HC Deb 19 March 1996 vol 274 cc156-7
2. Ms Eagle

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what was the error rate for income support assessments in (a) 1988 and (b) 1995. [19700]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Roger Evans)

It was 13.5 per cent. in 1988 and 16.1 per cent. in 1995.

Ms Eagle

Will the Minister confirm that the value of the errors has increased, as they involved 2 per cent. of overall expenditure in 1988, but now involve no less than 5 per cent. of all expenditure on income support? Will he also confirm that, since income support was introduced, the Comptroller and Auditor General has qualified the accounts every year since 1988 because the Department cannot deliver income support properly? How, then, does the Secretary of State justify the recent plans to cut the cost of administering Department of Social Security benefits by 25 per cent.?

Mr. Evans

Income support is a complex and well-targeted benefit, involving repeated change-of-circumstances considerations. Since 1988, the number of claimants, of cases and of changes in circumstances, as well as the total sums involved, have increased substantially. The change programme is designed to be a medium to longer-term remedy. In the shorter term, on most analyses the greater part of the errors appear to arise from income support mortgage interest payments, and the move towards a standard rate introduced last autumn should have a material effect on that aspect. The intention of the change programme is to provide a better service, with modern information technology and an altogether different approach to the organisation.

Mrs. Roe

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the objectives of his change programme include not only improved efficiency, but making fewer errors? Will he also confirm that the changes were opposed by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) on the ground that they would not work, although he had received a letter from the shadow Chief Secretary describing them as perfectly feasible?

Mr. Evans

My hon. Friend is certainly right about both points. We are mystified by that contradiction.

Mr. Frank Field

Will the Minister tell the House the date by which he expects income support to get unqualified support from the Comptroller and Auditor General? Surely that is what taxpayers require from the Government.

Mr. Evans

We have introduced measures on a scale previously unknown. I am not in a position to give a date as requested.