§ Mr. David Nicholson
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what representation he has received about the operations of the Agency Benefits Unit regarding its processing of applications for exemption from prescription charges; what improvements in service to applicants can be expected; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Peter Lloyd
The Agency Benefits Unit deals with claims made under the National Health Service low income scheme which provides help with the whole range of National Health Service charges and fares to hospital for treatment. Each claim under the scheme covers all these services, including exemption from prescription charges, so that separate information about the latter cannot be given.
On the operation of the low income scheme generally, apart from many letters about the amount of help provided in individual cases, most representations have concerned the amount of time taken to deal with claims. A major cause of delay earlier in the year was a problem which arose in connection with the regulations governing the low income scheme, and which led to a stockpiling of cases at the unit. All the cases which had been stockpiled were cleared by the middle of April, but work is still in progress to correct the cases which had been dealt with before the stockpiling began.
Representations have also been made about the claim form, and the design of the form is currently under review. The opportunity will also be taken to correct weaknesses in the form which have sometimes led to delays due to forms having to be returned to claimants because they were not properly completed.