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Departmental Responsibilities

Volume 506: debated on Tuesday 2 March 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many of her Department's staff at each grade work in the benefit simplification unit; what targets have been set for the unit; what recent progress reports the unit has published; what recommendations the unit has made since its inception; and how many such recommendations have been implemented. (318794)

[holding answer 25 February 2010]: The benefit simplification unit has three full-time staff (one SEO and two HEOs) with additional input from a senior civil servant (grade 5) and a grade 7.

Their role is to challenge existing complexity across the benefits system, and to ensure that the move towards a simpler, more transparent system is at the heart of future benefit design and delivery.

Progress on simplification is reported on annually in the departmental report, and the effectiveness of the unit is reflected in the extent to which key performance indicators are met across the Department, where these indicators are partly dependent on the complexity of the system.

Simplification measures—both of benefit rules and ease of customer access—introduced since the unit was set up include:

ignoring all final earnings on new claims to benefit (from October 2007). This got rid of a complex and error-prone part of assessing initial benefit entitlement;

the national roll-out of local housing allowance (April 2008), a major shift in the way housing payments are made in the private rented sector which makes them simpler and speedier to administer;

the introduction of employment and support allowance (October 2008), removed confusion resulting from the availability of two benefits for people who are ill or disabled—incapacity benefit, and income support—by replacing them with one simpler benefit for this client group;

paying all working age benefits on a common payday (to be completed by April 2011) instead of confusingly different paydays;

extending the Rapid Reclaim process since the last claim for jobseeker's allowance and income support from 12 to 26 weeks, providing a speedier service, with less form-filling;

transferring all our benefit internet services to Directgov, the main public services website. Customers can now get advice on what to claim on the benefit adviser and track the progress of claims via the secure Benefit Enquiry service.