HC Deb 12 July 1996 vol 281 cc338-40W
Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what plans he has to review the procedures of the War Pensions Agency; [35704]

(2) how many compensation appeals were dealt with by the War Pensions Agency in 1995; and what percentage of those appeals resulted in the appeal being upheld; [35705]

(3) what factors the War Pensions Agency takes into account when making its statement of case on compensation appeals; [35706]

(4) how many letters he has received concerning the operations of the War Pensions Agency and its operational procedures in the last three years. [35707]

Mr. Heald

These are matters for Mr. Kevin Caldwell, chief executive of the War Pensions Agency. He will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from K. C. Caldwell to Mr. Jim Cunningham, dated 11 July 1996: The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Questions about compensation appeals, review of procedures and correspondence concerning the operations of the War Pensions Agency (WPA). You ask about "compensation appeals." Compensation payments are made by the Department when, for example, a person's pension payments have been delayed due to a clear and unambiguous error by ourselves. There is no right of appeal against non-payment of compensation under the scheme. I have therefore, taken your question as referring to appeals made against entitlement and assessment decisions made on War Pension claims. The Pensions Appeal Tribunal (PAT) Acts 1943 and 1949, with subsequent rules and amendments, provide for the hearing by independent Tribunals of appeals against the WPA's decisions. These Tribunals are set up by the Lord Chancellor's department in England and Wales and analogous legal departments in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Various sections of the PAT Acts provide for appeals by members of the Armed Forces, the Home Guard, Mercantile Marines, Naval Auxiliary Personnel, Ulster Defence Regiment (now part of the Royal Irish Regiment), Coastguards and Civilians. From October 1995 there are also appeal rights under the Polish Forces Scheme. When a decision on entitlement to a War Pension is notified, the claimant is informed of his/her appeal rights. Appeals may be made against complete rejection of an entitlement claim, against the rejection of attributability, against the decision that service aggravation no longer remains or against the date on which service aggravation passed away. In Widows' claims, there are appeal rights against rejection of entitlement to a War Widow's Pension. Assessment appeals may be made against the composite assessment of disablement, the period of award and the decision to make an assessment final. There is also provision for appeals against awards being withheld or reduced on the grounds of negligence or misconduct. Rule 5 of the PAT Act requires the Secretary of State to prepare a statement of case containing the relevant facts relating to the appellant's case as known to the Secretary of State. This statement of case consists of a chronological compendium of the appellant's relevant medical history. The relevant medical history may include service medical records, reports from General Practitioners and Specialists, hospital case notes, audiograms and War Pension medical examinations. The appellant's claims and submissions, previous Tribunal and Secretary of State decisions are also included, along with the Secretary of Sstate's reasons for decision in entitlement appeals and terms of reference to the Tribunal. There is no reference in the PAT rules to the need for a medical submission. However, an "Opinion of Medical Division" is included in the statement of case in all entitlement appeals where medical questions are involved and is referred to by the Secretary of State in the reasons for decision. For assessment appeals, our Medical Advisors include an Opinion of Medical Division in the Statement of Case if it is relevant. If the appellant's medical history contains relevant information which in the opinion of the Secretary of State would be harmful to the appellant, it is handled under Rule 22 of the PAT Acts and excluded from the appellant's copy of the statement of case. The appellant's representative, the Tribunal and ourselves have copies of the full statement of case with the evidence excluded from the appellant's copy under Rule 22 underlined. Our Medical Advisers provide guidance in this matter to the Secretary of State. Ultimately it is for the Tribunal to decide whether, in the interests of the appellant, the evidence excluded from his/her statement of case should or should not be disclosed. In addition, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 makes it an offence to disclose details of convictions for certain offences and the conduct constituting the offence which led to the conviction. Evidence to which the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act applies would normally be excluded from the statement of case. However, if our Medical Advisers consider that this evidence forms a necessary part of the total evidence, the agreement of the President of the PAT can be sought for inclusion of this in the statement of case. You ask about the number of appeals dealt with by WPA in 1995. You will appreciate that appeals processed by WPA during 1995 would not have been heard and decided by the PAT within the same 12 months due to the time involved in preparing and hearing an appeal. During 1995 we prepared and cleared 3,650 entitlement and 4,800 assessment appeals to the PAT. In 1995 the PAT heard 2,762 appeals against entitlement decisions involving 5,326 medical conditions. Of these our decision was upheld on 1,581 appeals (57 per cent.), involving 3,920 medical conditions (74 per cent.) and overturned on 1,181 appeals (43 per cent.), involving 1,406 medical conditions (26 per cent.). The PAT also heard 2,504 assessment appeals and our assessment was upheld on 1,826 (73 per cent.) and overturned on 678 (27 per cent.). Information about the number of letters received by the Secretary of State on War Pensions Agency operations is not available. However, the table below shows the number of letters to which Ministers and myself (and my predecessors) replied from April 1994, the date WPA took on Agency status.

April 1994 to March 1995 909
April 1995 to March 1996 1,015
April 1996 to June 1996 272

Finally, you also ask about plans we have to review our procedures. We are continually reviewing our processes and procedures in order to meet the high standard of service expected by War Pensioners and War Widows. The operating organisation and procedures in the War Pensions Agency were changed fundamentally during 1995 and for 1996/97 we have set ourselves some major priorities which include continuing the processes of restructuring our business and delivering the benefits of the Departmental Change Programme.

I hope you find my reply helpful.

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