§ Mr. David Nicholson
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many letters addressed to the Benefits Agency by hon. Members, on the subject of attendance allowance and disability living allowance, have taken longer than seven months to secure a reply; when he first assessed the time taken to reply to hon. Members' correspondence; and what action he has taken to reduce delays.
§ Mr. Scott
The arrangements for replying to correspondence from hon. Members to the Benefits Agency is a matter for Mr. Michael Bichard, the chief executive. He will write to the hon. Member and a copy will be placed in the Library.
Letter from M. Bichard to Mr. David Nicholson, dated 9 February 1993:As Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency it is my responsibility to answer questions about relevant operational matters. I am therefore replying to the points raised in your recent Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Social Security about the time taken to reply to honourable Members' correspondence about Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Attendance Allowance (AA).You ask how many letters addressed to the Benefits Agency on these subjects have taken longer than seven months to secure a reply. I am aware of 13 cases, where letters about DLA have been sent direct to me or have been referred to me by Ministers and a reply has not been sent within seven months. I very much regret that such long delays have occurred. As I explained in my letter to you of 19 January on an individual case you had raised, the delays are due to the 600W backlog of correspondence that has built up in the DLA Unit following the greater than expected workload faced by Unit in the early months of the DLA scheme. In 1992 I replied to 4,461 letters on all subjects from Members.The delay in replying to Members' letters about DLA does not, of course, mean that action is not proceeding on a customer's claim. In fact in most cases where there is a long outstanding reply the claim will have been resolved much earlier. You will recall that in the case discussed in my letter of 19 January, benefit was awarded in August 1992. Clearly you should have been notified of this very much sooner than you were and I apologise for this.The Benefits Agency monitors the amount of correspondence received and the time taken to reply on a regular basis. Since December 1992 this has been monitored on a weekly basis; prior to that the position was monitored monthly. The substantial increase in correspondence (80 per cent. up on 1991) and the consequent delays in response time began to become clear from mid 1992 onwards.As you will understand, the initial impetus was to clear the backlog of claims thus ensuring that decisions were given and payments made to customers as quickly as possible. I wrote to all Members explaining the steps I had taken to tackle this on 19 October 1992.Since November 1992 additional staff have been taken on in the correspondence sections both centrally and in the DLA Unit and substantial overtime is also being worked. A recovery plan for clearing the backlog of correspondence is now in operation at the DLA Unit with a view to substantially reducing the number of letters awaiting reply by the end of this month. Once the backlog is cleared it will be our aim to respond to all future correspondence within the Agency's target of twenty working days.I hope you find this reply helpful. A copy will appear in the Official Report and a copy will also be placed in the Library.