HC Deb 05 April 2001 vol 366 cc259-60W
Mr. Winnick

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) on how many occasions (a) he and (b) other Ministers in his Department have met decision makers within the Benefits Agency; [157043]

(2) for how long decision makers have decided on cases within the Benefits Agency; [157042]

(3) since when it has not been possible for the Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency to change a decision made by decision makers; and on what authority this change was made; [157044]

(4) how many decision makers there are in the Benefits Agency; on what basis they are appointed; and what the level of their salary is; [157045]

(5) if hon. Members may write on behalf of constituents direct to decision makers within the Benefits Agency; and if he will make a statement. [157046]

Angela Eagle

Ministers regularly visit staff within Benefits Agency offices.

Suitably trained and experienced staff make decisions. Staff are not recruited specifically as decision makers and may be of various grades; therefore, exact numbers are not available. The salary level of decision makers will vary according to grade.

Since the Benefits Agency was established in April 1991, it has never been possible for the Chief Executive to change a benefit decision made by a decision maker. It is only possible to change a benefit decision in accordance with the legislation.

Benefit decision notices encourage customers to contact the appropriate office if they want to know more about a decision or think it is wrong. Any queries received are directed to an appropriate officer to respond. If necessary the query will be directed to a decision maker to provide a response. Queries from customer representatives are dealt with in the same way.

Hon. Members are of course free to write to whomever they wish. However, it has been the accepted practice that, where a response is required on an individual case, the approach is made to the local office manager.

The Social Security Act 1998 transferred the functions of adjudication officers to the Secretary of State. Under new arrangements, all first instance Social Security decisions are made by officers acting on behalf of the Secretary of State. The Benefits Agency introduced the term "decision maker" during the period July to November 1999 when these provisions were introduced.