HC Deb 15 April 1991 vol 189 c9
7. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the level of savings in costs and time brought about by computerisation within his Department.

Miss Widdecombe

The Department's operational strategy—the biggest and most ambitious computerisation programme in Europe—is proceeding as planned and should be fully implemented in July. Most local offices have already gone live and are providing a quicker, more accurate service. For example, the processing time for income support claims has reduced from 6.2 days to five days and for retirement pensions from 28.5 days to 20.3 days.

Mr. Coombs

Will my hon. Friend tell my constituents how they have benefited from the computerisation process by telling the House the degree to which the accuracy of income support claims has been improved since computerisation took place?

Miss Widdecombe

Swindon is already benefiting from the pension system, which is on line. It will shortly be benefiting also from the income support system. After those systems have been in place for some time, my hon. Friend will notice, as has been noticed in other constituencies, that there is a marked increase in speed and accuracy in responding to claims. My hon. Friend will be aware of the business plan recently published by the Benefits Agency and of the most impressive target for accuracy and speed contained therein.

Mrs. Fyfe

How can the Minister say that when we all have constituents who have waited weeks and even months after claiming benefits, only to receive them in the few weeks before the financial year ended, when officers were reconsidering their budgets? Would it not be more sensible to put the money into people's hands when they need it, not weeks and months later?

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Lady is describing a system that most of those who are already computerised and have been for some time would not recognise. Among the local offices that I have visited have been those which are now turning round pension claims in days rather than, as previously, in weeks. It is true, in the immediate aftermath of new systems being introduced, there is sometimes some backlog and delay. When that has been cleared, the uniform experience thereafter is greater speed in delivery of benefits.