The average processing times for jobseeker claims decided during February 2010 were 2.32 weeks for jobseeker's benefit and 7.67 weeks for jobseeker's allowance. Processing times can vary from office to office due to the extent of the increased claim load, the number of staff vacancies, the duration of such vacancies and the turnover of staff in the office which impacts on the overall level of experience in the office. At week ending 6 March the total number of jobseeker claims awaiting a decision stood at 49,099. This represents 10% of the total claim load. It is worth noting that when the live register was at it lowest 10% was the normal level of claims awaiting a decision at any time.
To deal with the increased live register, since May 2008, some 400 extra staff have been assigned to local offices, new Central Support Units and the Department's Inspectorate. At the same time the Department has been examining procedures surrounding the claim acceptance and decisions process with a view to streamlining them and achieving greater efficiencies where possible.
The following are some of the initiatives introduced to improve processing times:
A more streamlined procedure for claimants moving to jobseekers allowance when their jobseekers benefit expires.
A streamlined process for people who had a claim in the previous two years.
Application forms for the jobseeker schemes are now available on the Department's website. This means that anyone who wants to make a claim can print the form at home and bring it to the local office completed. This helps reduce queuing times.
More straight-forward procedures for providing evidence of identity and address have been introduced.
An appointment system whereby claimants can have their claim taken and decided during the appointment. This particular initiative has helped greatly in reducing waiting times. We have this system in operation in 33 local offices and plan to extend it to further offices.
A further initiative, which is being trialled at present, relates to customers who are applying for jobseekers allowance on the termination of their jobseekers benefit entitlement. In any of these cases where there are no elements of self-employment or property involved in the means assessment, the person will self-certify the various components of their means and a decision will be made by the Deciding Officer without the need to refer the claim to an Inspector. As a control measure a certain proportion of these claims will be selected at random and will be referred to an inspector for verification of the declaration of means in advance of the decision being made. It is expected that this initiative will be rolled out to the network of local offices in the coming months.
While every effort is made to ensure that applications are processed as quickly as possible, anyone who is under financial pressure while awaiting a decision on their claim for a jobseekers payment can apply for Supplementary Welfare Allowance which is subject to a means test and other qualifying conditions.