HC Deb 20 April 1994 vol 241 cc517-8W
Mr. Cann

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate he has made of the number of people not in receipt of severe disablement premium because of computer error by the Benefits Agency; how long this problem has existed; what is being done to rectify it; what efforts are being made to trace those concerned; what his Department's policy is towards backdating payments to the date when entitlement commenced; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hague

The administration of income support is a matter for Mr. Michael Bichard, the chief executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Michael Bichard to Mr. Jamie Cann, Dated 19 April 1994: The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question in which you enquire about suggestions that Benefits Agency customers with entitlement to a severe disability premium (SDP) have not received it due to a computer error. I would first of all like to explain that the problem did not arise from a fault with the Income Support Computer System (ISCS). It has always been possible to include the SDP in system produced payments of Income Support if entitlement existed. The problem arose because the complexity of the criteria necessitated staff making further enquiries in cases with potential entitlement. This was because it was not possible to obtain all of the information to determine entitlement on the intial Income Support claim form; inclusion of all the relevant questions would have increased its size and complexity unacceptably, particularly for the majority of customers from whom the information was not required. Inevitably potential entitlement was sometimes overlooked, further enquiries were not always made and as a result some awards of the SDP missed. In order to improve the initial consideration of claims a change was introduced to the ISCS on 13 December 1993. It will now identify a case with potential entitlement to the SDP as claim details are entered and issue an appropriate enquiry to the customer, removing the need for staff to do this. Similarly, potential entitlement is also identified when reviewing existing cases. Corrective action has been taken on all cases identified and full areas have been considered and paid as appropriate. Arrears are considered for any past period since 1988, when the premium was introduced, in cases where the award of the SDP was appropriate. We are considering what further action may be necessary to establish the extent of the problem and identify any further cases which may not have been correctly awarded the SDP. If any are identified enquiries will be made before they are referred to the adjudicating authorities who will consider whether, and from when, the SDP can be paid. I should explain that all claims to social security benefits are decided in the first instance by an Adjudication Officer who applies statute and caselaw to a customers circumstances before making a decision about entitlement. If a person disagrees with their decisions they have the right of appeal to the Independant Tribunal Service. There is a further right of appeal, but only on a point of law, to the Social Security Commissioners. These authorities, appointed in consequence of an Act of Parliament, are independant of both the Department of Social Security and the Benefits Agency. Consequently no Government Minister or official can comment on their decisions or intervene in matters for which they are responsible. I hope that you find this reply helpful.