§ Mr. David Atkinson
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what recent representations he has received regarding the frequency of engagement of the Benefits Agency free telephone inquiry number 0800 666 555; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Burt
The administration of the Benefits Agency inquiry line is a matter for Mr. Michael Bichard, the chief executive. He will write to my hon. Friend and a copy will be placed in the Library.
Letter from Michael Bichard to Mr. David Atkinson, dated 23 April 1993;As Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency it is my responsibility to answer questions about relevant matters. I am therefore replying to your recent Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Social Security asking what recent representations he has received regarding the frequency of engagement of the Benefits Agency free telephone number 0800 666 555.The Benefits Agency Freeline was set up to offer comprehensive advice and information on the whole range of Social Security benefits. However, whilst customer surveys have found a high degree of satisfaction with the quality of the service, it is clear from our ongoing monitoring of this exercise that over the last few months a significant proportion of calls have been unsuccessful because demand for the service has increased. Representations have been received regarding the Freeline service but the numbers about particular subjects are not routinely recorded.I am determined to bring about an improvement in the service. The telephone is increasingly the preferred means of contact for the Agency's customers and I am able to tell you that in the last week for which figures are available 18,185 calls were answered successfully by the Freeline. Last year the Agency began a thorough review of the Freeline service, and customers are being consulted on their requirements. The results of this review will inform our thinking about how the service should evolve in the future. However, to ensure that the service is improved in the short term, five Freeline centres have installed Automatic Call Distribution, which allocates calls to lines on a strictly first come first served basis. The early indications are that the Automatic Call Distribution has been effective in reducing call waiting times.The Freeline Service is also available in Punjabi, Urdu, Cantonese, and Welsh, as well as a free telephone service giving advice and information to people with disabilities and to those caring for them.I hope you find this reply helpful. A copy of the reply will appear in the Official Report and a copy will also be placed in the Library.