§ 3.1 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What action they are taking to improve the processing of claims for disability living allowance.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)
My Lords, action by the Benefits Agency of the Department of Social Security has already significantly reduced the amount of work outstanding on disability living allowance. Steady progress towards achievement of national clearance times is being maintained.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Will he confirm that the Benefits Agency still intends to clear all outstanding cases under the disability living allowance adjudication procedures by the end of this month? Will he further undertake that thereafter sufficient staff will continue to be available to meet the Secretary of State's target to clear at least two out of every three cases within 30 days?
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, the Benefits Agency is confident of meeting its targets which, to give them precisely, are 60 per cent. within 30 days and 95 per cent. within 55 days. Certainly it has deployed a considerable number of extra staff, some 800 extra staff, to deal with this particular problem and has increased the amount of overtime being worked which, added to those 800 extra, allows for some 1,000 extra full-time staff equivalents being worked. But we will continue to keep matters under review and will continue to press that the right standards, the appropriate standards, are being met, so that disabled people receive the standard of service to which they are entitled.
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, will the noble Lord comment on reports that the extra staff to whom he refers have been drawn from other offices which deal with the problems of other disabled people, and as a result we are simply transferring the backlog and adversely affecting the services of other disabled people?
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I start by repeating the apologies made by my right honourable friend the Minister of State in another place and on various other occasions, expressing his regret for the unacceptable delays that have resulted in processing claims for disability living allowances. As I said, we have transferred quite large numbers of staff from other parts of the Benefits Agency to deal with the problem. But I have to say that in virtually all other areas our targets are being met and we are not in fact transferring one problem from one area to another.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, we accept that the Benefits Agency has been overwhelmed, but am I not right in thinking that at the end of November more than half of all applicants were still waiting more than three months to be assessed; that when they were assessed, 77 per cent. of the agencies found a substantial number of clients were wrongly refused benefit; and that in 81 per cent. of the agencies the benefit awarded was too low? Is it not the case that, when the Benefits Agency has overcome the backlog of claims, it will face a huge backlog of appeals?
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, as I said, we hope in time to deal with the backlog of claims. Obviously, the backlog of appeals may take a little longer. But the important thing is to say that we believe that the Benefits Agency is on top of the problem and I should like to reiterate the apology made by my right honourable friend, both in another place and more recently in letters to Members of another place.