HC Deb 17 February 1993 vol 219 cc253-4W
163. Ms Gordon

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what percentage of replies from the Benefits Agency in Leeds to customer queries is within 20 working days; and what percentage of such replies have taken six months or over, during the past 12 month period.

Mr. Burt

The arrangements for reply to correspondence to the Benefits Agency is a matter for Mr. Michael Bichard, the chief executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to the hon. Member and a copy will be placed in the Library.

Letter from Michael Bichard to Ms. Mildred Gordon, dated 15 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 your recent parliamentary question to the Secretary of State for Social Security about the time taken to respond to correspondence by the Benefits Agency in Leeds. You ask what percentage of letters in the past twelve month period have been cleared within 20 working days and what percentage took six months or over to reply. The information for 1992 is as follows:

Per cent.
Total replies to Members from Chief Executive: 4,461 (100)
of which, Replied within 20 working days 1,274 (29)
Reply took 6 months or more 32 (0.7)

I very much regret that the Benefits Agency has not recently been meeting its target for responding to Members' letters and that some very long delays have occurred. As I explained in my letter to you of 27 January on an individual case you had raised, the delays are due to the backlog of correspondence that has built up in the Disability Living Allowance Unit following the greater than expected workload faced by the Unit in the early months of the DLA scheme. 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 27 January, full benefit entitlement was paid in September 1992. I understand this followed contact you had with the special Hotline telephone enquiry service for Members I have set up at the DLA Unit. But clearly you should have had a reply to your letter from me much sooner than you did and apologise for this. A recovery plan for clearing the backlog of correspondence at the DLA Unit is now in operation 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 on DLA, within the Agency's target of twenty working days, as is already the case for correspondence about other subjects. 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.