Forms

Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 1:47 pm on 8th July 1998.

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Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford 1:47 pm, 8th July 1998

What steps he is taking to (a) simplify and (b) condense Government forms that the general public have to fill in before having access to many Government services. [47925]

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Making it simpler and easier for people to access public services and cutting down forms and queues are at the heart of better government. Pilots of interactive on-line forms are part of the story, but so, too, is a move from telesales to teleservices: for example, using the telephone to help people at home to complete forms and to make better use of public services.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware of the case of my constituent, Mrs. Ball, who was faced with a 32-page form when claiming disability living allowance for her son? She could fill in that form only with the aid of the local branch of Mencap. Now she is notable in the area for her achievement, and is inundated with requests for help from people who are as bemused and confused as she once was. Has any assessment been made of the waste of time in people going to tribunals unnecessarily or the personal hardship involved in delayed payments as a result of those complex forms being wrongly filled in? Does my hon. Friend accept that public support for benevolent policies is being destroyed by the ordeal to which people are subjected in gaining access to the entitlement that they have as citizens of this country?

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I am aware of the problems encountered by Mrs. Ball, my hon. Friend's constituent, and I understand that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has written to express our regrets at her experience.

The Benefits Agency keeps all claim forms under regular review. The disability allowance and attendance allowance claim forms were redesigned recently—a new child-specific pack was introduced in August last year and a new adult pack in October last year. Disability organisations were involved in the development and design of the new forms. However, I understand my hon. Friend's concern. The characterisation of government in queues and forms is one aspect which the "Better Government" agenda will address later in the year.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers Conservative, Gosport

Does the Minister not realise that the civil service is doing what it always does very well, which is to produce forms that fully meet its own standards? Can the civil service not take lessons from the private sector, the first lesson of which is that the customer is always right? The customer finds forms very complicated. Is it not possible to include more representations by the consumer in the planning of those forms?

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me if I disagree with his assertion that there is always something to be learned from the private sector.

Increasingly, the public service, pragmatically, is willing to learn from private sector practices, and it is always willing to re-evaluate its own procedures. As I said, the Benefits Agency does so, and we want to extend that type of good practice into all arms of government, central and local.