§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services why it is taking the National Insurance Commissioners periods of not less than nine to 12 months to reach decisions on appeal; how many hours the appeal tribunals or courts sit and on how many days; whether he will extend these days and 199W hours in view of the present figure of 1,600,000 unemployed; and if he will appoint more tribunals to expedite these hearings.
§ Mr. Prentice
The long waiting period for appeals to be determined by Social Security Commissioners—as they were renamed under the Social Security Act 1980—has arisen through a variety of factors, chief among them being the introduction in recent years of a range of new benefits with appealable decisions, an increasing tendency for claimants to exercise their statutory appeal rights, and the impact of EEC legislation.
The great majority of appeals are determined, either at oral hearings or on the basis of the written evidence, by a commissioner sitting alone. With the exception of two commissioners who have been reappointed on a part-time basis following their retirement, the office of a commissioner is a full-time appointment, so we cannot seek improvement by means of extending days or hours of work.
Three additional full-time commissioners have been appointed during the past 12 months, bringing the total to 14 full-time commissioners (including the chief commissioner) and two part-timers. I hope that these additional appointments will lead to a considerable improvement in the situation before long.