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Doherty calls on DSD Minister to come clean on Benefit processing backlog

30 July, 2003

West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty has called on the DSD Minister John Spellar to come clean and admit that the ever-increasing backlog in the processing of Child Benefit, Incapacity Benefit, DLA and Attendance Allowance applications from Castlecourt and the Child Support Agency is the result of a repeated breakdown in the EISIS computer system which is operated by the private multi-national company Electronic Data Systems (EDS).

Mr Doherty said,

"There has been a serious and significant increase in the length of time people are waitng to have their benefit claims processed through Castlecourt and the Child Support Agency since the British government entered into a multi-million pound contract with EDS.

"There have been cases of claimants being told that there is no record of claims having been made despite the fact that people are adamant that they have forwarded their applications.

"I have now learned that all these problems can be sourced to the continued failure of the EISIS Computer system.

"The British government‚s privatisation of this aspect of the benefits system has turned into a fiasco. Millions of pounds have gone to this private company in the name of increasing efficiency in the benefits system. Yet the system is not working and the terms of the contract mean that there are no financial sanctions against the company and apparently no get out clause.

"The result has been serious hardship faced by many people as well as a massive increase in the workload of Social Security Agency workers who are having to pick up the pieces of this computer system failure and revert to the manual processing of claims.

"Rather than increasing efficiency the net result has been to create chaos. Child Support Agency workers have also been issued with a dictatorial memo by senior management that forbids workers to mention anything about the computer system failure to claimants or elected representatives phoning in about benefit processing delays.

"This is nothing short of a scandal.

"Unfortunately with the suspension of the Assembly, the Public Accounts Committee cannot investigate the matter. However people have a right to know what is going on, and I am now writing to senior management of the Social Security Agency and the Child Support Agency requesting the disclosure of the problems that both agencies face as a result of this contract with EDS. I will also be the questioning the DSD Minister John Spellar as to the wisdom of continuing this contract with EDS given the failure of the EISIS system.

"This fiasco calls into question the continued push by the British government to privatise services. In this instance as in many other cases privatisation has and will increasingly cost the taxpayer more and lead to a diminution not only in services being provided but also in the working conditions of employees." ENDS

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