HC Deb 30 November 1992 vol 215 cc2-3
2. Mrs. Helen Jackson

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will bring forward regulations to ensure that interest accrues on social security payments due to claimants that are delayed in the Benefits Agency.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Miss Ann Widdecombe)

The Secretary of State has no power under existing legislation to bring forward such regulations.

Mrs. Jackson

As the customers charter states that all citizens have the right to expect that their benefits will be processed efficiently, accurately and promptly, does the Minister think it right that my constituents should receive just sweet, apologetic phrases from Mr. Bichard of the Benefits Agency when benefit payments of more than £2,000 are outstanding? Is it right that they should receive no compensation? February of next year is coming up very quickly, which means that it will be a year since the new benefits came into force, but many people will still be left waiting after that year for payment. Does the Minister agree that claimants should be entitled, automatically, to receive compensation or interest accruing after the 30-day period that the Secretary of State set in that customers charter?

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Lady completely ignores the considerable measures that have been taken to speed up the payment of disability living allowance. I do not share her pessimistic view of the numbers that may be left at the end of the year. However, it is crucial not to presuppose that it is an ordinary standard, and therefore make arrangements for compensation, but to make all possible efforts to ensure that the system works. That is why we have drafted 800 additional staff and made 400 extra computer terminals available, which is a far better solution. I shall take no lectures from the Opposition, whose idea of speeding up claims was to phase in mobility allowance over four years.

Mr. Willetts

How long, on average, does it take from first applying for income support until the receipt of an income support payment, and how does that compare with past performances?

Miss Widdecombe

Against a current national target of five days, income support is often paid within 2.5 days and the overwhelming majority of local offices are well within target.

Mr. Alfred Morris

How many of the delayed payments were for people with life-threatening conditions, like my constituent, Mr. Ken Vince, for whom payment was made more than eight months after his claim and two months after he died? Is the Minister aware that bereaved families are not consoled by posthumously word-processed sympathy and that my late constituent's case came to me 13 weeks after all the distress and expense of phoning the Benefits Agency, sometimes 20 times a day, without response?

Miss Widdecombe

I entirely echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State four weeks ago in the House in saying that we deeply regret the problems that arose. They happened because of the policy's huge success and the large number of claims that it generated. We have now taken all possible measures to ensure that that does not recur. I am very sympathetic to the distress suffered by the right hon. Gentleman's constituent and his family.