§ Mr. Andrew Bowden
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement about the proposal to extend the use of postal claim forms for supplementary benefit.
§ Mr. Newton
I am pleased to be able to announce that we shall shortly start offering to retirement pensioners and other people wishing to claim supplementary benefit the opportunity to make their claim by post. They will have this option in addition to the present system of home visit or DHSS office interview. All DHSS offices will offer a postal method to those people who want it by the end of May 1985.
Our decision to offer this new choice follows a careful pilot study last year, which itself followed the successful introduction of postal claiming for unemployed claimants to supplementary benefit from December 1982. The pilot study produced no sign of a reduction in claims or of unacceptable error rates in processing them. An independent study by Social Community Planning Research found that many claimants felt that they would prefer to claim by post, and the Social Security Advisory Committee have welcomed the proposal.
The forms used in the pilot study worked well, but are being further improved in the light of detailed points which emerged, and of suggestions by the Social Security Advisory Committee. In particular they will express as clearly as possible that postal claiming is a matter of choice for these groups; that the other options remain open; and that personal help will continue to be available, for example to those for whom English is not the first language.
Extension of the postal claiming option is expected to result in a small staff saving, perhaps of about 60, but in the first 18 months or so more than half of these will be used to monitor the arrangements to ensure that they result in the improvement we seek.