In Parliament this week I highlighted the ludicrous waiting times for responses to complaints made to the Department for Work and Pensions.
Data uncovered through a written question showed that after a complaint to the DWP is made and requires formal investigation, the average time taken to allocate it to a case manager was a 63.8 weeks – with a further 20 weeks taken to close the case.
In Business Questions I asked: “On behalf of a constituent battling repeated malicious allegations, and another who, out of the blue, has been deducted for a 30-year-old social fund loan with no proof that it ever existed, can we have an opportunity to press Department for Work and Pensions Ministers on why it is taking, on average, a ludicrous 63 weeks for a complaint to be allocated to a caseworker?”
In his response, House of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg conceded “63 weeks seems too long.”
These waiting times are completely unacceptable, and only add to the distress and anxiety of complainants who want a resolution. The DWP needs to address this and rectify the situation quickly.
Full text of my written question to the DWP and the ministerial response (dated 20/04/2021) copied below:
Question – Jessica Morden MP
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what the (a) average and (b) longest waiting times were for Independent Case Examiner decisions in (i) 2018, (ii) 2019 and (iii) 2020.
Answer – Guy Opperman MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Pensions and Financial Inclusion
At the point the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) Office accept a complaint for investigation, they will initially try to broker a solution between the complainant and the Department or supplier, without having to undertake an investigation – this is known as “resolution”. If the complaint cannot be resolved the evidence will be requested and the case will await allocation to an Investigation Case Manager (ICM). Cases are usually brought into investigation in strict date order. Following a review of the evidence, it may be possible to “settle” the complaint, if agreement can be reached which satisfies the complainant. If the complaint cannot be settled, ICE will issue a report detailing findings and any recommendations for redress. The majority of the complaints that are referred to ICE are complex and require a full investigation.
The Unit received additional resource during 2020/21 financial year to help reduce the time complaints wait to be brought into investigation, but Covid has adversely affected the unit with staff re-deployed to priority front-line activities at the outset of the pandemic and recruitment plans delayed. It has also been affected by Covid-related sickness, self-isolation and bereavement.
For the 2020/21 reporting year, the average Resolution clearance time, from acceptance to case closure, was 6.2 weeks. The average time taken to allocate complaints that required investigation to an ICM, from acceptance to allocation, was 63.8 weeks. The average clearance time for complaints that required investigation (Settlements and ICE Reports), from allocation to an ICM to case closure, was 20.1 weeks.
For the reporting years 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21 the average waiting times from case acceptance to case clearance (for all cleared cases) were: 65; 69; and 73 weeks respectively.
For the same reporting years, the single longest waiting times from case acceptance to case clearance in each reporting year were: 134; 153; and 160 weeks respectively. These cases are among the most complex and contentious and in addition may be subject to scrutiny and consideration by the Department before recommendations for redress are settled.
It should be noted that Customer satisfaction with the service is high with 82.6 per cent of customers who respond to the ICE survey stating that they were satisfied with the service they received.