§ Mr. Millan
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what has been the reason for recent delays in issuing girocheques from his Department's computer centre at Livingston; and what steps are being taken to prevent further delays.
§ Mr. Major
The computer system at Livingston which deals with the assessment and payment of unemployment benefit (and the payment of supplementary benefit to unemployed claimants) is both large and complex. It deals with the payment of benefit in respect of just under 1.5 million unemployed people, issuing around 750,000 girocheques per week. The system has been in operation since 1977 and has provided a consistent and reliable service since that time.
During the week commencing 27 January there was an unprecedented fault in the system. This was detected immediately and, whilst no incorrect payments were issued, the time needed to restore the situation resulted in the delayed delivery of some 20,000 girocheques by two days, and 65,000 girocheques by one day. The balance of 658,000 girocheques due that week were delivered on time.
The particular fault has now been corrected and recurrence is not to be expected. I am bound to say, however, that some problems are inevitable in an undertaking of this dimension. When any fault does occur, all effort is then directed towards minimising the impact on claimants.
I am grateful for the wholehearted effort demonstrated by the computer centre staff to restore the service as quickly as possible and the patience and co-operation of local office staff.