HC Deb 20 June 1995 vol 262 cc224-6W
Ms Hodge

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what performance indicators and performance targets there are for measuring the performance of his Department in(a) answering letters from members of the public and (b) answering telephone calls from members of the public; how performance is monitored; and what are the latest figures for performance measured against the target set; [26227]

(2) what policy and procedures exist for dealing with complaints against his Department by members of the public; when his Department last updated its policy; what time limit and target for dealing with such complaints his Department has; and what follow-up procedure exists where complaints are not satisfied with his Department's response to a complaint. [26211]

Mr. Hague

DSS headquarters aims to answer all correspondence within 20 working days of receipt. For the period 1 January 1995 to 31 May 1995, 12,317 replies to letters from members of the public were sent of which 83 per cent. were answered within this target. The public inquiry line handles telephone calls from members of the public. It aims to provide good quality answers to customers' inquiries rather than process a set quantity of telephone calls. Quality performance is continually monitored by electronically tracking the number of calls dealt with and by a supervisor routinely listening in to a number of calls. Staff also receive continuous training on information available in addition to regular specific assessment of their individual performance.

The responsibility for day-to-day operations, including the handling of letters, telephone calls and complaints from members of the public, rests with the chief executive of each agency. Each of them will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Peter Mathison to Ms Margaret Hodge, dated 19 June 1995: The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Questions about our performance targets for answering telephone calls and letters, and our complaints procedure. Over the past two years we have made many improvements in the service we can give to war pensioners. The launch of the War Pensions Agency in April 1994 included the publication of our first Charter Standard Statement, which defines service targets and standards including a complaints procedure if we fail to deliver the service we promise. Our published targets are: Telephone calls to War pensions Helpline answered within 30 seconds. If we cannot answer the question straight away, we will call back at a time convenient to the pensioner. Letters from the public acknowledged within 5 working days followed by a full response by letter or telephone within 10 working days. The War Pensions Agency telephone Helpline provides the main point of contact for the whole of the Agency and is the number quoted on all correspondence and publicity material. It includes a new automatic call distribution system which amongst other things provides statistics for monitoring and target purposes. Six months after Helpline was set up, we started a rolling programme of customer perception surveys. In December 1994, these showed that 93% of those asked said the service they received was either very good or good. In 1994/5 calls were answered within an average wait time of only 6.9 seconds and 95% of calls were answered within 30 seconds. As part of our continued drive to improve standards of service, the use of customer satisfaction surveys are reflected in our business plans. We are currently awaiting results of the 1995 survey, including the area of correspondence, which will be carefully examined and improvement initiatives coordinated by the Total Quality Management team. In 1994/5, 1781 replies were sent by our operational sections in respect of letters addressed to Ministers or myself with 95 per cent being sent within the 10 day target. The complaints system we now have in place, including a database of information, will enable us to monitor our targets for acknowledgement and replies in other areas of correspondence. Turning to our complaints system, pensioners with concerns can telephone the War Pensions Helpline on 01253 858858, the Helpline staff will be only too pleased to answer the query. Our Charter Standard Statement states that if things go wrong, any written complaint will be acknowledged within 5 working days, and a full reply sent within 10 working days. If we think it will take longer than this, we will write or telephone the person concerned to explain why and let them know when to expect a full reply to their complaint. If a person is dissatisfied with the way the complaint has been dealt with, they can contact our Customer Service Manager. If, however, they are still not satisfied they can get in touch with me. Details of how to do this are contained within the Charter Standard Statement. In addition to this, a person can also ask their MP to refer their case to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration for investigation and review. In addition to the formal complaints procedure, pensioners can discuss any concerns with the many ex-service organisations and we fully investigate any matters referred to us as a result. People can also, if they wish, discuss their cases with their local War Pensions Committee (WPC). These are independent of the Agency and are made up of members who are disabled ex-service persons, some of whom work for voluntary associations. Again, any recommendations may by the WPCs are fully considered. Information on how to contact ex-service organisations or the WPCs is contained in leaflets available from the Agency and our national network of War Pensioner's Welfare Service offices. I hope you have found this information useful.