Between January and March 2019, the average waiting time for benefit appeals in Northamptonshire was 21 weeks. In England, it was 33 weeks.
Too many of my Kettering constituents are having to wait far too long for their appeals to be heard when their benefit applications are turned down. The Minister has read out average figures, but some of the waits are over 30 weeks. What can he do to speed up the appeals process in Kettering?
I was almost disappointed that my hon. Friend did not phrase his first question better, because I was going to go on to tell him that in Kettering, the waiting time was actually 33 weeks, which is comparable to the England average—12 weeks longer than that in Northamptonshire. If I may anticipate the further follow-up question that he might have liked to ask, in Kettering we are making new venues available, particularly in Wellingborough and Northamptonshire, and we have added three judges, eight disability qualified tribunal panel members and two medically qualified tribunal panel members to try to reduce waiting times in his constituency.
No, no, no, no, no, no. Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is not only not in Northamptonshire; it is not in England! It really is stretching the point. Oh, very well. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a pertinent inquiry appertaining to Northamptonshire, in which no doubt he has the deepest interest, or relating to England, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
You are very gracious, Mr Speaker. Benefits actually cover the whole UK and I represent the furthest-away constituency in the UK mainland. Delays in decision making are troublesome to say the very least. The problem as I see it is that the key decision makers are not actually based in Wick, where there are excellent staff, but much further south. Would it not be a good idea if we moved key decision makers closer to people in need?
I am presuming that the hon. Gentleman is encouraging me to have more tribunals in Wick, as opposed to decision makers. Since I have 3,000 employed in my own constituency making key decisions on personal independence payments, I do not think we should move to Wick. None the less, there is a lack of tribunals in his constituency. We will have to hear further information from him as to how we can improve accessibility there.