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Home Visits

Volume 928: debated on Friday 18 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what proportion of supplementary pensioners received an exceptional needs payment last year; and in how many of these cases the need for such additional payments was appreciated only after home visits by staff from his Department.

In the year ending 30th November 1976 it is estimated that nearly 300,000 exceptional needs payments were made to supplementary pensioners. As some pensioners will have received more than one payment it is not possible to estimate what proportion of the 1,682,000 supplementary pensioners at that date had received a payment. The other information requested could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) in view of recent research on the reading age required to understand his Department's forms and leaflets, if he remains satisfied that the numbers of his staff will be sufficient to visit those claimants who have difficulty in understanding leaflets and to explain their rights;(2) if he is proposing to continue to make payments to meet claimants' exceptional needs without their being visited to confirm their entitlement; how much public money has already been paid out in this way; and what steps he is taking to ensure there is no abuse of public funds;(3) what proposals he has for those claimants who are too ill, aged or disabled to visit local offices in order to ensure that their needs are adequately catered for if visits are not to be made regularly;(4) what provisions he has made within a postal review system for dealing with those claimants who have difficulty with or are incapable of reading and completing official forms;(5) if he is satisfied that the visiting strength of his Department is sufficient to prevent abuse of public funds;(6) how many visits are paid in a five-year period to unemployment claimants over the age of 55 years; and whether he expects the frequency to diminish as a result of rising unemployment;(7) how many visits are paid in a five-year period to elderly recipients of supplementary pensions; and whether this frequency is sufficient to assess teir increasing needs;(8) if he will give an estimate of the number of supplementary pensioners who will remain unvisited as a result of the proposed reduction of home visits;(9) in the light of the fact that home visiting of supplementary benefits claimants is the most effective means for determining the needs and entitlements of claimants and for preventing and detecting abuse, if he will withdraw proposals for a reduction of staff who are necessary to carry out this type of work;(10) if, in view of the fact that during a period of five years the health and condition of a person over pensionable age can deteriorate, he will give instructions to revert to the previous system of visiting pensioners normally once a year in order to ensure that entitlement to vital additions such as those for heating and dietary needs can be identified and awarded at the proper time;(11) whether he is planning to extend his Department's practice of reviewing claimants' needs by post, bearing in mind the Report on the Supplementary Benefits Commission's Review of Home Visiting and Postal Investigation which, in paragraphs 4.67, 4.72 and 4.79 establishes that a high proportion of claimants received less than their full entitlement for long periods;(12) what is his policy on visits to supplementary pensioners in the light of their need to be made aware of their full entitlement and receive prescribed payments to meet their needs.

At present, regular visits are made only to claimants for supplementary benefit, and I have no plans to extend these arrangements to other benefits, which are usually dealt with by post. The most expensive, and not always the most effective methods of dealing with claims for supplementary benefit is home visiting, and, in the light of the Government's decision to reduce administrative expenditure, consideration is being given to whether greater use could be made of other methods such as interviews, correspondence and telephone discussions. The objective is to strike the right balance between administrative economy, establishing the full extent of needs and preventing and detecting abuse. I think it will be possible to reduce the number of staff employed on visiting and still provide an effective service, but no decisions have yet been taken. I can assure my hon. Friend that the various factors which she has mentioned in her Questions are all being borne in mind.I regret that the information requested about frequency of visiting in some cases and exceptional needs payments made without visits is not available and could not be obtained without disproportionate cost.