HC Deb 16 April 1999 vol 329 cc384-5W
Mr. Duncan Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to the Government's White Paper, Cm. 4310, "Modernising Government", what are his Department's targets for answering letters, seeing callers without appointments and answering telephone calls; and if he will make a statement. [80895]

Mr. Timms

The current commitments of the Department's Agencies providing a service to the public are:

Answering letters from the public.

Benefits Agency (BA)—to reply within 10 working days of receiving the letter.

Child Support Agency (CSA)—60 per cent. of letters to be answered within 10 working days of receipt.

War Pensions Agency (WPA)—to send an acknowledgement within 5 working days of receipt of the letter. If necessary to make a full response in writing or by phone within 10 working days.

Headquarters—to reply to correspondence from the general public within 20 working days.

Seeing callers without appointments.

BA—receptionist to see callers without appointments within 10 minutes, although this might not be possible in busy periods, the caller should not have to wait more than 30 minutes.

CSA—if the caller has not phoned to arrange an appointment, the Agency aims for a member of CSA staff to see the caller within 10 minutes of the receptionist telling the CSA that the caller has arrived.

WPA—visitors to WPA will be seen within 10 minutes.

Answering telephone calls.

BA—all offices set and publish their own standard for how quickly they answer the phone.

CSA—National Enquiry Line (NEL)—to respond to 80 per cent. of telephone calls within 20 seconds. 80 per cent. of telephone calls to client helplines to be answered first time.

WPA—calls to the Helpline to be answered within 30 seconds. If the question cannot be answered straight away the Agency will call back, at a time convenient to the caller.

Mr. Duncan Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to the Government's White Paper, Cm. 4310. "Modernising Government", what complaints procedure is to be implemented by his Department; how it will be publicised; and if he will make a statement. [80896]

Mr. Timms

Each of the Department's Agencies already has a complaints procedure. Details are set out in their Service First Charters. They are also publicised through a variety of media, such as leaflets, posters, and on the Internet.

Mr. Duncan Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to the Government's White Paper, Cm. 4310, "Modernising Government", what changes he proposes to make to his Department's services for people with special needs; what methods of consultation he will undertake to assess the effectiveness of the changes; and if he will make a statement. [80897]

Mr. Timms

The "Modernising Government" White Paper makes clear our commitment to provide public services that address the needs of all groups in society. We are committed to improving opportunities and incentives for people who want to work, whilst providing appropriate support to those who cannot.

Those with special needs will have access to the New Deal for Disabled People (NDDP), a joint initiative with the Department for Education and Employment to improve opportunities for disabled people who want to move into, or stay in work. In developing the NDDP we have been consulting closely with disabled people and the organisations that represent them. Consultation has taken place at key stages throughout the development of the programme and will continue in the future. As part of the NDDP we are piloting a Personal Adviser service for disabled people in 12 areas covering over 250,000 people receiving an Incapacity Benefit. The service is providing personal support to disabled people who wish to move into, or remain in work. We are also funding 24 Innovative Schemes to test the best ways of helping disabled people into work, of which four specifically cater for people with learning difficulties.

We have arranged for independent evaluation of the initiatives under the NDDP that will include the views of the disabled people who have used them.

In addition to the NDDP, we will be piloting the Single Work Focused Gateway in 12 areas, starting from June 1999. All claimants in the Gateway pilot areas will be allocated their own personal adviser who will help provide appropriate guidance and support for those who want to consider employment, training and rehabilitation.

Through the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill we plan to modernise disability benefits so that they will provide more help for disabled people in greatest need. Certain young disabled people will be entitled to Incapacity Benefit without having to meet the usual contribution conditions; they will gain by up to £26.40 a week. And the higher rate of mobility component of Disability Living Allowance worth £37 a week will be available to severely disabled children aged three and four.