1. Responsibility for policy making lies with the DWP, while services are delivered to the public by three service delivery organisations (see 2 below)
While most benefits are administered by the DWP, tax credits, child benefit and guardian's allowance are administered by HM Revenue & Customs (see 5 below)
The DWP contracts out some of it's functions to private companies; for example, Atos healthcare is contracted to provide medical advice and examinations
2. The structure of the DWP
The day-to-day running of the benefits system is undertaken by three service delivery organisations:
- Jobcentre Plus
- The Pension, Disability & Carers Service
- Debt Management
Jobcentre Plus provides services to people of working age, administering most of the benefits they claim through a network of local Jobcentre Plus offices. Jobcentre Plus aims to provide a 'work focus' to the benefits system. The benefits it administers include employment and support allowance, income support and jobseeker's allowance.
Pensions, Disability & Carers Service
This provides services for pensioners and people planning for retirement, as well as administering important benefits for disabled people and their carers. It was created in April 2008 by merging the Pension Service with the Disability & carers Service, both of which remain independent organisations within the new agency for the time being.
The Pension Service - this administers the state pension, pension credit and winter fuel payments, through largely telephone-based pension centres. These centres are supported by a local service network the provides appointment-based meetings in such places as libraries and community centres as well as home visits.
The Disability & Carers Service - this administers disability living allowance, attendance allowance, carer's allowance and vaccine damage payments through a network of regional Disability Benefit Centres, as well as three central units: the Disability Contact & Processing Unit in Blackpool and the Carer's Allowance Unit and the Vaccine Damage Unit in Preston. The initial contact for these benefits will usually be through the Benefits Enquiry Line.
Debt Management - Debt Management is responsible for the recovery of debts from claimants.
3. Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, the Department for Social Development is responsible for social security matters, and benefits are administered by the Social Security Agency.
Northern Ireland has it's own legislation, and the structure and organisation of the system are different from that of Great Britain (GB). however, the legislation tends to mirror GB legislation and the rates of benefit and their qualifying conditions are similar. An important difference, however, is that in Northern Ireland there are rate rebates instead of council tax benefit.
4. Who's who in the benefit system
The services are organised in slightly different ways and what follows in an outline.
In all cases, you have the right to expect a good standard of service. Jobcentre Plus and the Disability & Carers Service both have customer charters that explain the standards; copies are available form each organisation.
The people you talk to when you ring or visit a local office are not always legally responsible for making a decision on your claim. they will do the support and maintenance work for claims, and may handle many routine claims, particularly for means-tested benefits, but decisions must, by law, be made by a decision maker authorised by the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is responsible for decisions on your social security benefit entitlement. In practice, this responsibility is delegated to decision makers who are officers acting under the Secretary of State's authority. In a few cases, the Secretary of State delegates decision-making responsibilities to officers of HM Revenue & Customs (eg for some national insurance credit decisions).
Decision makers are officers acting under the authority of the Secretary of State. they make decisions on your entitlement to benefits but will not always be based in your local office. If you are not satisfied with a decision, you can ask for an explanation of the decision, ask for a revision of the decision, or appeal to an independent tribunal. The letter giving you the decision must always explain what you can do next. See How to Appeal against a Benefits Decision
Social fund decision makers - Access to the social fund is through the Jobcentre Plus network. For the discretionary social fund there is a different decision-making system. Initial decisions are taken by a decision-maker authorised to do so by the Secretary of State. There is an ultimate right of review by a social fund inspector.
5.HM Revenue & Customs
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is responsible for decisions on tax credits, child benefit, and guardian's allowance, and these are made by officers based in the Tax Credit Office in Preston or the Child Benefit Office in Newcastle upon Tyne. HMRC is also responsible for decisions on national insurance contributions and employer-paid benefits (statutory sick, maternity, paternity, and adoption pay). Appeals on HMRC decisions are heard by First-tier Tribunals (see 6 below).
6. Ministry of Justice
The Ministry of Justice has responsibility for running the appeals system. It does this through the Tribunals Service, which provides common administrative support to the main central government tribunals: the First-tier Tribunals and the Upper Tribunals
Upper Tribunal Appeals Offices
First-Tier Tribunal - First-tier tribunals have replaced the social security appeals tribunals. In addition to hearing appeals on decisions made by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (on benefits such as employment and support allowance, income support and disability living allowance), First-tier Tribunals also hear appeals against local authority decisions on housing benefit and council tax benefit and HMRC decisions on tax credits, national insurance contributions and employer-paid benefits. As well as hearing appeals on disputes related to social security benefits, First-tier Tribunals cover a range of other areas, including mental health reviews, care standards, criminal injuries compensation and special educational needs.
Upper Tribunals - Upper Tribunals have replaced the Social Security Commissioners. they hear appeals against decisions of the First-tier Tribunals. Their decisions set precedents and form case law.
7. Contacting the DWP
Details of local Jobcentre Plus offices can be obtained from their website - http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/jobseekers
Claims for benefits administered by Jobcentre Plus can be made by contacting their claim-line (0800 055 6688; textphone 0800 023 4888).
Details of Pension Centres can be obtained from the Pension Service (0845 606 0265; textphone 0845 606 0285) or http://www.direct.gov.uk/pensions
Central Units are given on page: http://www.focusondisability.org.uk/government-central-offices.html
Northern Ireland - To find your local social security office, look in the phone book under 'Social Security' or on their website: