are trying to clearly look at not only the training and,
as Pauline Adey has mentioned, the QAF programme to assist in
the quality of their decision making, they're clearly concentrating
their decision making in various groups of people who are working
exclusively on the social fund, and they're clearly focusing on
certain sites. As Pauline has said, this is not a quick fix.
What one does look to, one should look to and one should expect
in the future is that actually more cases should be dealt with
correctly at the first point of contact.
Q37 Stella Creasy:
I have a question about the referral process. It seems to me,
if one of the challenges is inappropriate applications and your
data talk about customers being offered a crisis loan or other
forms of access to the social fund, what evidence do you have
of that actually happening? If people make an application that's
not eligible, what happens next and what evidence do you have
of tracking that to see how the process of dealing with some of
the applications is?
We see examples in our casework of reviews that have come all
the way through where, in some cases, people ought to have been
informed of the fact that there is another component to the social
fund, namely a crisis loan, which might have been appropriate.
There is an issue there of training individuals. Equally, on
the other hand, you see cases where people's attention has been
drawn to the fact they don't meet the eligibility for the Community
Care Grant. They're told "crisis loan", but then you
see them coming through to us and saying, "I don't want a
crisis loan; I want a Community Care Grant." In other words,
you've got issues around people's understanding. There is a question
there of making sure that the Decision Makers are fully cognisant
of the different components. Quite clearly, when they're taking
a decision, if they decide that something is not eligible in terms
of Community Care Grants, perhaps a crisis loan or a budgeting
loan might be appropriate.
Q38 Stella Creasy:
How do you suggest that happens?
I think that comes to the quality of training and investing in
the front-line Decision Makers. I think that certainly we have
no reason to take a view that that isn't recognised, and a considerable
amount of resources is being put into that.
Q39 Stella Creasy:
That goes to Pauline's point, and I'd be interested in your views
on this, Pauline, if all the decision making is paper based and
there isn't interaction with the individual claimant. What we
are all concerned about is that people get the right assistance
and help that they are entitled to. The referral process seems
to be the nub of some of this. What would you say about where
that could happen in the future?
Pauline Adey: The
distinct rules that surround Community Care Grants and crisis
loans are very different. The Community Care Grant rules are
about promoting community care in very specific ways. Many people
who are in great need still don't meet those criteria, because
they are very specific. If they're in great need and they have
an emergency, those can automatically be considered for a crisis
loan. In many cases that we see, that has happened. We don't
see all the cases, so we don't know what happens on the front
line but, in many cases, that does happen. There is a specific
part of the law that enables that to happen. What it doesn't
allow is for a budgeting loan to be considered; that has to be
a separate application. If someone applies for a Community Care
Grant and they don't meet the criteria, automatically the Decision
Maker can consider that.
Q40 Stella Creasy:
They can't say, "Actually, you don't fit these criteria.
The most appropriate avenue for you to pursue would be a budgeting
Pauline Adey: They
can tell the individual. I don't know how often that happens.
That would be something for Jobcentre Plus to address. Certainly
in my organisation that is what happens, but I can't speak for
Chair: We've overrun a
little bit. Thank you so much for giving us all that very helpful
evidence. I hope we can reflect some of the concerns that you've
expressed in our final recommendations in the report. Thank you
so much. We'll move now to hearing from Jobcentre Plus. Thank