Whitehall focus Credit hitches spark record complaints

1 Jul 04
Inland Revenue staff received a record 70,000 complaints last year a consequence of the botched introduction of Child and Working Tax credits.

02 July 2004

Inland Revenue staff received a record 70,000 complaints last year — a consequence of the botched introduction of Child and Working Tax credits.

But following publication of an annual report by the department's complaints adjudicator, acting Revenue chair Ann Chant praised the way the vast majority of queries were handled.

The adjudicator, Dame Barbara Mills, also described the high standards of complaints-handling as 'cutting edge' in her June 28 report, which also covers Customs and Excise.

The introduction of the credits – which are now claimed by 6 million families – got off to an inauspicious start last year when it emerged that several hundred thousand claimants suffered late payments due to IT problems.

Complaints rose from 42,000 in March 2003 to 70,000 this year, while the changeover to the new credits system was described by the influential Commons' Public Accounts Committee as 'nothing short of disastrous'.

Chant acknowledged that tax credits had got off to a 'difficult start', but pointed out that the Revenue also received a record number of compliments last year – 60,000 letters praising its staff.

The handling of complaints, she said, was so effective that despite an increase in the number referred up to the adjudicator (from 370 to 387), the proportion upheld by Mills' office fell by ten percentage points compared with 2003 – down to just 35%.

'It's a tribute to the dedication and skills of our complaints handlers that over 99.5% of all complaints were resolved satisfactorily. We continue to listen to our customers, learn lessons and put measures in place to reduce… complaints,' Chant said.

Customs and Excise chair Mike Eland, whose department will soon merge with the Revenue, received just 495 complaints over the same period, 35 of which were upheld by the adjudicator. He said: 'We are not complacent and will use the report to identify where we need to make further improvements.'

PFI investment board appoints new chief

David Gavaghan has been appointed chief executive of Northern Ireland's Strategic Investment Board, replacing Andy Carty.

Carty undertook the job on an interim basis while on secondment from Partnerships UK, to which he now returns.

Gavaghan currently works for David Wylde Project Finance and was previously head of transport at SG Hambros, a director of Hambros Bank and head of the Department of Trade and Industry's Industrial Development Unit. He takes up his new post later this month.

The announcement coincided with publication of the SIB's first annual report, which stated that the board had put to market more than twice as many privately financed projects in Northern Ireland than had been achieved in the previous ten years.

'That's what I call making a difference,' responded Finance Minister Ian Pearson.

Eight major programmes with a combined capital value of more than £1bn have been developed by the SIB, including the UK's largest Private Finance Initiative education scheme. The new South West Hospital to be sited in Enniskillen is another of the large projects. The SIB has helped arrange finance for major water and roads infrastructure modernisation schemes and produced a business plan concluding that a single multi-use sports stadium for Northern Ireland would be viable.

Carty said the SIB had achieved significant progress in all priority areas, providing a contractual framework to enable public-private partnerships to happen fast and more effectively, putting Northern Ireland at the leading edge of standardised PPP contracts.

He said that new headquarters for Invest Northern Ireland in Belfast and improved investment planning across departments were highlights of the SIB's first year.

Beckett sets tough targets on recycling

Whitehall departments will have to improve their recycling records under strict new targets outlined by Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett.

As part of a wider campaign to cut the amount of rubbish produced across England, Beckett has committed Whitehall to 5% per year increases in the amount of waste it either recycles or prepares for use as compost. The ultimate target is a 75% 'green' rate.

The aim is to reduce the amount of waste buried in landfill sites, which Beckett believes cannot be sustained at current rates.

England produces enough waste to fill the Royal Albert Hall every hour — 420 million tonnes per year — and Beckett wants the government to lead the fightback.

Obsolete office machinery, plastics, paper, copiers and printers will be disposed of in a more sustainable fashion.

'We will ensure our own waste management is sustainable and this means turning our backs on landfill,' she said.

'Dumping everything in a giant hole in the ground is no longer acceptable environmentally or socially.'


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