HC Deb 30 November 1992 vol 215 cc7-8
5. Mr. John Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what review he has made of the adequacy of the administration of claims for disability living allowance; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

I am, as the hon. Member will know, fully aware of, and concerned about, the problems that have complicated the introduction of DLA in its early stages and I continue to take a close personal interest in its administration and delivery.

I have had extensive meetings with the chief executive of the Benefits Agency, who is responsible for the administration of DLA, and have discussed the substantial progress that has been made through the programme of recovery, as well as any remaining problems.

I also recognise the immense dedication and effort that staff of the Benefits Agency and, in particular, those who deal with claims to the benefit, have contributed to achieving this progress.

Mr. Evans

Will the Minister acknowledge that there are thousands of unanswered claimants' application forms lying in the DLA office, and that it is virtually impossible for a desperate claimant to make any sort of telephone contact with the office? Is he aware that Mrs. Mullen of Clinkham Wood, St. Helens, in my constituency, rang the DLA office on 17 November in an attempt to find out what had happened to the application that she had made in July? At 2.30 she was told to wait because she was in a queue. At 3 pm, her phone went dead and she immediately rang back. Again, she was told to wait because she was in a queue. At 4.50, her phone went dead again. Is not this a disgraceful way to treat impoverished people? Is not the answer that the agency was deliberately underfunded when it was set up?

Mr. Scott

Clearly, it is impossible for me to respond on the Floor of the House to individual cases of the sort that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. If he would like to write to me with details, I will certainly follow it up.

I shall be visiting the disability benefits centre at Fylde on Friday to check on present progress. I am told that the improvements that have been made to our central inquiry line, to the benefits inquiry line and to the dedicated line for Members of Parliament have produced excellent results in solving the problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Bearing in mind the difficulties with inquiries, can the Minister confirm that the awards will be backdated where necessary and, therefore, that applicants will not continue to lose out?

Mr. Scott

I can certainly given my hon. Friend that assurance. What is more, I can say that general rules on benefits provide that compensation is available when a benefit has not been paid for 12 months since the date of claim or when some delay has led to an interruption of the benefit for three months. Some 76 such claims have already been met.

Mrs. Golding

Can the Minister tell us why a constituent of mine received a letter about disability living allowance from the Benefits Agency on 1 November saying that if she wants her benefit to continue after 1 May next year—that is six months later—she should claim straight away, and that if she delays, the Benefits Agency may not have time to deal with the claim before it ends on 1 May? Why does the agency need six months to be certain of renewing a claim?

Mr. Scott

The present target for the Benefits Agency is to clear 60 per cent. of claims in 30 days. Half the disability benefit centres are meeting that target. [Interruption.] If I may say, the proper way for the hon. Lady to deal with the matter is for her to write to me, and I shall take it up with the chief executive.