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Crisis Loans

Volume 491: debated on Monday 20 April 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will take steps to ensure that crisis loans customers can obtain a face-to-face assessment at their local Jobcentre with crisis loans officers; and if he will make a statement. (267899)

[holding answer 31 March 2009]: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the acting Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Mel Groves. I have asked him to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Mel Groves:

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has asked me to respond to your question asking the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, if he will take steps to ensure that crisis loans customers can obtain a face-to-face assessment at their local Jobcentre with crisis loans officers. This is something that falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Acting Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.

Our preferred method of accessing Crisis Loans is by the telephone and this process works well for the majority of our customers as the service is more accessible without the need to visit a Jobcentre.

However, vulnerable customers who cannot use the telephone to access Crisis Loans do have the option of making an appointment for a face to face interview at their local Jobcentre. Processes are in place for the Jobcentre to immediately forward the application to a Crisis Loan Decision Maker to make the decision on the application and call the customer back with the outcome.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many crisis loans officers there are operating the telephone helpline service for customers; and if he will make a statement. (267900)

[holding answer 31 March 2009]: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the acting Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Mel Groves. I have asked him to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Mel Groves:

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has asked me to respond to your question on how many crisis loans officers there are operating the telephone helpline service for customers. This is something that falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Acting Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.

When the service was set up initially Jobcentre Plus had 800 Crisis Loan Decision Makers answering telephones and making decisions in the 20 Crisis Loan Benefit Delivery Centres. Due to an unprecedented rise in Crisis Loan applications which has more than doubled since October 2006, taking us to an average of 220,000 applications per month, plans were put in place to deploy an extra 700 staff from our Contact Centre Directorate to take Crisis Loan calls. The conversion of these 700 Contact Centre staff to offer the full telephone application and decision making process for Crisis Loans is due for completion by April 2009.

This year we have seen further increases in applications to 275,000 for January and 272,000 for February 2009. Therefore, a decision has been made to increase our staff over the next year by an extra 300. This will take us to 1,800 Decision Makers overall.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of (a) the number of calls made by customers for crisis loans which went through to a recorded message, (b) the average number of calls a customer made before being connected to speak directly to a crisis loans officer and (c) the number of complaints made by crisis loans customers on the inability to be connected to talk to a crisis loans officer via the telephone system in the latest period for which information is available. (267901)

[holding answer 31 March 2009]: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the acting Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Mel Groves. I have asked him to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Mel Groves:

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has asked me to answer your question on what estimate he has made of (a) the number of calls made by customers for crisis loans which went through to a recorded message, (b) the average number of calls a customer made before being connected to speak directly to a crisis loans officer and (c) the number of complaints made by crisis loans customers on the inability to be connected to talk to a crisis loans officer via the telephone system in the latest period for which information is available. This is something that falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Acting Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.

We do not have the information requested in this format.

However, latest information available for February 2009 shows we made 272,000 Crisis Loan decisions and the majority of these would have been made over the telephone where all customers would have gone through the Interactive Voice Response messaging service before the call was answered. Due to high demand, it is unfortunately taking longer than usual to get through to our Crisis Loans agents but I have no evidence that all customers wanting a Crisis Loan do not eventually get through to make their application.

I have received 49 complaints to me as Chief Executive about Crisis Loans in general from March 2008 to February 2009 compared to 2,774,032 Crisis Loan applications for the same period.