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Crisis Loans

Volume 449: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how many telephone lines are available in Crewe and Nantwich that are dedicated lines to the North West call centre for crisis loans; how many missed calls were recorded per day on average in the last period for which figures are available; how many complaints have been received about those lines in the last 12 months; and how crisis loans can be accessed if his Department's local office is closed; (83787)

(2) where the officials answering calls to the telephone lines dedicated to applicants for crisis loans in the North West are located.

The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. I have asked her to provide my hon. Friend with the information requested.

Letter from Lesley Strathie, dated 24 July 2006:

The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your questions asking how many telephone lines are available in Crewe and Nantwich that are dedicated lines to the North West call centre for crisis loans; how many missed calls were recorded per day on average in the last period for which figures are available; how many complaints have been received about those lines in the last 12 months; how crisis loans can be accessed if the Department's local office is closed and where the officials answering calls to the telephone lines dedicated to applicants for crisis loans in the North West are located. This is something that falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.

The Social Fund Unit in Hartford House, Northwich is one of 13 such units in the Jobcentre Plus North West Region, which process applications for Crisis Loans. This unit covers more than one individual site. Customers can apply for a Crisis Loan by telephone (Crisis Loan Direct) or opt for a face-to-face interview.

The Northwich unit administers the Social Fund for the area covered by the Cheshire and Warrington Jobcentre Plus District. Customers within this District are able to access the Crisis Loan team in Northwich by telephone, or by the freephone facility at their local Jobcentre. Nantwich Jobcentre has one telephone programmed for Social Fund customers and Crewe Jobcentre has four. Applications for Crisis Loans for the rest of the North West are processed in the following sites: Mitre House, Lancaster; Marton Mere, Blackpool; Barry House, Preston; Rusholme, Manchester; Graeme House, Chorlton; Park Road, Toxteth; Hordan House, Birkenhead; Edendale House, Huyton; Webster House, Kirkby; Eastbank House, Southport; Gregson House, St Helens; Kingsway House, Widnes; Newgate House, Rochdale; Elizabeth House, Bolton; Beech House, Hyde; and Brun House, Burnley. Overall, there are 110 dedicated telephone lines for Crisis Loans throughout the North West Region.

I regret that I am unable to provide you with reliable data on the numbers of missed calls, as the current telephony system does not record this.

The Northwich team receive an average of sixty-five Crisis Loan applications each day. In the last twelve months a total of fifty-five complaints have been received concerning the difficulties experienced by customers in accessing this service. A number of those complaints followed a period between October and November 2005 during which the telephony system experienced extensive service interruptions and suspensions. Jobcentre Plus is currently investing in an enhanced telephony and IT system, to improve customer service as part of our programme to transform Social Fund delivery.

From April 2008 all Social Fund functions, including Crisis Loan Direct, for customers in our Cheshire and Warrington District will be delivered from a specialist unit in Belle Vale, Liverpool. Until then, Northwich will continue to administer Crisis Loan Direct.

Those customers who need a Crisis Loan when our offices are closed (i.e. outside normal working hours) can access the “Out of Hours Service” (OOHS), by contacting their Local Authority, Social Services or the police. The Pension Service can also make a referral to the OOHS on a weekday night up to 20.00. These contacts have details of the OOHS dedicated telephone numbers.

I am extremely concerned that your constituents have continued to experience difficulties in accessing the Crisis Loan service in Northwich, and can assure you that both my Regional and Local Social Fund Managers are taking action to address these capacity issues. I am confident that, as staff gain greater experience, with the introduction of a number of streamlined processes, and with improvements to the telephone service, we should be able to resolve these problems.

Both Bill Marks, NW Region Benefit Delivery Manager and Angela Keith, NW Region Social Fund Manager, will be more than happy to discuss any further concerns you may have, and I have also asked that they arrange an early meeting with the appropriate Citizens Advice Bureaux.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much was spent on crisis loans for people in each London borough in each of the last five years. (87117)