§ Mrs. Dunwoody
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will list the number of claimants of war pensions in(a) Crewe and Nantwich and (b) Cheshire for each of the last five years. 
§ Mr. Hanson
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps he intends to take to reduce the waiting times for war pension claims and appeals to be processed. 
§ Mr. Heald
This is a matter for Kevin Caldwell, chief executive of the War Pensions Agency. He will write to the hon. Member.
Letter from K. C. Caldwell to Mr. David Hanson, dated 23 July 1996:The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question about the steps being taken to reduce the waiting times for war pension claims and appeals to be processed.You may recall that in my letter to you dated 13 June 1996, in response to a previous Parliamentary Question (Official Report vol 279, col 332–333), I explained the many changes within the War Pensions Agency (WPA) in 1995 and how these had affected our performance.The situation has improved since I wrote although our performance is still not as good as we would wish. We have taken the following steps to accelerate the improvement:
- (i) We have examined the way in which we currently process appeals against the assessment of disablement. We believe that this can be improved with a consequent reduction in the time taken to prepare these appeals for hearing by Pensions Appeal Tribunal. We are currently testing the revised process to ensure that all parties, principally appellants and PAT members, are satisfied with the standard of service provided. As assessment appeals are the majority of all appeals received, this revised process would significantly reduce the time taken in clearing appeals.
- (ii) We have created a taskforce within our operational group to address particular issues of process, organisation and resources and to identify and facilitate solutions.
- (iii) We are in the process of recruiting a number of additional staff for a limited period to deal with the work currently awaiting action. As these staff need to receive training, it is anticipated that it will be September 1996 before this has a significant effect upon the current situation.
- (iv) In the short term, we are committing additional resources, in the form of overtime, specifically to clearing claims and appeals. The results of this will quickly be apparent.These steps are intended to reduce clearance times and the numbers of uncleared claims and appeals and ensure the Agency achieves the targets set by the Secretary of State for 1996–97.I hope you find my reply helpful.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) how many applicants, to date, have successfully claimed war widows' pension under revisions introduced in the Pensions Act 1995; 
(2) what information was provided to claimants of war widows' pensions, following the change of legislation in 1995, on the impact of the backdating of benefits on means-tested benefits; and if he will make a statement. 
(3) if he will make a statement on the average processing times for applications for war widows' pension, since the changes in regulations following the Pensions Act 1995. 
§ Mr. Heald
These are matters for Kevin Caldwell, chief executive of the War Pensions Agency. He will write to the hon. Member.
Letter from K. C. Caldwell to Mr. David Hinchliffe, dated 23 July 1996:The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Questions about restoration of War Widows Pensions (WWP).I can confirm that to date a total of 14,586 widows have successfully applied to have their WWP reinstated under revisions introduced in the Pensions Act 1995.As far as overlapping benefits are concerned it might be helpful if I explain that WWP overlaps with National Insurance (NI) benefits such as a Retirement Pension payable on the basis of a late husband's NI contributions or Incapacity Benefit and with income related benefits such as Income Support and Housing Benefit. £10 per week of a WWP is statutorily disregarded for the purposes of claims to income related benefits and where the war widow is in receipt of a Supplementary Pension, and the majority are, that statutory disregard is increased to £61.71 per week.When making a claim for the restoration of a WWP, the widow is asked to complete a claim form which indicates that the award of a WWP might affect the amount of money received from other benefits. The claim form also explains that any arrears of WWP due may have to be reduced to take account of other benefits that have been paid.In addition, when we notify the widow that her claim has been successful, we again advise her that the restored pension may affect the amount of money she can get from certain other benefits, and that we will have to make enquiries about these benefits.The average processing time for applications for WWP, since the changes in regulations following the 1995 Pension Act, is 65 days (August 1995 to June 1996). The Secretary of State target for clearance of these cases is 80 per cent in 70 days. These figures do not include the war widows restoration exercise.560WI do not have a ready means of calculating precisely the average clearance times for the restored WWP exercise. But I can tell you that the first formal claims began to be received in August 1995 and we were able to start notifying widows of the results from 22 September, by which time we had received 8,282 claims. To date we have received 14,814 claims and have made decisions on 14,719 of them.Since the announcement of the intention to provide in the Pensions Bill for restoration of WWP, the Agency has had to set up new procedures and supporting material, train staff and reprogram our computer system to handle the claims. It was originally envisaged the Pensions Bill would receive Royal Assent in October 1995. However, Royal Assent was received on 19 July 1995, some 3 months earlier. The Agency set itself a target to clear the vast majority of claims by the end of March 1996 and, by 4 April 1996 of 13,847 claims received we had made decisions on 13,051.The length of time taken to clear a claim very much depends on how much information the widow is able to supply at the time she claims, and whether we have to make additional enquiries. We have no arrears of work in this area, and currently we are notifying the results of claims made since the middle of June this year, ie less than 5 weeks ago.I hope you find my reply helpful.