HL Deb 04 March 1993 vol 543 cc749-50

3.32 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they expect the backlog of claims for disability benefits to be cleared, and what steps they are taking to ensure that claimants have not lost any benefit to which they were entitled.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

My Lords, the number of outstanding claims to disability living allowance has now been reduced to normal working levels. Claims made before December 1992 will be cleared as soon as possible but in any case by the end of March 1993. No one should lose benefit because of delays as payment is backdated to the date of claim.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I appreciate the reply although I am not sure what the noble Lord means by "normal working levels". Are those the same as the levels which we have seen recently which involve misleading advertising, reliance on an untried computer involving loss of 1,400 files or, as the Government put it, files still being looked for, and 7,000 complaints to another place? I know that the noble Lord is concerned about the issue. Will he inform the Government that those working levels have caused real hardship and heartache to severely disabled people and have been an absolute disgrace?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not understand what the noble Lord means by "misleading advertising". As regards the second half of his question, I repeat the apology made by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Disabled People that on various occasions clearly we have not provided a satisfactory service in introducing the new benefit, the disability living allowance. As the noble Lord will appreciate, we have been dealing with about 1.25 million claims over the year. It is a totally new benefit. Obviously difficulties will crop up. That is likely with any new benefit. It would possibly have been a route forward to have introduced it by stages, as was done with mobility allowance. We took the decision to introduce it all at once. In the end, that was a more satisfactory solution for most individual claimants. As I said, we hope to have dealt with all existing claims by the end of the month.

Lord Rix

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a number of people living in residential care, some of them with a learning disability, are being incorrectly told by members of his department that it is not worth claiming the mobility component because it will simply be deducted from their income support? Will the Minister authorise back payments to such people who have been woefully misled into not claiming?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am not aware of those allegations. If the noble Lord would like to give me details, I shall certainly have them looked into. If people have been denied benefit as a result of official error, obviously we would be prepared to look, as is the usual way, at backdating their claim to the date of official error.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, given what the Minister said and the chaos involved, many DLA claims and appeals will take over a year to be resolved. The Minister said helpfully that payments will be backdated. In that case, will he confirm that linked benefit such as invalid care allowance will also be fully backdated and not limited by the normal 52 week rule cut-off point?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am afraid that with regard to linked benefits, on the occasions when they can be backdated the position is slightly more complicated than the noble Baroness appreciates. If she so wishes, I shall write to her. Linked benefits can only be backdated 52 weeks.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, if the Minister accepts that those linked benefits are attached to DLA, and if he accepts that delays on paying DLA claims are not the fault of the claimant but of his department, is it not fair that linked benefits should also be backdated to the date of claim? Otherwise poor people are losing money because of his department's incompetence.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I reject the allegation of incompetence. I am saying that the general rule is that such benefits can only be backdated 52 weeks. I am not sure about the exact details in the case of official error. As I said, that is slightly more complicated than perhaps the noble Baroness appreciates. I prefer to write to her.