§ Mr. Gale
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he expects the backlog of claims arising from the failure of the national insurance computer system to be cleared and arrears payments and compensation payments to be made; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Darling
[holding answer 14 April 1999]In my written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) on 15 March 1999,Official Report, columns 486–88, I updated the House about progress that the Benefits and Contributions Agencies had made in addressing outstanding issues relating to the introduction of the new National Insurance Recording System (NIRS2).
From 1 April, when the Contributions Agency transferred to the Inland Revenue, joint arrangements have been in place to manage the NIRS2 programme. The Stabilisation and Recovery plans for 1999–2000, which include plans for reviewing the backlogs in the Benefits Agency, are currently being finalised.
Good progress has been made over the last month and I am pleased to announce that arrangements are in hand to pay compensation at a flat rate of £10 to claimants who have suffered an unreasonable delay as announced on 1 February 1999.
Payments to Pensioners and Widows will be issued automatically at the end of April. Claimants who are in receipt of Incapacity Benefit and those Widows and Pensioners whose claims are handled clerically will be paid their £10 when their case is reviewed and compensation under the normal rules will also be considered. Claimants will not need to make a claim for this payment.
I am also pleased to announce that the Benefits Agency will begin to review the backlog of initial and emergency awards of benefit this week. Where a claimant has been underpaid, any arrears of benefit due will be paid and, if entitlement to compensation under the Department Special Payments scheme exceeds the £10 already paid, cases will be identified. These payments of compensation will be handled centrally. Additional staff have been allocated to this task and the standard process has been streamlined to ensure payments of compensation are issued as quickly as possible following the review of benefit.
It is planned that he Benefits Agency's review of cases will be completed in six months.
It is expected that from the end of April information from NIRS2 will be used to process Retirement Pension forecast applications. This is the final benefit process to migrate from the NIRS 1 to the NIRS2 system.