HC Deb 16 February 1982 vol 18 cc141-2
Q2. Mr. R. C.Mitchell

asked the Prime Minister whether she is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Department of Employment and Department of Health and Social Security with regard to the prompt payment of unemployment and supplementary benefits.

The Prime Minister

In general, I am satisfied with the co-ordination between the Department of Employment and the Department of Health and Social Security on the payment of benefits to unemployed people. Following the comprehensive Rayner scrutiny of the system last year, further improvements are being introduced and other possibilities are under consideration.

Mr. Mitchell

Is the Prime Minister aware that Members of Parliament are receiving more and more complaints about delays in paying supplementary and unemployment benefits, which is causing considerable hardship to a large number of people? Is she aware that many local DHSS offices are now unable to cope with the increased demand caused by the Government's economic policies? Will she either authorise an increase in staff or introduce a simplified procedure for claiming benefits?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have been trying to introduce a simplified procedure for the very reasons that he has stated. Staffing levels are reviewed so that they bear a direct relation to the increased load placed on local offices. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has found difficulty. There has been some difficulty due to the bad weather and the rail strikes and some letters and forms have not been received. If the hon. Gentleman has any particular cases in mind, we shall gladly look into them, because we are anxious that benefits should be paid promptly and on time.

Mr. Best

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Girocheques are dispatched deliberately to avoid the weekend so that claimants do not have the difficulty of being without payments over the weekend?

Mr. McNamara


Mr. Best

Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that during the recent rail dispute Girocheques have been despatched a day earlier to ensure that there is no difficulty? Is my right hon. Friend aware that my recent letter to the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), was the only communication that she had received complaining about delays in the payment of Girocheques?

The Prime Minister

We have not received many complaints about the payment of Girocheques. I confirm what my hon. Friend says. The offices strain to see that claimants receive a good and prompt service.

Mr. Freeson

How can the service be improved or even maintained when the work load per staff member is increasing significantly? Is the right hon. Lady aware that Ministers' answers to questions that I have tabled recently on this matter suggest that the staff is inadequate in number and therefore overloaded? Does she therefore agree that people are not receiving the benefits to which they are due, that there are long queues and that there is a failure in co-ordination?

The Prime Minister

I do not believe that there is a failure in co-ordination. The staff in those offices work extremely hard. The staff levels are always under review in relation to work loads in local offices. Moreover, the supplementary benefits scheme has recently been the subject of a major review, the results of which are steadily being implemented.

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