HC Deb 10 January 2000 vol 342 cc8-9
6. Mr. John Healey (Wentworth)

What measures he is taking to monitor the operation of the new rules covering appeals over claims for disability benefits. [102932]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Angela Eagle)

Arrangements are in place to monitor the effects of the changes that we have made to decision making and handling appeals. We will look, for example, at the time taken to prepare submissions and the length of time that it takes for an appeal to be heard.

Mr. Healey

I welcome the changes to the appeals system, which mean that the Appeals Service is at last starting to clear the backlog of cases. In monitoring the changes, will my hon. Friend look at the new one-month deadline for clients between the adjudication officer's decision and the appeal? That is causing some concern to local benefits advisers in Rotherham. Will she keep an open mind on extending that time limit if there is evidence that some clients genuinely cannot cope with that tight deadline?

Angela Eagle

We introduced the changes in decision making and appeals in respect of disability living allowance and disability working allowance on 18 October, so it is far too soon to say whether the problems that my hon. Friend suspects may be occurring are occurring. I have no problem about pledging that we will keep the matter under review. However, to ensure that the appeals process is fast and effective, there has to be balance. The Independent Tribunal Service—the new appeals agency—has reduced the case load backlog from 70,000 in February to 11,800 last October. Waiting times have gone down from the average of seven months that we inherited to about 16 weeks, which is an enormous improvement.

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