By the end of September, 498,000 claims for disability living allowance had been received and 351,000 had been cleared. These resulted in 126,000 new awards of DLA and 98,000 top-up awards to existing mobility and attendance allowance beneficiaries. The corresponding forecast was for 494,000 claims.
I recognise the importance of those statistics, but the Minister claims that the allowance has been a victim of its own success. Does he not realise that many thousands of families have been the victims of pious hopes and complacency by his Department in dealing with applications? Many thousands of families have gone through a great deal of misery waiting to hear whether DLA would be awarded because upon that depends the award of invalidity care allowance and possibly housing benefit. Many people have been subjected to a huge reduction in income. Will the Minister accept the buck for the failure of administration of this allowance in the past six months and will he assure the House that there will be effective monitoring and that this will never happen again?
It is certainly my intention that it never should. Nobody who read with care the letter by the chief executive that was sent out on 19 October outlining the steps that he had taken through the deployment of extra staff, the working of overtime and the setting up of an additional claims unit to deal with these claims could believe that there is any proof whatever of complacency. There has been a clear determination to overcome a problem which, perhaps, might have been perceived. Once it was established we tackled it with enthusiasm.
Does the Minister agree that the whole thing has been bungled? From February this year until April there were 116,000 DLA claims, 148,000 top-up claims and 183,000 other claims. It is now November and I am led to believe that there is still a backlog of 93,000 DLA claims, 57,000 top-claims and 92,000 other claims. It is obvious that the Minister is not dealing with the problem but is only creating misery for those who are in need.
The hon. Gentleman, for whom I have considerable respect, usually goes over the top towards the end of his remarks. I have given the figures for where we are at the moment and have assured the House that from now on the agency is determined to meet the targets.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having the courage to set clear and easily measurable targets. Next week I am to meet a delegation from my constituency about the processing of these claims. May I ask the Minister to pass my thanks to those manning his telephone hot line? They have assisted me in processing 15 constituency cases in the past few weeks, and the problem involved in one of them was solved in a day.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I believe that his experience reflects that of many hon. Members, including many Labour Members, who have had similar experience of the helpful nature of the telephone service. Considerable advance has been made in enabling the benefits inquiry line to assist customers with the completion of their forms when they find that difficult. That has contributed to the success of the benefit.
Is the Minister aware that page 9 of the recently published Benefits Agency annual report stated that the agency anticipated claims of these benefits at the rate of 63,000 a week? If that was the case, does not the Minister recognise that the number of claims that have so far been processed should have been processed within six or seven weeks? Is not a delay of 26 weeks or more incompetence? Are the figures in the report false, and if not, what has gone wrong?
Perhaps I can try to explain, although it is difficulty to convey this precisely at the Dispatch Box. Two things happened in the very early days of the benefit. First, there was an unexpected surge in claims for attendance allowance and mobility allowance. We did not want to detract from the right of people to claim those benefits right up to the time that they were replaced by disability living allowance. There was a considerable surge in advance claims in the weeks preceding the introduction of DLA, and of disability working allowance at the same time. That was the genisis of the problem that the Benefits Agency has been tackling and has now succeeded in conquering.