Focus on Disability

The Social Security System in the UK

The Department of Social Security is now the Department for Work and Pensions

The DSS - Department of Social Security

The department of Social Security (DSS) was responsible for most of the help for people with disabilities. Responsibility for making policy lies with the DSS. This includes setting the framework of policy objectives and resources for the delivery and administration of social security benefits.

The day-to-day running of the social security system is the responsibility of the Benefits Agency whose Chief Executive is accountable to the Secretary of State for Social Security. Most benefits are administered by the Benefits Agency, an Executive Agency of the DSS, although some, such as tax credits, are now administered by the Inland Revenue. The Benefits Agency headquarters is in Leeds.

The Benefits Agency has in turn contracted out some of its functions to private companies. For example, medical services are run by Sema Group which has a five year contract to provide medical advice and examinations. Consequently, the Benefits Agency Medical Services (BAMS) was renamed 'Medical Services'.

Besides the Benefits Agency, four other Executive Agencies deal with aspects of DSS operations: the Appeals Service, Child Support Agency, Information Technology Agency, War Pensions Agency.

The administration of benefits for unemployed people through Jobcentres is a joint activity which involves Benefits Agency Staff and Staff employed in the Employment Service, an Executive Agency of the Department for Education and Employment.

DSS Structure

Local offices: Most benefits are dealt with by local offices. Your local phone book should make it clear which office you should contact (see below).

Small numbers of local offices, usually three, make up a Benefits Agency district. One of these offices is usually a district headquarters known as the District Office.

Each district is managed by a District Manager who has some freedom in how the district is run - so long as s/he stays within the agreed budget, overall guidelines, and specific performance targets ( for example, on the accuracy of decisions and clearance times for benefit claims). Each District Manager answers to a Area Director.

In some parts of London, you may have a branch office, with the work being done at one of three Benefits Centres in Glasgow, Belfast or Makerfield: your local office will give you full details.

Central Offices

Some benefits are dealt with not by local offices but by one or more remote centres: for example disability living allowance and attendance allowance have a network of 11 Disability Benefits Centres as well as the Central Unit at Fylde.

If you want to claim benefit which is dealt with by a central office rather than by your local DSS, the claim form for that benefit will tell you where you should send the form.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland the Department of Health and Social Security is responsible for social security matters, but benefits are administered by the Social Security Agency whose Chief Executive is accountable to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has its own legislation, and the structure and organisation of the system is different from Great Britain. However, the rates of social security benefits and the qualifying conditions are similar to those in Great Britain - apart from the survival of rate rebates.

Contacting the DSS

The address of your nearest social security office is in the phone book under 'Benefits Agency'.

Benefit Enquiry Line (BEL) - this helpline has now closed

Northern Ireland

To find your local social security office, look in the phone book under 'Social Security'.

NI Benefit Enquiry Line (BEL) - call 0800 220674. If you have a textphone, call 0800 243787.

Staff give general advice on benefits for people with disabilities and offer a forms completion service. Both lines are open 9 am– 5 pm Monday to Friday.

People in the DSS

Different DSS offices are likely to be organised in slightly different ways. The overall standards are set out in the Benefits Agency's Customer Charter - you can get a copy from your local office.

Each District, as well as every other management unit within the Agency, must publish its annual business plan to show how it intends to work. Your District may also provide a more user-friendly guide to its services, or its own Customer Charter.

If you want to know how your local office is organised ask to speak to Customer Services. A Customer Services Officer can explain things and send you any relevant information.

During 1999, there were major changes to the system of decision making and appeals. Decisions that are now made by the Secretary of State were taken by adjudication officers and adjudicating medical authorities, and there were separate kinds of appeal tribunals for different benefits. Decision letters from before the transfer will refer to the old decision making authorities.

Administrative staff

The people you see or talk to when you visit or phone a DSS office are not always legally responsible for making a decision on your claim. Although they will do the support and maintenance work for claims, and may handle many routine claims, particularly for the means-tested benefits, these must in law be decided by a decision maker authorised by the Secretary of State. So, if you think a decision is wrong, ask to speak to the section supervisor. S/he will usually be a decision maker. If you think someone has just made a mistake, it might also be worth involving the Assistant Manager who is responsible for the benefit you are claiming.

Secretary of State

The Secretary of State is responsible for decisions on your social security benefit entitlement. In practice this is delegated to decision makers who are officers acting under his authority. In a few cases the Secretary of State delegates decision making responsibility to officers of the Inland Revenue, eg for some National Insurance credits decisions.

Decision maker

Decision makers are officers acting under the authority of the Secretary of State. They make decisions on your entitlement to benefits but won't always be based in your local office. So it may be best to write rather than phone. If you are not satisfied with a decision, appeal to an independent tribunal . The letter giving you the decision must always explain what you can do next.

Appeal tribunal

The appeal tribunal hears appeals against decisions of the Secretary of State. They also hear appeals against decisions of the Inland Revenue decision makers on disabled person's tax credit and working families tax credit.

Social Security Commissioner

If an appeal tribunal refuses your appeal, you can apply for permission to appeal ( on a point of law ) to the Social Security Commissioners. They are lawyers of at least 10 years standing. They have the same status as High Court Judges. Their decisions set precedents and form 'case law'.

Social fund

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.

Inland Revenue

Decisions on tax credits are made by an Inland Revenue decision maker based in the Tax Credit Unit in Preston (or Belfast), with appeals heard by the same appeal tribunal that hear benefit appeals. The Inland Revenue is also responsible for decisions on National Insurance contributions but the right of appeal is to the tax appeal Commissioners.

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