§ Miss Richardson
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what are the reasons for the delays in renewing family income supplement order books at the family income supplement centre at Poulton-le-Fylde; what have the longest and average periods of delay experienced by family income supplement recipients; what arrangements are being made for local payments; and whether he will make a statement.
§ Mrs. Chalker
The delays are due primarily to the substantial increase which the Government made in the qualifying income levels (the"prescribed amounts") for family income supplement (FIS) in November. The Government wanted to give extra help to working families with low incomes, including more help towards fuel bills, on top of the increases in the standard child benefit and the premium for lone parents—"child benefit increase" which is being renamed"one parent benefit". Half the families receiving FIS are one-parent families.
This, coupled with the success of our television and press advertising campaign, has led to a flood of FIS claims. Over 100,000 have been received since October. This is far more than in the same period in earlier 286W years—nearly 30,000 more than last year. The hon. Member will agree that this response to the Government's initiative is very pleasing. It has meant, however, that some people have had to wait longer for a decision. I hope that hon. Members will explain the reasons for the delays and convey our apologies to any constituents who have had to wait. The longest period of delay experienced by FIS recipients who provided all the information required when making their claims has been about seven weeks. The average has been about four weeks. Arrangements for local payment would not help. There is no delay in the FIS unit's payment mechanism. As soon as a FIS award has been made, an order book for current payments and a Giro cheque for any arrears are sent directly to the family.
We anticipated that we should get more FIS claims this year, but the numbers have exceeded all expectations. Additional staff were moved into the FIS unit from other parts of the North Fylde central offices from the beginning and the unit has been roughly a third above its normal strength for some time now. Other measures have been taken to ease the situation, and at the beginning of March the unit were dealing with claims made during the first two weeks in February. The unit hopes to be able to clear the backlog very shortly.