Appeals

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Security – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th November 1997.

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Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney 12:00 am, 17th November 1997

What plans she has to ensure that appeals by benefit claimants are dealt with more speedily. [14641]

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon Labour, Halifax

If she will make a statement on ways of improving social security appeals. [14645]

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Social Security, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Social Security)

We are determined to reduce the current delays and complexities in the appeals system. On 9 July, we introduced the Social Security Bill, which paves the way for the creation of an active, modern social security system. The Bill includes several measures that will enable us to provide a quicker, simpler and more efficient appeals service for customers. The Secretary of State will take personal responsibility for the administration of the appeals system, will set and publish demanding targets to shorten the time that it takes for appeals to be heard, and will report on the results.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that the social security benefits system inherited from the last Government is in crisis? Does he further agree that the sheer number of people who depend on benefits and the harshness of the regime introduced by the last Government are resulting in too many appeals, long waits and the clogging up of the independent tribunals service?

In particular, will my hon. Friend examine the disability living allowance? Because of the 32-page all-work test and the frequent consequent reduction in benefits, many disabled people are making appeals, and both they and their carers resent the long wait that they are having to undergo.

Finally, when is the review of the disability living allowance likely to be completed?

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Social Security, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Social Security)

The disability review will be completed early next year.

The whole purpose of the Social Security Bill is to streamline the administration of benefits, and to make it simpler and more efficient for customers. The Bill contains provisions that will enable corrections and other changes to be made at an early point in the administration of benefits, so that customers' difficulties can be put right and they need not go to appeal. That is the best way in which to ensure that people receive their entitlement at the point at which they need it. I believe that the Bill will greatly benefit a vast number of claimants.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon Labour, Halifax

I welcome my hon. Friend's commitment to improving the appeals system. It is indeed slow and inefficient and causes a great deal of distress, not least to the staff who must administer that inherited system. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with staff and their representatives, and how soon will they be reassured and involved in the system?

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Social Security, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Social Security)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the concerns that she has expressed on behalf of staff. I share those concerns because, during modernisation of the social security system, there are always anxieties about the way forward, but I assure her that I shall continue to have constructive discussions with trade unions and staff representatives as our plans for streamlining and modernising the social security system unfold.