HC Deb 13 July 1979 vol 970 cc338-9W
Mr. Field

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many order books for child benefit are now being held up at the Newcastle office; how many books have been delayed for (a) more than one month, (b) up to two months, (c) up to three months, (d) up to six months and (e) more than six months; and if he will estimate the total amount of child benefit which his Department owes to parents awaiting their order books.

Mrs. Chalker

Information in this form is not readily available; to obtain it would divert staff time away from the primary task of catching up with accumulated work. I would refer the hon. Member to my right hon. Friend's replies to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) on 24 May [Vol. 967, c.213–14] and the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) on 21 June [Vol. 968, c. 654] and my replies to the hon. Member for Dundee, East on 14 June [Vol. 968, c. 313–14], my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) on 5 July [Vol. 969, c. 721] and my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) today.

Mr. Mudd

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many child benefit applications are currently awaiting processing at Washington; how many order books were issued in each week since 1 March; and if he will investigate ways of reducing delays in handling new claims and issuing new or amended order books.

Mrs. Chalker

The information is as follows: —

Week ending 6 March 1979 163,842
Week ending 13 March 1979 52,242 Output lower than normal because of conversion to a new computer system.
Week ending 20 March 1979 31,302
Week ending 27 March 1979 147,715
Week ending 3 April 1978 No order books issued due to industrial action.
Week ending 10 April 1979
Week ending 17 April 1979
Week ending 24 April 1979
Week ending 1 May 1979
Week ending 8 May 1979 243,047
Week ending 15 May 1979 357,803
Week ending 22 May 1979 429,030
Week ending 29 May 1979 257,706
Week ending 5 June 1979 156,513
Week ending 12 June 1979 184,720
Week ending 19 June 1979 235,924
Week ending 26 June 1979 256,616
Week ending 3 July 1979 205,518

Although the time taken by the Child Benefit Centre to deal with claims for child benefit is rather longer than usual because of an overtime ban, straightforward claims are still being cleared within about three weeks of receipt of the claim by the centre. A change of circumstances which requires the return of an order book and the issue of a new order book for an increased amount is given priority by the centre in order to reduce the length of time that the mother will be without an order book. A new system of 18-week order books is being introduced over a 12-month period which began in March 1979. This system provides that if an increase in benefit becomes due, it will not be necessary for the existing book to be recalled and replaced but an additional book will be issued for the extra money.