§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the average time taken to deal with an application for sickness benefit by residents in the United Kingdom who have paid contributions into the Portuguese scheme; what difficulties have been encountered in receiving information from the Portuguese authorities on request for confirmation of payments into these schemes; and how long the Portuguese authorities take to reply to such requests.
§ Mr. Scott
The administration of sickness benefit, including liaison with a country overseas in which a person has paid contributions, is a matter for Mr Michael Bichard, the chief executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to the hon. Member and a copy will be placed in the Library.
Letter from Michael Bichard to Mr. Mike O'Brien, dated 5 March 1993:As Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency, it is my responsibility to answer questions about relevant operational matters. I am therefore replying to the points raised in your recent Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Social Security asking what is the average time taken to deal with an application for sickness benefit by residents in the United Kingdom who have paid contributions into the Portuguese scheme; what difficulties have been encountered in receiving information from the Portuguese authorities on request for confirmation of payments into these schemes; and how long the Portuguese authorities take to reply to such requests.I should first of all explain that the European Community regulations on social security enable contributions paid in two or more Member States to be added together to assist in the satisfaction of the contribution conditions for Sickness Benefit. Generally, however, only one country actually pays the benefit and this is the country in which the person was lastly insured.Where a person is residing in the UK, any claim to Sickness Benefit will normally be made to the District Office of the Benefits Agency in the area in which that person is living. If the contribution conditions are not satisfied on the: UK National Insurance record alone, but the claimant has recently returned from abroad, the Agency's Overseas Branch will become involved.459WThe customer will be asked to provide details of employment and contributions abroad, and Overseas Branch will liaise, as necessary, with the foreign authority concerned. The actual procedures vary according to whether the person, before falling sick, had contributed to the UK scheme since their return to this country or whether they had been lastly insured abroad.Where the person was most recently insured in the UK, Overseas Branch will ask the foreign authority to provide a record of contributions to their scheme to see whether they can assist towards satisfaction of the UK contribution conditions for Sickness Benefit. In such cases it is impossible to say precisely how long it will take for any individual foreign authority to respond. This varies considerably from country to country and even from office to office within a particular country. It should be borne in mind that legal requirements and administrative practices often differ from our own. For example, records may not be held centrally, particularly if a person has been subject to legislation which provides for affiliation to an occupational scheme. In such instances retrieval of remote contribution records can take longer than centrally held information.Conversely, where a person was most recently insured in another European Community country, Overseas Branch does not need to obtain the foreign contribution record. They are responsible for obtaining all relevant information about the period abroad from the customer, all claim documents from the District Office and information about contributions paid to the UK scheme. The claim is then transferred to the other Member State concerned. It is for them to decide entitlement to Sickness Benefit under their scheme, taking into account any UK contributions as necessary. The foreign authority will notify the customer of their decision, and consider redress if the person is dissatisfied.With regard to the Portuguese authorities, we have not experienced any particular problems in our dealings with them. In keeping with many other foreign authorities response times for requests for their contribution records vary considerably from case to case. Because of such variations, it would be unrealistic, and indeed unfair, to attempt to give an average figure. Similarly, I am unable to comment on the time it takes for them to process a claim for which they are responsible for determining.I am sorry that I am unable to be more precise in my reply. However, every effort is made to clear cases involving foreign authorities as quickly as possible, and procedures are kept under constant review and improvements introduced wherever possible.