In the course of my evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into Access to Work, I accepted that during the reorganisation of Access to Work operations, from April to October 2014, we had not met our customer service standards. Today I am pleased to report that we have achieved a significant improvement in customer service well ahead of schedule and our outstanding claims awaiting payment are now generally running at less than 1 day’s worth of intake, compared with nearly 18 days’ worth in October, so that payments will usually be made within 10 working days of receipt of a claim.
In addition I set out that I did not wish to delay making further improvements to the programme, which is on course to support more disabled people in work than last year. I am therefore pleased to announce the following improvements:
- establishing specialist teams to ensure that they understand the issues faced by customers and can produce consistent decisions. We have already established teams covering Deaf and hearing loss customers, visually impaired customers and those with mental health conditions, and others are being considered;
- setting up a technology and innovation forum to help customers, stakeholders and staff understand how existing and emerging technology can help provide the support disabled people need to get and keep employment;
- working with stakeholders on a series of events early next year to raise awareness of the Mental Health Support Service;
- ensuring that communication with customers can be made via email more easily, subject to the customer's request for a reasonable adjustment. This will better meet customer accessibility requirements and greatly speed up the resolution of cases;
- working with stakeholders to develop user-friendly guidance, with the aim of beginning to publish this by the end of March 2015;
- improving transparency of the programme. I will set out more information about programme performance in the next set of official statistics due in January, and at that time will explore how this can be further expanded in subsequent releases.
Finally, I will consider carefully the findings of the Work and Pensions Select Committee Report into Access to Work when it is published and will respond to it in due course.