HC Deb 17 June 1997 vol 296 c138W
Dr. Lynne Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if she will make a statement on delays in dispatching notifications in respect of income support claimants to local authorities for the administration of housing benefit and council tax benefit. [623]

Mr. Frank Field

One of our key aims is to improve the service provided to claimants and other customers. The effectiveness of these arrangements will be reviewed shortly. As the administration of Income Support is a matter for the Benefits Agency, I have asked its Chief Executive, Peter Mathison, to write to the hon Member.

Letter from Peter Mathison to Dr. Lynne Jones, dated 16 June 1997: The Secretary of State for Social Security has asked me to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question asking about the delays in despatching notifications in respect of Income Support claimants to local authorities for the administration of housing benefit and council tax benefit. The issue of housing benefit notification is an integral part of the existing benefit claim clearance targets. Additionally, Benefits Agency (BA) District Managers and Local Authority (LA) Benefit Managers sign up to an agreed annual level of service which is based on a model national Service Level Agreement. The national model includes agreed quantifiable performance targets. A grievance procedure is included in the document should there be matters that cannot be resolved through normal liaison channels. The SLA provides the framework within which both parties can work together and voice their concerns, should either fail to meet the agreed levels of service. A number of BA internal audits within the last year have highlighted a certain lack of support and co-operation by both parties in adhering to local agreements which will have led to delays in some cases. The BA is committed to improving working relations with LAs and is aware of representations by the LA Associations about the effectiveness of some of the current local arrangements. These will be reviewed in the coming months. You will be interested to know that the BA in Birmingham have a Research and Development Team which examines existing processes with the aim of improving performance. They have recently commenced a Housing Benefit Project to examine the way information is exchanged between the BA and LA with the aim of identifying new processes to reduce any delays. I hope you find this reply helpful.